Reopening debate fuels school board candidacies in Northwest suburbs

  • School board candidates from across the suburbs lined up early Monday to be among the first to file paperwork with the Cook County clerk's office at Old Orchard Country Club in Mount Prospect.

      School board candidates from across the suburbs lined up early Monday to be among the first to file paperwork with the Cook County clerk's office at Old Orchard Country Club in Mount Prospect. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Updated 12/15/2020 7:40 PM

Amid the heated debates in recent months over school reopenings, some Northwest suburban school districts are seeing larger-than-usual fields of candidates who intend to run for their local school boards in April.

More than 480 school board candidates submitted paperwork on the first official filing day Monday across four locations set up by the Cook County clerk's office. That included 140 candidates who stood in line to hand in their petitions at Old Orchard Country Club in Mount Prospect.


Candidates have until the close of business next Monday to turn in their nominating paperwork. But already, many of the new candidates are parents who've become regulars of their local school board meetings, where the reopening debate has raged through the pandemic.

"I think there will be more interest of people wanting to run for school board, and a lot of it is driven by wanting to reopen schools," said Ben Schwarm, deputy executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, a nonprofit that advises the elected panels throughout the state.

Schwarm said webinars the association hosted for prospective school board candidates were well-attended, and traffic to the organization's website -- listing various resources for candidates -- is up.

One prominent district attracting several candidates is Northwest Suburban High School District 214. The Supporters of District 214 slate -- it has been undefeated in local elections since 2007 -- announced its candidates in September: incumbents Mark Hineman, Millie Palmer and Lenny Walker, and first-time candidate Andrea Rauch. Those seeking to challenge the slate -- parents Elizabeth Bauer, Tony Rosselli and Richard Menninga -- filed papers to get on the ballot this week.

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"It's not healthy having everybody have the same opinion and coordinate everything together," said Bauer, mother of a Rolling Meadows High School senior who has advocated for a full reopening of schools. "It's not good for democracy. It's not good for the school district. It shouldn't be that way."

In neighboring Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, no incumbents have yet filed for three available spots on the board. Those who are running so far are Curtis Bradley, Robi Vollkommer, Kristen Steel, Jessica Hinkle and Denise Wilson.

Barrington Unit District 220 board Vice President Sandra Ficke-Bradford is the lone incumbent to have filed this week. She was joined by Lauren Klauer, Erin Chan Ding, William Betz and Alex Michael Strobl in a bid for four spots on the panel.

The four incumbents in Maine Township High School District 207 -- Aurora Austriaco, Linda Coyle, Jin Lee and Carla Owen -- filed Monday.

The differences between supporters and opponents of a return to full in-person learning perhaps haven't been more stark than in Arlington Heights Elementary District 25, where there's been competing rallies, petitions and yard signs. It came to a head Dec. 4 when the board voted 4-3 to continue with hybrid learning instead of an adaptive pause recommended by Superintendent Lori Bein.


Running again is longtime incumbent Rich Olejniczak, who has led the charge to reopen schools, and Anisha Patel, who voted for the temporary remote learning period.

Also filing papers this week were Gina Faso, who was appointed to the board last month and voted with Olejniczak; pro-reopening parents Katie Rausch and Todd Witherow; pro-adaptive pause parents Melisa Andrews and Greg Scapillato; and teacher Deborah Tranter. There's four positions up for election.

"It doesn't really surprise me that people from both sides are running, because since the coronavirus happened, everybody has been more outspoken," Andrews said.

Here's a look at who has filed so far in other suburban districts:

• Palatine Township Elementary District 15: incumbents Lisa Beth Szczupaj and Frank Annerino, for four positions.

• Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54: incumbents Jim Pye, Nicholas Scipione and Kenneth Van Dyke, and newcomer Debbie Schmidt, for four positions.

• Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59: incumbents Janice Krinsky, Mardell Schumacher and Roberto Mancilla, and newcomer Joseph Sagerer, for four available positions.

• Mount Prospect Elementary District 57: incumbent Vicki Chung, and newcomers Corrin Bennett-Kill, Jennifer Ciok and Kevin Bull, for four positions.

• Wheeling Township Elementary District 21: incumbents Phil Pritzker, Debra McAtee, Bill Harrison and Arlen Gould, for four positions.

• River Trails Elementary District 26: incumbents Janine Freedlund, Susan Stolzer, William Grimpe and Robert Rognstad, for four positions.

• Prospect Heights Elementary District 23: incumbent Kevin Novak and newcomer Becky McClaney, for three positions.

• Des Plaines Elementary District 62: incumbents Ronald Burton and Stephanie Duckmann, for four positions.

• Rosemont Elementary District 78: incumbent Dolores Wilson and newcomers Joseph Balogh and Daniel Price, for three positions.

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