By Terry Dean
District 97 Board of Education member Bob Spatz was elected unanimously by his fellow members as the board's new president.
Elected to the board in 2007 and 2011, Spatz said he felt now was a good time to become president. He ran unsuccessfully twice for the board in 1999 and 2001. The new D97 board was seated on May 7, with incumbents Amy Felton and James Gates, and newcomer Graham Brisben sworn in. The members also chose its new leadership, with Gates elected vice president.
Spatz said the previous board functioned well and he hopes to continue that trend with the new board. The board and district have a pretty full agenda, he noted. Several multi-year initiatives are already underway, such as the recently-approved Collaboration for Early Childhood partnership between D97, D200 and the Village of Oak Park. Implementing the Common Core standards, which began this school year, is also on the agenda. The district's 10-year capital plan, which includes improvements in technology in the schools, is something else the board expects to tackle.
"It's really not about trying to do new things but making sure we focus on these multi-year commitments," Spatz said.
And there's still the issue of what to do with the district's old, outdated Madison and Home headquarters. Plans to partner with the Park District of Oak Park in a joint administration building fizzled late last year after the parks pulled out.
D97, though, is still interested in building on Village Hall land, Spatz said, but talks with the village were put on the back-burner due to the spring elections. Spatz expects those talks to pick up again with the elections now over.
Though a native of Chicago, Spatz has a long history in Oak Park. He's lived in the village since 1976, when his parents moved the family over from neighboring Austin. He attended Emerson Junior High (now Brooks Middle School) and later Oak Park and River Forest High School.
Spatz has worked at the University of Chicago business school — in its Center for Research in Security Prices — for nearly 30 years. It's been his only full-time job since college. He works in the center's financial data department. Spatz's financial background has been an asset on the D97 board and when he was on the D97 Finance Advisory Committee.
Becoming board president wasn't something he always set out to do. It's actually something he was hesitant to do because of the immense time involved as president. But with a child away at college now, Spatz felt he could do the job. But if time and with work commitments become an issue, Spatz said he'll reconsider whether to continue serving.
"I no longer have a child in the district so it makes things a little easier. You don't have to worry about weeknight or weekend events. But I still have job commitments, and my wife has job commitments," he said.
Prior to seating the new board last Tuesday, then-President Peter Barber bid farewell to D97 after serving two-terms. Barber is a new Village of Oak Park trustee, a rare instance of someone going directly from a school board onto the village board. Spatz credits Barber's leadership in his decision to become president.
"He showed that it could work, working outside of Oak Park and leading the board," he said.
Spatz also credited the leadership of former board president and current member Peter Traczyk, who was elected with Spatz in '07. That race was uncontested.
This April election was also uncontested. Gates, Felton and Brisben ran as a slate and were sworn-in at last week's meeting. Brisben said he was excited about joining the board looked and forward to working with his colleagues.