River Trails school board hopefuls support custodian's firing
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The five candidates running for school board in River Trails District 26 say current board members made the right decision in 2012 when they fired a custodian after his conviction for misdemeanor battery in two cases involving relatives.
Jorge Romero of Hanover Park was fired by the school board in August, shortly after his convictions. Both cases involved juveniles and stemmed from events that took place in DuPage County, away from the Mount Prospect-based school district.
The school board's decision to fire Romero was unanimous, with one board member, Jeffrey Bradley, abstaining. Bradley later explained that he abstained because he hadn't received court documents and other background information prior to the decision.
This spring, Kathleen Beck, Scott Breiler, Rathna Koka, Dan Miller and Julia Nemcek are seeking their first terms on the District 26 school board. No incumbent is seeking any of the four seats at stake in Tuesday's election.
In interviews with the Daily Herald, all five candidates supported the decision to fire Romero, framing it as an issue of student safety.
"Child safety is the most important responsibility that school district leaders have," Miller said. Beck agreed, saying "the decision was a good one."
Breiler, Koka and Nemcek said they believe school board members acted with the interests of the entire district in mind when they made the decision to fire Romero.
"I haven't seen every piece of information on this case that the board members did, and I have no reason to believe they acted rashly," Breiler said.
The battery cases date back to 2011. Authorities originally charged Romero with domestic battery, alleging that he had inappropriate physical contact with both victims. Those charges were later amended to battery.
Romero denied the allegations, but was found guilty by DuPage County Judge Thomas Else and sentenced to a year of court supervision and 50 hours community service.
The River Trails Education Association filed a grievance against the school board's decision and sought to get Romero reinstated. Earlier this month, though, the union withdrew the grievance, which lets the board's decision stand.
Ann Forman, an orchestra teacher at River Trails Middle School and president of the union, declined to talk specifically about the Romero case.
"We've remained silent because we believe personnel issues shouldn't be discussed publicly," she said.
The union has endorsed Beck, Breiler, Koka and Nemcek in this year's race. Miller has said he believes he was not endorsed in part because of his public comments on the Romero case. Forman said that is not true.
"I'm sad that he believes that, to be honest," she said. "Our endorsement decisions came at the end of a process in which many issues were discussed."
All of the candidates said they're glad the Romero issue has been resolved.
"I understand where the union was coming from," said Nemcek, an educator herself. "But I'm glad this decision was not overturned."
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