Newberry Schwartz, Harton chosen to lead D97 board

? Harton wins in contested election brought on by Sharon Patchak-Layman, whose proposal for officer election reforms gets cool reception.

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An effort by one District 97 Board of Education member to reform the role and responsibilities of board president received little support last week when new members were sworn in and new officers elected.

Sharon Patchak-Layman, mid-way through her second term, suggested divesting the presidency of some duties which would then be shouldered by other members, and allowing members to share in information typically contained between the president and superintendent.

"I'm a firm believer of discussions at the board table," Patchak-Layman said. Decisions made without discussion at the board table "gives a sense of things being less than open."

Patchak-Layman also proposed at the board's special meeting April 20 that multiple candidates be considered for each office.

"The opportunity to have contested elections is the basis of a good democracy," Patchak-Layman said. "I hope this is a new change we will have within the district." She nominated Michelle Harton for president.

Harton politely, although promptly, declined the nomination.

But Patchak-Layman did not relent, suggesting Harton should "let others on the board help you decide."

As a point of order, board member Dan Burke asked whether acceptance of a nomination was required.

"There's nothing in Robert's [Rules of Order] that says you can run someone into office," Supt. John C. Fagan said. Robert's Rules of Order gives standard operating procedures for governing boards.

Patchak-Layman ran unsuccessfully for Oak Park village clerk in elections early this month.

Eventually Carolyn Newberry Schwartz was elected president. Harton beat Patchak-Layman in a 5-2 vote for vice president. Judith Reed will continue as board secretary.

As Patchak-Layman spoke, former board member and past president Elizabeth Lippitt turned to a reporter and said, "I totally disagree with what she says."

After the meeting Lippitt explained that it was Fagan's preference to deal primarily with the board president, and expected incoming Supt. Connie Collins to have more dialogue with individual board members.

Lippitt also said that elections of board officers differ from other elections in that a leader is being chosen to implement an agenda of interests common to all board members, rather than voters deciding between two platforms. Voting for and against fellow board members politicizes the atmosphere, making it harder to work together and build consensus later, she said.

Part of Patchak-Layman's complaint about the election of officers was their predetermined nature. Before stepping down (and before the election of officers for the new board), former board member Bob Walsh gave Newberry Schwartz a name plate that read, "President Carolyn Newberry Schwartz," "so there's no doubt who's in charge from now on," Walsh said. Newberry Schwartz and Harton read prepared speeches accepting their new offices.

"We have significant challenges in front of us, and those are the ones we know about," Newberry Schwartz said.

In support of Newberry Schwartz, Burke pointed to the overwhelming support she received on election day, more than 1,100 votes (or almost 20 percent) ahead of the next-highest vote-getter. "That speaks to the credibility with which she's held in this community," Burke said.

But board members did warm to Patchak-Layman's first move to change the election process, which involved each member outlining the roles and responsibilities of the two offices. After members had identified key characteristics, Burke asked that the characteristics would be entered into the record and shared with incoming Supt. Connie Collins for future planning.

"There was a rich amount of work Sharon prompted us to do here," Burke said.

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