Union endorsements in Districts 211, 214 raise stir
Teachers union endorsements of school board candidates in two of the largest high school districts in the suburbs are generating debate over what they should and shouldn't mean to voters.
A recent mailer from the Northwest Suburban Teachers Union endorses candidates for the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 and Northwest Suburban High School District 214 boards. The union endorses incumbent Anna Klimkowicz and newcomers Curtis Bradley and Tim McGowan in District 211, plus incumbents Mark Hineman, Mildred Palmer and Lenny Walker as well as newcomer Andrea Rauch in District 214.
The union's public support of candidates is raising accusations that it creates an appearance of a conflict of interest for school board hopefuls who could one day be deciding teachers' salaries and other working conditions.
Representatives of Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 1211 did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week.
Jessica Hinkle and Kristen Steel are two of the five candidates not endorsed by teachers in the District 211 race. Both said they would have declined an endorsement if it were offered.
"When a union endorses a candidate that will be elected ahead of contract negotiations, that looks bad," Hinkle said. "I just think it's poor form that the union made endorsements and that anyone accepted them."
Steel said she's conducting an entirely independent campaign and not accepting endorsements or financial support from any organization.
"I think it sends the wrong message to the voters," she said. "To me as a voter, it speaks volumes of the potential behavior of that board member if they are elected. It's just a conflict of interest if you look at what the board's role is."
But Klimkowicz, the only incumbent in the District 211 race, said teachers consider more than just salary expectations when deciding whether to endorse a candidate.
"I think it's important that we hear what they're saying," Klimkowicz said. "It's not just about salary. It's about a good and safe work environment, and a place where you can be creative. It's the curriculum. It's how everyone can provide the best education for students."
Klimkowicz, who also was backed by teachers four years ago, said an endorsed candidate should not feel beholden to the union during contract negotiations. The current teacher contract was approved by all seven members of the board in January 2019.
Bradley said that as someone who grew up in a union household, he doesn't understand how the teachers' endorsement can be made to sound like a negative. But he hopes it will not be the only thing voters know about him.
"The union won't be signing any paychecks for me or paying my bills," Bradley said. "Anyone who doesn't feel it's a partnership (with teachers), I feel sorry for. Though I'm completely honored to be endorsed by the union, my primary objective is the well-being of our students, the people responsible for educating our students and the people responsible for our facilities."
District 211 board member Mark Cramer has complained that the union's use of the two districts' logos on the mailers was unauthorized and -- in 211's case at least -- a violation of copyright. He argued that and the use of the unofficial acronym NWSTU on the mailer created the impression that the endorsements were the districts'.
"They're breaking the law," said Cramer, who has been providing advice and assistance to Hinkle, Steel and fellow candidates Denise Wilson and Robi Vollkommer during their campaigns.
Matt Dietrich, public information officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said that because a complaint has been threatened over the use of the acronym but not yet filed, he could not comment.
District 211 released an official statement, saying, "District 211 did not authorize the use of its logo, and the district does not nor has ever endorsed candidates for board of education elections." District 214 officials did not respond to a similar request for comment.
Also in the District 211 race is first-time candidate Roxanne Wittkamp, while other candidates in the District 214 race not endorsed by the union are Elizabeth Bauer, Richard Menninga, Tony Roselli and Jacqueline Ryan.