District 15 School Board Race: The Right Choices are Very Clear

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March 21, 2017
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 District 15 School Board Race: The Right Choices are Very Clear

We need everyone to get out and vote for this election. If we don’t, we ‘get what we get’ in District 15.

August 16, 2016 was a day that changed the most recent priorities in my life. Barb Kain (my friend and neighbor) and I were at the D15 school board meeting that night, which also happened to be the very first day of school. A $130 million referendum was unanimously approved by the school board with no thoughtful discussion before the vote. It was truly a shocking moment. To me, this vote represented total ignorance towards the very people our school board is elected to represent, and an ‘out of touch’ mentality.

Barb and I started out as two concerned Moms, and we were fortunate to gain support from thousands of D15 residents who were just as passionate as us about how wrong this referendum was for our entire community. The group 4RD15Kids was born, and we all worked tirelessly to get out our message out; ultimately, 33,055 voters in our community voted NO, a near 3-1 margin against. And that was Part 1.

Part 2 is bringing much-needed, new leadership to our school board. If the referendum were the only example of poor school board decisions, it would be one thing. But, this is a pattern of behavior. We see it through a 10-year timeline of decisions and actions, that are truly embarrassing and a complete disappointment.

There are five District 15 residents, parents and taxpayers, who are ready and able to bring strong, new leadership to our school board. They are the Engage D15 Team of candidates: Frank Annerino, Mike Smolka, Anthony Wang, Lisa Szczupaj and Barb Kain.

This group has endured preposterous allegations throughout this campaign, ranging from being a politically arranged group, to accusations that they are against the rights of those who are transgender. Well, it’s all a bunch of hogwash; obviously, an effort for extreme groups and unfortunately, the incumbents themselves, to distract from the real and serious issues that our school district is facing.

There is no political machine, and no big funding behind the Engage D15 team, I should know because I am the person who brought them together. I classify myself as an Independent, though I will admit I am a fiscal conservative. This group has accepted modest donations from hardworking taxpayers who care about our community, just like the five of them do. NOT help and financial backing from unions and special interests like the incumbents have accepted, historically and even now in this school board race.

It’s been an eye-opening and disheartening experience, I must admit, to see how these groups have treated the five candidates, despite the fact they have made themselves available to all of our taxpayers consistently-each fulfilling the promise of their very name – Engage D15. Where have the incumbents and their two other running mates been? Nowhere.

I personally have experienced hateful words, behavior and treatment, which has been absolutely vile, and sad. Some of you wouldn’t believe what a school board race brings out in people – it’s the absolute worst, and a total shame.

The campaign materials distributed by the incumbents are mind boggling. I still can’t believe one of their postcard mailers contains the word HATE… big reminder….this is a school board race! Shame on them for bringing such a word into a campaign that will have a ripple effect on the quality of education we provide for our students, parents and our entire taxpaying community. This all matters deeply to the health and prosperity of our community. It’s truly dirty politics, at its very best. My question is, what are they trying to so hard to keep? This is a non paying board position, is it not?

How did these Engage D15 candidates come together? As a Mom and a taxpayer, I reached out to all of the networks I could think of to find people who would run for school board, because I strongly believe this is an extremely important opportunity for change, for our community. In total, we had 10 people who were interested as a result of this reach out, and as a group, all 10 of them met together (I was there, at Smith Street Station) and they voted together on the five people I have listed above who are running. It was a very Democratic process.

Speaking of politics, and the area Democrats. I know of the Democrat group who has hidden in the shadows, quietly supporting the incumbents and their ‘Progress’ team (go ahead, see their sample ballot here – it really is a slate of 5 people, they just don’t want anyone to know it). Here is the link that has been shared by all of them: http://www.d15d211.org/.

We all pay extremely high taxes already, living in Cook County, and we need a group of people – yes, a majority on the school board, to make sure there are thoughtful conversations before big decisions are made, to watch our tax dollars wisely, and to ensure any decisions that affect the lives and livelihoods of our taxpayers, are brought to the attention of our community, first. This is the promise of the Engage D15 Team. This is the fiduciary responsible of our current school board that has not been fulfilled. Repeatedly. 

Frank Annerino, Mike Smolka, Anthony Wang, Lisa Szczupaj and Barb Kain will be inclusive and collaborative for those they are elected to represent and serve, and that means Independents, Democrats, Republicans, Transgender, Gay, Straight, and any other group who has a vested interest in the education provided by our school district.

Don’t listen to the noise provided by individuals and groups who are unbelievably polarizing, and who do not consider the needs of our community as a whole, I must question based on their behavior if they actually have the true interests of our community at heart. If they did, they would be focused on all of the issues that present serious challenges for the health of our beloved school district.

This is a call-out to everyone who desires the changes described above. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about what happens. And remember, leaving the leadership on our school board to those who have ignored its own residents will most certainly produce an unwanted result moving forward.

Our school board is elected to represent us, and it’s about time we had individuals on the board who will do just that.

Here’s a link to the Engage D15 sample ballot, please feel free to print/download and bring it with you to your voting place. http://engaged15.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Sample-Ballot.pdf

Melanie Santostefano


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