District 25 superintendent's future could hinge on school board election
Though more than a year remains on Arlington Heights Elementary District 25 Superintendent Lori Bein's contract, the school board election in less than two weeks could prove to be a consequential one for her future in the district.
Amid a contentious reopening debate this school year that included protests outside her house and a petition calling for her ouster, the superintendent still has high marks from a majority of the eight candidates in the April 6 election.
The four winners in the April 6 election, with the three other board members, would be involved in negotiations over a contract extension with Bein, should she decide to stay past June 2022, when her current $221,755-a-year deal expires.
During a recent interview with the Daily Herald Editorial Board, two parents running for the board criticized Bein's handling of the pandemic -- specifically, her communication with parents and community members during controversial decisions over school closures.
"The communication needs to improve," said Todd Witherow, who is running on the four-person Arlington Heights Forward slate that includes those who favored the board's more aggressive reopening decisions over Bein's objections. "One of the biggest tests of a leader is communication -- communication with your employees as well as communication with your customers, and in this case, the customers are the community. I think that's something that's been lacking throughout this time period."
"Does it mean that she needs to resign or does it mean that her contract is not renewed?" Witherow continued. "I can't say that today, but I do think that during the past six to seven months the communication has left a lot to be desired as far as being an effective leader for District 25."
Katie Rausch said parents like her were frustrated after filling out district surveys expressing their desire for more in-person learning, only to see Bein take a more cautious approach.
"You want concrete, solid, regular communication happening, and so I think that that is something that could have been improved," Rausch said.
She added that if elected, she would work with Bein to solve problems and move forward.
Witherow and Rausch's slatemates, current board members Rich Olejniczak and Gina Faso, complimented Bein for her work in the district, despite their differences on the reopening issue during the pandemic.
"I don't think we should be looking at the fact that either the board disagreed maybe with some of her recommendations ... that's OK," said Olejniczak, who has been on the board for eight years. "We have to really look at what has she provided the district and does the district move forward with her. I think that's a decision for the board to make next year, but in my eyes she's done everything we've asked her to do."
Faso, who was appointed to the board in November, said Bein has plenty of achievements she can point to during her seven-year tenure, from the curriculum to work on diversity and inclusion.
"I agree accountability is important, but I will also offer that we have to acknowledge that just like the rest of us, she's human, and the decision she made came from the best information available to her at the time we asked her to make the decision," Faso said.
Anisha Patel, a four-year board member who supported Bein's recommendation for an adaptive pause in December, lauded the superintendent for showing "patience and grace," despite protests outside her house and the petition calling for her resignation, which Patel called "troublesome."
Patel said she believes not only in holding the superintendent accountable, but also in holding the board accountable, after fellow members overturned a pandemic policy in their governance agreement that stripped powers from Bein. Patel says she's led efforts for an annual training and review of the board "to stick to our rules of engagement of how we should support our superintendent (and) how we should hold her accountable."
Deborah Tranter, a District 25 teacher now running for the board, said teachers feel supported under Bein's leadership. Despite calls for more communication, Tranter said parents aren't attending Bein's open-door coffee sessions.
"Having known, worked under, and been a parent under the last few superintendents before Dr. Bein joined us, I think that parents need to be very cautious of wishing to replace her because we have seen other superintendents and what they could be working with," Tranter said. "No leader is flawless, but I do believe we have good leadership right now."
Greg Scapillato, a Northbrook Elementary District 28 band director, has criticized the board majority for micromanaging Bein, who he said has been professional and patient during the pandemic.
"When we're having a concert, if it's not going well I don't jump over to the first clarinet part and say, 'I'm gonna play it,'" Scapillato said. "But unfortunately that's what we've seen with our board."
Melisa Andrews, a district parent who supported Bein's reopening approach, said she hasn't agreed with Bein on everything but does on most things.
"She is a very strong superintendent for our district compared to previous superintendents that I have heard about," Andrews said.
Bein, hired by the district in 2014 on an initial three-year contract, received a three-year extension in 2017, a one-year extension in 2018, and a one-year extension in 2019.