A former District 200 school board member has launched a campaign to return to the board. Fred Arkin, who served four years on the board from 2015 to 2019 before narrowly losing his bid for re-election that year, said he’s running to continue the progress the board made during his tenure.
“During my tenure, we instigated a lot of change. Changing policies is one thing but having them implemented by the administration is something else,” Arkin said. “That takes discipline and accountability and I want to make sure that occurs.”
One of those measures that Arkin voted on as a board member is the district’s racial equity policy, which he said is “a very good policy; however, where the rubber hits the road — the implementation — has not yet occurred.”
There will be four open seats in the April 2021 election. Board members Jackie Moore, Tom Cofsky, Craig Iseli and Matt Baron are all up for re-election. So far, none of the incumbents have publicly announced their intentions.
When reached for comment, Baron and Cofsky responded. Baron said that while he has not made a final decision, “currently, I am leaning against appearing on the ballot.” Cofsky said he has not “yet made a final decision on whether I will consider another term.”
“There are four members up for re-election, and I think back to the day Joylynn [Pruitt-Adams, superintendent] challenged us in her final interview whether we had the courage and stomach for the type of work we needed to do, especially around the equity work, and the board unanimously said, ‘Yes, we’ll support her and do the work,'” Arkin recalled. “If all four of those seats on the board turn over, there’s only [current board President Sara Dixon Spivy] who is left on the board who made that commitment.”
Arkin said, “I do have the institutional knowledge in terms of how policies were created, the rationale behind them and the expectation of what implementation would look like. The institution is so large and complex and change does not come quickly. But the district is well down the road toward change.”
Arkin lauded Pruitt-Adams, who he said has “meticulously selected her team. She’s restructured. She’s aligned almost everything the board does to the strategic plan, which is an incredible way to keep that plan alive and dynamic, as it’s supposed to be — but also keeping the board and community focused on that strategic plan.”
If elected, Arkin will help decide whether one of Pruitt-Adams’ most important decisions is implemented or stopped — the administration’s effort to restructure the freshman curriculum so all incoming Oak Park and River Forest High School students start out on the same academic track in most subjects.
Arkin said he’s waiting to see what the administration’s final restructuring plans look like, adding that he’s raised “several questions and concerns” with administrators. Arkin said he’s concerned that the “current system, on all levels but especially on the freshman level, is discriminatory and holds implicit bias,” but added that he wants to see more data associated with the plan’s effectiveness.
He also said he’s concerned about students in the high school’s College Prep program, who also need resources.
“That bottom end of College Prep that is not in the Transitions level, which is the most-supported kids, maybe 10-15 percent of students who end up not being college-ready, was very concerning,” Arkin said. “So they need more support, as well.”
He also touted his record on taxes while on the board.
“I never voted for taking a full tax levy and I believe we abated [at least $35 million of taxes during my tenure],” he said, adding that he’ll be a voice of fiscal discipline as the district tries staying afloat during a pandemic-induced recession,
“Instead of focusing so much on the top line, you have to focus on the expense side of our budget,” he said. “And you have to prioritize. You have to look at where we can cut because it’s very possible there could be a real crisis if people don’t pay their taxes and we don’t get the revenue from the state or federal government that the district is expecting.”