The race for three open seats on the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education is taking shape, with five candidates confirming to Wednesday Journal that they plan on running.
The field includes two incumbents, first-term board members Sara Spivy and Fred Arkin. Board member Jennifer Cassell, who was elected to the board with Spivy and Arkin back in 2015, confirmed on Tuesday that she will not run for re-election.
"Serving the students at OPRF and my community has been an honor," Cassell said. "It also has come with a number of personal and professional sacrifices. My life has changed since I decided to run for the board four years ago. Most notably, I now have a 3-year-old daughter who needs my time and attention."
In email statements, Spivy and Arkin touted what they considered to be the board's major accomplishments during the three-and-a-half years they've been members.
Those accomplishments include hiring the district's first African-American superintendent, the implementation of a comprehensive gender equity policy to protect transgender and gender-fluid students, the abatement of $32.5 million in taxes, a balanced budget and enrolling a historic number of students of color in AP classes, among other achievements.
"I ran in 2015 to make sure our black students have the same opportunities as our white students," Spivy said. "I'm a mother of a biracial son and the achievement gap and disproportionate discipline for black students is personal."
Arkin said that despite the board's accomplishments, "our work is unfinished and we must dedicate ourselves to ensure that these challenges and all other issues facing the board are addressed in the best interests of our students, taxpayers and staff."
Among the three non-incumbents, two are veteran office-holders. Well-known policy analyst Ralph Martire has been on the River Forest School District 90 Board of Education for two terms, during which he's been board president for at least four years, he said.
Vic Guarino, the current board president of the Park District of Oak Park, has been on the Park Board of Commissioners since 2011. His second term on the board expires next year.
In phone interviews on Monday, both Martire and Guarino mentioned equity and facilities as major reasons why they decided to run for seats on the high school board.
Currently, the high school district is in the throes of developing a racial equity policy even as OPRF has been wracked with racist and anti-Semitic incidents recently. In addition, the board is on the cusp of finalizing a long-term facilities master plan that, if fully adopted, could cost up to $218 million, according to rough cost estimates.
"I think equity, finances and facilities at the high school are major issues that need to be dealt with and I think I have a lot of experience at the park district, and professionally, that I can bring to the board," said Guarino, who is a project manager at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont.
Martire, the executive director for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a nonprofit research and advocacy think tank based in Chicago, said that he'd like to bring his considerable policy background on local, state and national education issues to the high school board.
Martire touted his experience serving on D200's Culture, Climate and Behavior Committee, his leadership position on the Tri-Board Equity Committee, his role in co-authoring the state's new evidence-based funding formula and his membership on a federal commission on education and equity during the administration of former president Barack Obama.
"I feel that OPRF's equity efforts over the last 15 to 18 years have had fits and starts," Martire said. "There really hasn't been a strategic, long-term approach to systems change. I feel that that's what they need and I understand they've got challenges from a facilities planning standpoint and I would like to work on those things."
So far, teacher and OPRF alum Gina Harris is the only candidate in the race for the D200 board who is not a current office holder. Harris, who is also a member of D200's Culture, Climate and Behavior Committee, which is headed by Spivy, said that she was inspired to run while working on the committee.
"I was surprised to see many of the same issues surfacing while my daughter was in high school as when I attended 30 years ago," Harris said in an email statement. "Having many years of experience in management, an MBA, and now 8 years of teaching experience, I know that I have the skills to support the financial decisions we will be making with a focus on equity and unity to ensure that our students have every opportunity to succeed."
Candidates have until Dec. 10 to file petitions to be on the ballot for the April 2, 2019 Consolidated Election.
If you're running for an elementary or high school board seat or if you know anyone else who is running, send a lead to the email below.
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