Trio of veteran school board members running again
Plenty of incumbents will be on ballots for April's general consolidated election, but few have served as long as Stevenson High School's Merv Roberts.
Roberts has been on the Lincolnshire school's board since 1981 -- an incredible 34 years. And he hopes to add another four years to that total Election Day.
"I can reflect now and say I've had a positive impact on thousands and thousands of students," said Roberts, 74, of Lincolnshire. "That drives my passion to run."
Terry Moons has served on the Stevenson High board for nearly as long. She joined the panel in 1985.
Moons is running for re-election, too. And since she and Roberts are among four candidates -- all incumbents -- for four seats, they're essentially guaranteed to win.
Amazingly, neither Roberts nor Moons is the longest-serving candidate on Lake County's ballots in April. That honor falls to Marge Loizzo, who has served on the Lake Forest-based Rondout Elementary District 72 board since 1974 and is seeking another term.
"It's kind of a labor of love," the 78-year-old Loizzo said.
While acknowledging the candidates' good intentions, the leader of a prominent political watchdog group had concerns about their lengthy tenures.
"I'm sure they're highly qualified and they bring a wealth of experience," said Susan Garrett, a former state senator from Lake Forest who now is chairwoman of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "(But) it's always refreshing to bring in new blood."
Roberts, a former management consultant, first ran for a seat on the Stevenson High board after spending five years on Lincolnshire's plan commission. He intended to serve two terms at most -- eight years -- but he ran for a third term to help select a new school superintendent.
That was 26 years ago. The man the board chose to lead District 125, Rick DuFour, is long gone.
Roberts is still on the board dais.
"At some point, I need to leave," Roberts acknowledged.
But Roberts said he's running again because Stevenson "can still get better."
Moons feels a similar dedication to the Stevenson community.
Initially appointed to fill a vacancy, Moons was familiar with school operations because her husband, Gerard, served on the Aptakisic-Tripp Elementary District 102 board at the time.
"My idea was to give back to the community in service," said Moons, 72, of Buffalo Grove. "And 30 years later, I'm still doing it."
Moons said she's running again because there are still projects for her to tackle.
She's especially interested in the teens who receive special-education services. Stevenson will withdraw this year from the consortium known as the Special Education District of Lake County in order to educate those kids locally.
"I want to be part of that," Moons said.
She's is a rookie compared to Loizzo, one of the longest-serving elected officials in the Chicago area.
When Loizzo joined the Rondout District 72 panel in 1974, it was just a three-member board of directors.
She ran for the job because she had seven children at the time and wanted to help shape the educational program at the small school. An eighth child eventually arrived.
Those children are grown now, and they've had their own kids.
"I tell everybody my kids graduated but I never did," Loizzo said.
Loizzo, who also works as a part-time nurse at the Lambs Farm facility in Green Oaks, is one of three candidates for three seats on the board.
But Loizzo isn't running just to keep a streak going. She volunteers at the school and regularly attends concerts, graduations and other events.
Getting elected and only attending meetings once a month wouldn't be doing the job properly, Loizzo insisted.
"I certainly wouldn't vote for somebody like that," she said.
The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's Garrett didn't question the candidates' earnestness. When asked generally about long-serving trustees, she said change is good.
"You want to have somebody that understands the local school issues," Garrett said.
Nonprofit groups often limit service to eight or 10 years, Garrett said. Local political boards should consider adopting a similar policy, she said.
Some suburban municipal governments -- including those in Lake Forest and Des Plaines -- have term limits for elected officials. Interested officials could ask voters how they feel about the issue through an advisory referendum.
Political expert Kent Redfield agreed that change can help a board see alternative ways of doing things. But he doesn't think term limits is the answer.
Because school board elections are nonpartisan campaigns with low costs and relatively small voting bases, the problems term limits aim to fix -- the financial influence of lobbyists or special interests, for example -- don't exist at that level, said Redfield, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Additionally, he said term limits could discourage political involvement in districts that already have small pools of people willing to serve.
"While there can be problems associated with long tenure, the democratic cure of regular elections is the best medicine," Redfield said.
When asked about term limits, Loizzo said she supports them -- but only for paid elected officials, not volunteers like herself.
The people who serve for long periods on volunteer panels do it because they care about the job, she said, not for pay or perks.
"I don't think people would continue to run for positions like this if they weren't interested in it," she said.