In break with tradition, faculty union at OPRF makes endorsements

? Official nods, decided by the Faculty Senate executive committee, were given to

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By DREW CARTER

The Faculty Senate at Oak Park and River Forest High School has endorsed Dr. Dee Millard and incumbent Valerie Fisher in the April 5 election for the District 200 Board of Education, WEDNESDAY JOURNAL has learned. The leader of the faculty union would not confirm who has been endorsed.

The move represents an effort among teachers to become more political, but does not come merely as a reaction to the three-year contract teachers narrowly approved in November, said Amy Razzino, Faculty Senate president.

"It's being proactive in deciding this is something we should be involved in," Razzino said. "It's time for us to become politically active in selecting who's going to be on our school board."

The Faculty Senate is the certified teachers' union at OPRF.

Razzino described the selection process thus: The candidates responded to a lengthy questionnaire where they ranked important issues at OPRF, described their strengths and how they saw the relationship between faculty, the board and the community, and questions about what they would look for in a new superintendent. Superintendent and Principal Susan Bridge's contract expires June 30, 2007.

The written responses were photocopied for teachers, who met to discuss them, using a rubric, or way of looking for their own priorities in candidates' responses.

The executive committee of the Faculty Senate then met in closed session (so meeting minutes, which are forwarded to the board, would not reflect comments made about the candidates, three of which are incumbents) and made the selections.

Razzino said a letter announcing the endorsements would mailed to every Illinois Education Association (state public schools teachers' union) member living in Oak Park and River Forest. That would include every public elementary and high school teacher, no matter where the teacher works. She said roughly 800 IEA members live in the two villages.

A little more than one-third of OPRF's 225 certified teachers live in Oak Park or River Forest.

Razzino said the results of the process were not being made public at this time in order to avoid hurt feelings among those not endorsed. She acknowledged that news of the endorsements would likely become publicized.

"Will it end up that way? Probably. That's not the way it's intended," she said, adding that the point of the endorsements was not to keep any candidates from being elected.

Nod may not help, some candidates say

Although none of the candidates reached for this article had been contacted by the Faculty Senate concerning the outcome of the endorsements, Millard had heard from teachers that she and Fisher were endorsed.

Millard wasn't sure the endorsement would help her in the race. She said she'd been told that the endorsement could lead some voters to think she wouldn't act independently when making decisions affecting teachers, or that pro-teacher proposals might cost taxpayers more money.

Millard responded to that hypothetical charge by saying one of her ideas?#34;to improve professional development opportunities for teachers?#34;wouldn't have to cost the school, as a grant writer position could be added, which she believes would more than pay for itself while adding opportunities for teachers.

Fisher would not comment on the matter, having not heard anything from the Faculty Senate.

Incumbent Paul Wolfman doubted whether teachers or other voters would follow the recommendations made by the endorsement.

"I think people will make their decisions based on what candidates have contributed [in the case of incumbents] or may contribute," Wolfman said.

Wolfman said he was surprised that the union took on the task because it would politicize the relationships between teachers and board members.

John Rigas, also an incumbent, said he "would love to get" the endorsement, but that he doubted he would get it, having been the sole board liaison on the district's bargaining team for the last contract.

Rigas acknowledged that 800 voters could sway the election, but said the amount of weight given to the endorsement will remain to be seen, especially considering how candidates in the endorsement letter are portrayed is not known.

Local newspapers will also offer endorsements in the coming weeks. The Community Caucus, a diverse panel of 26 people from both villages knowledgeable about OPRF issues, has already slated Rigas, Wolfman and Jacques Conway, an outgoing parks commissioner. Millard was not selected, and Fisher announced her candidacy after the selection process.

Ron Lawless, whose name will appear on the ballot, has dropped out of the race to pursue professional opportunities.
Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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