John Abbott’s campaign platform is indistinguishable from his primary motivation for entering the race.
“The referendum is very important to this story,” said Abbott, 63, a lecturer on European history at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) and now a candidate for the District 97 Board of Education.
Abbott, whose candidacy is aligned with his fellow candidate Hueland Richard “Rick” Boultinghouse III, is running against nine other candidates for four open seats on the board.
“In the first place, I was really proud and pleased to be part of that referendum movement,” he said. “It was genuinely grassroots. But most of those people have become bitterly disillusioned in the aftermath due to the course the district took because we see it as being a departure from the policies we thought we were embracing.”
Abbott said that, in the spring of 2011, when he and a band of parents and community members campaigned to get the referendum passed, they were genuinely motivated by harsh programming cuts the board said might occur if the funds from a referendum weren’t made available.
“We were told that if new revenues weren’t raised, programs would be eliminated and teachers cut, so we rallied around the referendum cause,” he said. “After it passed, however, the messaging from the board shifted and lot of us feel as though we’ve been subjected to a game of bait and switch. Only after that referendum was the need for a new headquarters proposed.”
Abbott cautioned that he believes a new headquarters is needed for the district. Nonetheless, the “way the board handled this politically was to give credence to the notion that the referendum was a subterfuge.”
Abbott is also highly critical of some of the learning initiatives, such as Fast ForWord and the distribution of iPads, that the board implemented in the wake of the referendum. He said the technologies have been expensive, disruptive to classroom learning and, in the case of the iPads, unproven with respect to their pedagogical justification.
“This is not why we passed a referendum,” Abbott said, arguing that the technological measures Supt. Al Roberts pushed are exemplary of a series of administrative decisions that have taken away from classroom-based, teacher-centered learning. The measures, he said, have frustrated a lot of the district’s teachers.
“I’m not against technology; it’s been enormously helpful,” he said. “But with Fast ForWord and the iPads, it’s been technology for its own sake that’s been driving the process. The current board should’ve done its job and exercised due diligence and oversight,” he added, noting that the board was so enamored of Roberts’s managerial competence, they overlooked what he may lacked in the area of education.
“Do we simply want a competent manager or do we want someone with solid educational credentials and experience and who remains passionate about education?” Abbott asks.