The six candidates competing for four open seats on the Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 school board are not much at odds over the district's current direction, but each sees his or her own personality and skills as assets to the next board.
Incumbents Eileen Kowalczyk and Gerald McCluskey and newcomers Vicki Chung, John Dyer, Brian Maye and Gwynne Ryan have organized a meet-and-greet with district residents from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. March 23 in Meeting Room A of the Mount Prospect Library at 10 S. Emerson St. in Mount Prospect. The election is April 4.
All say they are aware of mounting financial pressures on the district and generally support a plan for a tax-hike referendum in March 2018.
Perhaps their greatest differences are in how the general public should be brought up to speed on the same information and how they can contribute to that effort.
Chung, who is treasurer of the Westbrook School PTA, said even in her informed position, she was surprised last fall that plans were developing for mobile classrooms to be installed at the school.
Though supportive of a referendum, she worries a year may not be enough time to inform the public of the need, not to mention the setback a "no" vote would cause.
District 57 is among the lowest-taxing districts in the area, but Chung believes it can't sustain that low level much longer. She thinks it should be extremely conservative about increasing staff while trying to persuade voters that more revenue is needed.
Dyer, a Hersey High School math teacher, said he's devoted his life to education but wants to do even more for the sake of his children.
He believes the top job for the next board is to inform the public that more revenue or painful cuts will be needed.
"I think the word needs to get out that the issue is significant," he said.
Kowalczyk said she encourages any new board member to ask all the questions they need to at the start to learn the lay of the land. As an incumbent, she believes she wouldn't face the same learning curve if re-elected.
"I want to stay on because there's so much coming up," she said.
She knows, for instance, that surging kindergarten and seventh-grade class sizes are part of the financial issues the district faces. She agrees getting the word out will be a major goal in 2017.
Maye, an attorney, said his long-dead interest in politics was revived at a District 57 forum last fall that led him to believe he could contribute positively on the school board.
"I hope I can help this district continue to be great," he said. "I want to help them get past these challenges."
Maye said he supports current efforts to pitch a referendum, even though most people he's met going door-to-door feel their taxes are too high.
McCluskey, appointed to the board two years ago, said he's pleased by the greater level of interest the 2017 election has generated.
He and his family moved a mile into District 57 five years ago just for the schools. He said his financial background tells him the decisions ahead will be critical to maintaining the district's strong education standards.
"Planning is the number one job on the board," McCluskey said. "The picture shows a surge in revenue, but then these expenditures that will pull it down. We have to start planning for that as soon as 2018."
Ryan, a social studies teacher at Maine West High School, said her education background would be an asset to the board.
Knowing the problems of having previously worked in an underfunded Chicago school, she said even residents interested only in their property values should be concerned about the challenges District 57 faces.
Ryan believes most residents are not generally aware of the problems, but have to be brought up to speed quickly to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to a tax-hike referendum next year.
She said she wants to be a true community representative as a board member by being able to sit in on classes and see what elementary school and junior high is like for students in 2017.