Endorsements: Sriram, Morrison, Khan For Palatine Elementary Dist. 15
Palatine Elementary School District 15 is managing to provide what many in the community describe as an exemplary learning environment for young students while remaining, so far, financially secure. But this is in spite of rather than because of its school board.
The board has been in a state of some turmoil for many years, and in 2011, a voter-led revolt ousted three incumbents who were criticized as being part of a board that was overly indulgent toward teachers and administrators. Voters replaced them with three outspoken critics.
For a couple of years, things seemed to be improving. Teachers and other employee groups accepted significant concessions in contract negotiations that helped keep the district on strong financial footing. A new administration led by Superintendent Scott Thompson began to re-establish faith in the day-to-day operations of the district.
But a couple of elections later, the tenuous state of cooperation began to fall apart. Two of the board members ousted in 2011 returned in successful election campaigns, and -- perhaps ominously -- the third was just returned through appointment last week by the regional superintendent of schools when the Dist. 15 board, now all but thoroughly dysfunctional, couldn't even lay the groundwork for replacing a board member who died in office, let alone actually replace him.
It is not much of an exaggeration to say that the board's operation as it approaches the April 7 election is an embarrassment. The debate over who is to blame for that state of affairs, of course, depends on who is speaking. The three board critics elected in 2011, two of whom are seeking re-election this year, are an easy and natural target, and they certainly haven't done much to demonstrate either independence individually or a desire to unify the board generally. When the district won a statewide award for cooperative and progressive leadership, they made a point of protesting the award by refusing to join a group photograph to celebrate it. When unfortunately the board had to replace the late Richard Bokor last fall, the three refused to participate in a process suggested by the board president and insisted instead that the board consider only their suggested approach. But they are not alone to blame for the board's discord. In both of these instances, it's also clear that board leadership and other members have done little to accommodate the critics' concerns and much to exacerbate them.
This, then, is the environment in which the district finds itself as it approaches the threshold of a term that promises increased financial pressures, exacerbated by new rounds of employee contract talks. One could argue that, in addition to losing the three critics, about half the remaining board should be replaced as well. That is not going to happen, however, so the best hope for the district is to select candidates who can manage to exhibit true independence without being absorbed into one side or the other of this increasingly personal mess.
Can that apply to any of the three critics? We're not absolutely certain, but one of them is not running and at least one of the remaining two -- either Gerard Iannuzzelli or Manjula Sriram -- ought to be returned to the board to ensure that some critical thinking will be involved in decision making about deficit spending, contract talks and administrative reports. Our choice for that role is Sriram, who in addition to being outspoken also seems to make a special effort to immerse herself in the details of issues facing the board. For the remaining two positions, we strongly favor Jessica Morrison, who perhaps above all seven candidates demonstrates a sincere commitment to children and to understanding the details of school board issues. She also persuasively expresses a level-headed desire to stay above the factionalism tearing at the board. Likewise, Zubair Khan emphasizes that a primary goal of his campaign is to "raise the level of discourse and cooperation within the board."
We trust, on both candidates' parts, that "cooperation" does not imply merely becoming incorporated into the present board majority but being able to work collaboratively while still assertively questioning issues that come before the trustees.
Each of the remaining candidates, Frank Annerino, David Gurion and Joshua Perry, has positive attributes to recommend him for board service, but for the best combination of candidates to give District 15 credibility as well as stability, we recommend incumbent Sriram and newcomers Morrison and Khan.