James Gates D97 board president

Two people have recently announced their intentions to run for school boards in the April 4, 2017 election. Current Oak Park District 97 Board President James Gates has said that he’s seeking reelection to a third term. 

First-time candidate Craig Iseli, who served a stint on the D97 board after a 2015 appointment, is seeking his first term on the Oak Park and River Forest District 200 school board. 

Gates, who has been on the D97 board since 2009, became board president in 2014. He served as board vice president under former board president Bob Spatz for a year prior to taking the helm. 

Gates is the only sitting board member of the three members whose terms will be up next year who has decided to defend his seat. Veteran board members Amy Felton and Graham Brisben will not seek reelection.

As with the Oak Park and River Forest District 200 high school board, the D97 school board is facing a possible drain of experienced hands. Next year, barring Gates’ reelection, the board could be composed of five members who have less than one term in office. Board members Jim O’Connor and Bob Spatz have both served for at least one full term.  

In an interview Monday, Gates, 65, touted his commitments to fiscal responsibility, board accountability, student performance and community engagement. 

“I think our board has demonstrated a commitment to fiscal stewardship,” said Gates, referencing a feature on the district’s website that tracks a list of promises, such as increasing student and teacher access to technology and exercising sound fiscal management, the district made in the wake of a 2011 referendum. He also cited the board’s monthly self-evaluations and bi-annual board self-assessment retreats, which is more than what the state recommends for districts. 

“I would like to run again to ensure that we continue to be stewards of Oak Park’s financial resources and especially so that the school district and community remain sustainable,” he said. “Sustainability is critical, because everything we do impacts sustainability — from contracts and student achievement to hires.”

Gates also said that he’s been working with board colleague Holly Spurlock to establish a Committee for Community Engagement, which would be the district’s fourth standing board committee — along with the Facilities Advisory Committee, Finance Oversight and Review Committee, and the Committee for Legislative Action, Intervention and Monitoring. Gates said that the new committee should be up and running no later than February.

“Community engagement is always an issue for a board,” Gates said. “You cannot communicate with the community too much. This would be a citizen-chaired committee. People with expertise in marketing, public relations and social media [will be recruited] to ensure a true dialogue with the community. We’ll also have face-to-face events.”

Gates, a retired school teacher, is currently a co-chairman of the Intergovernmental Assembly, also known as iGov, which comprises six of Oak Park’s “government taxing bodies [that] gather periodically to discuss potential collaborative opportunities and talk about present and future challenges,” according to its web page.

“I understand education from the classroom perspective, from the leadership perspective, from the board perspective,” Gates said. “I spent nine years consulting and doing teacher support training for the DuPage [Regional Office of Education] and I think I’ve demonstrated the ability to work across governmental units.” 

Iseli, 54, and an executive vice-president of a mid-sized chemical company, said that he was encouraged to run for a seat on the D200 board by community members and local school board officials. He also said the prospect of running for office has interested him for some time.  

“I’d been interested in running for a number of years and talked to people over the years,” he said. “This is a priority for me. I want to get involved in the community.” 

Iseli, a married father of two Oak Park and River Forest High School students, has been a member of various standing board committees. In 2015, he was appointed to serve the remainder of the late Peter Traczyk’s term, during which Iseli was involved in D97 Supt. Carol Kelley’s hiring. 

“In my professional career I have had many opportunities living and working in different cultures,” Iseli said in a statement. “I have also managed significant resources and built successful businesses from the ground up.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com 

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