River Forest’s District 90 Board of Education (BOE) Caucus has officially nominated three incumbents for the April 2021 election: Stacey Williams, Nicole Thompson and Katie Avalos. Their three seats plus that of Judy Deogracias, who is not planning to run again, will be open.

In an email, this year’s chairs Maggy Clancy and Beth Vlerick described the caucus as “a River Forest tradition run by residents for residents.”

They added, “It is not an elected board holding any kind of official stature. Any residents at any time could host a similar caucus or information session for candidates at any time – it just takes a lot of time and work.”

Because candidates must reach a certain threshold to be endorsed and only three candidates reached that level, the fourth open seat does not carry an endorsement. Six candidates took part in the process this year.

In an interview, Clancy said finding delegates that represented a variety of experiences and backgrounds was difficult. They actively sought delegates, through Facebook and PTO meetings, online and in letters sent home to school families. They wanted a good mix of people, and that mix, Clancy said, included skeptics of the caucus process. 

The caucus consists of two co-chairs, 19 voting delegates, and 2 non-voting teacher advisors.

Roshni Ricchetti, who served on this year’s caucus, said she thinks she was chosen as a delegate this year because she’s “ornery” and a natural skeptic. While she enjoyed the entire process of serving on the caucus, she said there are improvements that need to be made. 

“It was a wonderful process, but the whole community would benefit from being privy to the process,” said Ricchetti. It’s the privacy of the caucus that, historically, has been an issue for some critics, Ricchetti included.

For example, the caucus does not release the names of candidates who participated but weren’t endorsed; the names of the endorsed are only shared if they already indicated they were ready to go public. 

Part of the secrecy is due to the fact that the caucus wants to protect the privacy of those interviewing. Some potential candidates, said Clancy and Vlerick, are merely exploring the possibility of running. Talking to the delegates and going through the interview process is a significant way for them to learn about what it would take to run for a seat on the board. But those people don’t necessarily want to go public with their decision to run; some ultimately decide not to do so. 

“It is our intention to be on the side of all the candidates and support how they want to communicate outcomes and level of participation,” Clancy and Vlerick said.

The interviews are also private, as are the delegates’ votes, which are anonymously cast.

Ricchetti finds the secrecy of the interview process frustrating. “The interviews themselves offer an enormous amount of clarity into why or why not people voted for someone,” Ricchetti said.

But the biggest issue Ricchetti finds with the process is that when it’s all said and done, the caucus merely endorses three candidates but doesn’t say why. Not enough information comes along with the endorsements, said Ricchetti, so the list of names is essentially meaningless.

Because the votes are cast anonymously by the delegates after private interviews, there’s no easy way for the caucus to formulate an explanation for its endorsements, which don’t always reflect the opinions of all the delegates.

Ricchetti, who will serve as a co-chair for the caucus during the next election cycle, said that ideally she’d change this by splitting the process into two parts. A private panel could occur before the filing deadline. That would allow potential candidates to be interviewed and questioned and to ask questions back “to get an idea of what it takes to run.”

The actual delegate vote, though, should come later, with public interviews so voters can understand the endorsements.

“I want the [caucus] vote to be delayed until after the filing deadline so that anyone who’s officially throwing their hat into the ring has the opportunity to then be interviewed in front of the panel, but that needs to be public,” Ricchetti said. 

Clancy and Vlerick agree that there needs to be more transparency in caucus proceedings, but they struggled with an outdated constitution, a guideline that goes back, they said, at least 20 years. And there has been very little documentation of the process from year to year, something Clancy is actively working to change.

As a co-chair this year, when Clancy received the material, including a copy of the constitution, she and Vlerick reviewed it in terms of what’s relevant today.

In the end, Clancy and Vlerick said the process isn’t perfect, but it’s still an extremely useful experience for those involved.

“We’re lucky to be living in a community where we have a lot of people who care and want the best for River Forest,” Clancy said. “How they get there may be a little different. But it’s all valid. And this is just a way for us to support that process.” 

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