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updated: 3/22/2011 4:45 PM

Millburn incumbent on ballot but out of race

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  • Jane Gattone

    Jane Gattone


Millburn District 24 school board member Shawn Lahr is on the April 5 election ballot seeking another term, but he has changed his mind about serving and is publicly supporting his opponent.

"I was going to (run) but I don't really want to do this anymore," said Lahr, whose decision came too late to avoid being listed on the ballot.

He was among three candidates elected in an uncontested race in 2007 and is one of two incumbents on the current ballot. Eleven candidates are seeking four open seats.

This time, Lahr said, he was conflicted from the start and decided to run for the unexpired two-year term.

What he didn't realize was Jane Gattone, with whom he is acquainted, would pursue the same seat.

"The irony is, he was one of the people who suggested I run for the board," said Gattone, who chairs the Lindenhurst plan commission and is an officer with the Millburn West parent teacher group.

Gattone chose the two-year term as an initial commitment.

"It was ironic when we found out we were running for the same seat," she said.

Lahr cited the circumstances involving the resignation of Superintendent Ellen Mauer, who will stay to the end of the school year, as the main reason he opted out of the race.

Lahr was one of three board members on Feb. 7 who voted not to accept her resignation. It was accepted by a 4-3 vote but details were not discussed publicly.

He said Mauer had a good review and "met all the criteria for her evaluation." But the board didn't have a procedure to address "perceived" issues from some board members, he added.

"We didn't give feedback or try to work with her. Whatever she may have done, it wasn't addressed," he said.

Gattone said she did not agree with the move either.

Lahr announced his decision to withdraw from the race at a recent candidate forum.

"I tell everyone I see, `You know I'm not running so vote for Jane,'" Lahr said.

If he is elected, Lahr said, he would reluctantly serve unless he can be assured Gattone would be appointed to the spot if he resigns.

Usually, a given board will advertise a vacancy and ask for applicants but that isn't required.

"That's totally up to the board how they handle it," said Cindy Pagano, who helps oversee elections as the chief deputy clerk in Lake County. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a candidate that lost."

There is precedent in District 24. Stacy Freeman won a seat on the board in 2009 but resigned. Lisa Scanio, who did not run in that race, was chosen from among seven applicants to fill the unexpired term. Scanio is seeking a four-year term in April.

If Gattone does win, she said, she is prepared for a tough haul to keep the budget balanced and pay back $3.5 million in tax anticipation warrants.

"I'm not expecting this to be fun by any stretch," she said. "It's a very difficult situation for the district."