Communications, test scores and diversity were major topics of discussion at the District 233 school board candidate forum in preparation for the April 4 election.
Three incumbents on the Homewood-Flossmoor High School board – Richard Lites, Gerald Pauling and Andy Lindstrom – are facing challengers Steven Anderson, Eric Grant, Beth Larocca and Annette Bannon.
The forum on March 20 was sponsored by the Homewood-Flossmoor League of Women Voters, and co-sponsored by the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle. About 175 people were in attendance.
Lites, Pauling and Lindstrom pointed to their work on the board and how that experience will benefit H-F in the future.
Lites said he is proud of the board’s work to raise the academic bar, provide resources for teachers and put financial planning in place.
Pauling, an attorney, said he will use his skills for the board’s next initiative, developing a transition plan as the new principal starts work, and negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.
Lindstrom, who returned to the board in August 2016 but had served seven years previously, said his banking expertise helped shape H-F’s fiscal policies.
Anderson, who has served 10 years on the Homewood District 153 board, said he has learned how to involve the community in the schools and would share that experience at H-F.
He also pledged to work for new approaches for the H-F curriculum so it can better serve “a broad range of learners.”
Larocca and Bannon stressed how H-F’s test scores are dropping. They believe the low scores are impacting home sales. Both are H-F graduates and said the high school needs a “blueprint for excellence.”
Larocca, a full-time teacher in Glenbard District 87, said she would bring a teacher’s perspective to the board. Bannon, a nurse, said she would go directly to the community for input on goals to improve test scores and rankings.
Grant pledged to develop an email list of interested residents so he can share the agenda for board meetings and report back on board actions. He also wants to draw on residents’ expertise to strengthen H-F’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
The communities of Homewood and Flossmoor are diverse communities, but several candidates said diversity is still lacking. Lites said he would like to see H-F’s teaching staff be more reflective of the student population.
“Racial diversity is the elephant in the room” that needs a specific conversation, Lites said, and Grant said he wants to “talk to race and diversity, not around it.”
Pauling said when he started at H-F in 1980, the minority population was small. He wants the school to continue to offer students “the same skills, knowledge and experiences that have proven so valuable to me.” He said issues shouldn’t be focused just on skin color but on individuals’ background and skill set.
Anderson pointed to Homewood District 153’s move to grade centers that blended students from all races and nationalities. The integration has helped strengthen schools and the community as students study, work and live collaboratively.
Other topics included:
Whether nepotism is an issue at H-F. All candidates said no, although Larocca said nepotism can be “difficult to police or supervise.” Each candidate believed H-F was hiring the best person for each job.
Whether H-F board agendas can be posted sooner than the required 48-hours before a meeting, and whether meetings can be televised. None of the candidates took issue with posting agendas sooner, but Pauling pointed out that the board has looked into videotaping meetings and there are legal issues to doing so.
Whether Superintendent Von Mansfield’s salary of approximately $279,000 is too high. Lites, Pauling and Lindstrom said the salary is commensurate with his education, experience, regional costs and job results.
Bannon and Larocca said the superintendent’s salary should be tied to test scores, H-F’s rank and performance. “The biggest issue is performance,” said Bannon who argued Mansfield’s salary is up but scores are dropping. She said that “is not a recipe for success.”
Pauling countered that the board evaluates “on his entire job, not just test scores” and said Mansfield is highly regarded and has been asked to serve on national education committees. Lindstrom said for the number of hours Mansfield works at his job “he’s actually underpaid.”
Bannon and Larocca also see residency as a major issue for H-F. Bannon said students transferring to H-F who do not have a foundation set by Homewood or Flossmoor grade schools should be given services to help them meet H-F’s academic standards.
Pauling said H-F is on sound financial footing, but both he and Lindstrom stressed that state support for education must be strengthened.
This article has been edited March 22, 2017.