Failed $130 million referendum request hot topic in Palatine District 15 race
Perhaps the biggest talking point among the 11 candidates vying for one of five open seats on the Palatine Township School District 15 board is what to make of the failed $130 million new-schools proposal last November and how it might have been handled differently.
That plan, overwhelmingly rejected by district voters in a referendum, called for the construction of two new school buildings, the shuttering of another as well as redrawing the attendance borders for the district's schools.
One key criticism of the plan repeated by many of the eight candidates who haven't served on the board before was that the district's efforts to engage the community were lacking.
Barbara Kain said she was disappointed that the first time much of the community heard the school board was looking into building new schools was at the same meeting the board voted to put the referendum on the ballot.
Kain is one of five candidates on the slate called Engage D15 affiliated with the parents group that led the charge against the proposal last year. The slate's other members are Frank Annerino, Michael Smolka, Lisa Beth Szczupaj and Anthony Wang.
Kain said she didn't think the district provided good answers to the questions the community asked about the proposal.
"I was disappointed there didn't seem to be a lot of research involved," Kain said.
Incumbent board President Peggy Babcock said the plan came after a very long life safety study on district buildings that determined some buildings needed to undergo extensive repairs or be replaced. Babcock said she heard from parents that they liked a good deal about the plan but were opposed to its price tag or that it would shut down their neighborhood school.
Other current board members seeking re-election are James G. Ekeberg and Gerald D. Chapman. Although they are incumbents, they are not running as a slate.
Ekeberg stuck up for the plan, saying it would have provided the district space to offer full-day kindergarten, as well as room for federally funded preschool classes, but he conceded the communication could have been better. Ekeberg said if they could do it over again, they might start with a community engagement committee like the 44-member group that Superintendent Scott Thompson formed after the proposal was rejected.
Asad 'Sid' Aman had perhaps the most positive words to say about the plan, saying he thought it was a success because it got people like him and the other candidates more involved in the district. He said he felt there were some great ideas in the plan and the past year should be seen as the first phase of a larger process.
Aman said there were several components of the proposal he felt could be achieved without borrowing money, including realigning the district's school attendance boundaries and implementing a community school concept.
"We should provide a plan that makes everyone happy," Aman said. "I'm not being optimistic; I'm not being naive. I think it is possible to make everybody happy and then you don't have these divisions."
The other two first-time candidates, who are running independently, are Adam Bauske and David Border.
Border said he felt the district being able to offer full-day kindergarten was a high priority. The district does not have the classroom space to offer it.
"They'll go elsewhere if they don't get it," Border said of parents.
Bauske said he thinks all agree on some aspects of the proposal and that maybe the best way forward is to address the problems piece by piece.
Border and Kain are seeking the single 2-year board term up for election in April. The other nine candidates are seeking 4-year terms.