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updated: 4/3/2011 5:37 PM

Lots of hot races in the northern Fox Valley

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It's hard to remember when the stakes have been so high.

School boards across the northern Fox Valley this year are grappling with teachers contracts, yet the money isn't there to support the kind of upward mobility to which suburban educators have become accustomed. Is the answer to elect seasoned school board members who've been through this before, or would taxpayers be better served by challengers with fresh perspectives?

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The Kane County Forest Preserve District has bought up thousands of acres over the years to ensure the county doesn't become too congested and that there will always be a bit of nature nearby. It's asking for $30 million to buy more -- at a price per acre we likely won't see as low again. Will voters be willing to cough up a little more green to keep Kane County green?

And with virtually no mayors up for election this spring, all eyes are on whether three-term Elgin Mayor Ed Schock can deflect a rare but real challenge this year from Councilman Dave Kaptain.

What follows is a look at some of the hottest races in the valley.

Polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday. Be there.

School races

With rare exception, northern Fox Valley voters will have plenty of choices when shopping for school board members who are responsible for spending roughly two-thirds of their property tax bill.

In Elgin Area School District U-46, which serves 41,000 students, six people are running for four seats. Two veteran board members decided against running, leaving only two incumbents in the race. The only question is how many newcomers will be elected. Facing those newbies will be the daunting task of navigating six labor contracts later this year, all at a time when the district is facing a $40 million operating deficit.

In Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300, which just voted to lay off 363 teachers at the end of the year (it likely will rehire back at least half by the start of the next school year) four incumbents are competing with two challengers.

Whoever wins on Tuesday will have their hands full. The district just started negotiating a new contract with the teachers union a week ago.

Elgin Community College already is under the threat of a teacher strike. Five candidates are vying for three seats on the board, and at least one of those elected will be a newcomer.

In Cary Elementary District 26, which might have fallen under state control by now if not for the passage of a tax increase in November, candidates are figuring out how to continue to improve the district's financial standing. Among the issues: teacher pay and whether to close yet another school. Three incumbents and one challenger are running for three, 4-year terms, while one person is running unopposed for a 2-year term.

Burlington-based Community Unit District 301 candidates have weighed in on the issue of creating grade-level centers in the district to save money. Two incumbents and five challengers are battling for three seats.

Municipal races

It's no wonder the Elgin City Council always attracts a crowd at election time. It's the biggest city in these parts and there is always something to argue about. This spring, there are 10 candidates for three seats, and at least one of the eight challengers will get a chair at the dais. Among the field are a scientist, a limo driver, a couple lawyers, a furniture salesman -- a true cross section of Elgin.

You might think an insurrection is afoot in Huntley, where there are as many challengers as incumbents vying for three seats. But there is little argument over whether the village is headed down the right path.

In always contentious East Dundee, there are three incumbents and three challengers. The predominant issues there are finances and business attraction and retention.

In Cary, there are nine candidates for five seats -- and the gulf between the four incumbents and five challengers couldn't be deeper on issues of the level of openness on the village board and its flexibility with the business community.

Miscellany

Many other suburbs in the valley have contested races, although they are much less volcanic.

As well, park and library elections are generally a lot sleepier. As are fire district races. But there are two anomalies here.

Elgin's Gail Borden Library board race has nine candidates. Were it not for the friction over a board member who is not even up for election, there would not be as broad a field. But three candidates are running largely in support of that seated board member, who has been denied access to the library for three straight years because of "abusive" dealings with the library staff.

Perhaps the most unusual race is for the two seats on the Huntley Fire Protection District board. There are seven candidates. And none of them, it seems, is upset with the way things are going. Three challengers are veterans of the fire service, which could help to explain things.

• For a compilation of candidate profiles and questionnaires and issue stories, go to dailyherald.com/news/politics/election. You'll also find a recap of the Daily Herald's editorial board endorsements online and on Tuesday's editorial page.

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