HIGHLAND PARK – About 250 people attended the League of Women Voters forum on March 19 at Highland Park Country Club. Forum moderator Rosemary Heilemann struck a chord when she asked the North Shore School District 112 candidates: “What happened with the March 2016 referendum and what can be done to move forward?” Heinemann is on the executive committee of the Deerfield League of Women Voters and active in the Lake County League.
Here are excerpts of the candidates’ responses, followed by DailyNorthShore’s notes from the debate and interviews after it:
Alex Brunk: The school board did research to understand whether the community was likely to support the plan, and the research found that only 32 percent of voters would support it and 59 percent would be opposed. They ignored that research. To pass a new referendum, we need to figure out how much change the community will accept, and match that against the financial and facilities restraints that we’re facing.
Julie Campbell: There was a misunderstanding when the school district polled the community about the single middle school and there wasn’t a majority agreement. They thought the community needed to be educated on the benefits of a single middle school. Now we understand that if 2.0 finds we’re not getting the support we need, we have to change course.
Lisa Hirsh: School closures should be carefully planned and the least disruptive to our children, our educators and our community. We must move past our building issues and focus on our kids’ curriculum.
Dan Jenks: The referendum failed because of cost, the location of the middle school campus, being a single middle school and having fifth grade with sixth, seventh and eighth grades. D-112 cannot continue to operate with 12 schools. We need to regain stability in our district, so we can once again focus on education.
Art Kessler: The plan failed because it was too expensive and it involved too much change and didn’t keep true to the values of the community. We have 2.0 survey data to prove this. Going forward we have to involve the community in the process.
Bennett Lasko: The process was not managed well, particularly with regard to communication and engagement with the community. It’s important that the next board support the 2.0 Committee and that we not elect board members that have their own plan that they want to impose apart from the 2.0 process.
Jane Solmor-Mordini: (incumbent): I learned a big lesson that engagement is a partnership – not an entitlement and it’s a two-way street. We can’t get to every home. People need to seek out the answers to make [informed] choices.
Brent Ross: The cost of the referendum was too large. Some would say $65 million is a good target to shoot for. Closing more than a couple schools you end up building new space to replace what you’ve just closed which will divert funds from other things that we want to do. With ADA, health life safety issues etcetera you end up spending $55 to $65 million on those things alone in any eight, nine or 10 building model.
Steve Welhouse: The referendum came with a shocking dollar sign. People intuited that the middle school campus plan was bad. There was no data showing how that plan was going to bring any measurable academic performance increase. Going forward we’re going to need a board that’s independent and strong to review 2.0’s plans and not simply rubber stamp anything that the administration endorses.
After the forum, DailyNorthShore asked CARE (Citizens Actively Renewing Education) leader Jeff Hamburg to comment on it. On March 20, he provided the following statement regarding the Highland Park City Council race:
“Although CARE’s focus is on District 112, we are concerned about one candidate, Adam Stolberg, in the City Council race, whom Representative Scott Drury has asked to drop out. The other two candidates in that race are former CARE leader Davis Schneiderman and Laura Saret (who is a valued CARE supporter).
“More broadly, CARE sees our local governments as intertwined. Issues are not necessarily limited to one branch of city government. We need independent voices who are not afraid to challenge assumptions and resist group-think pitfalls on their respective boards. This is the best way to represent the larger community.”
Also on March 20, Adam Stolberg spoke to DailyNorthShore about Drury’s statement:
“My comment on the letter that Scott Drury sent out was that Scott should’ve talked to me first, and as of now I’ve not spoken to him,” said Stolberg. “I have a degree in Agricultural Economics from the School of Agriculture, the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. That is a degree in Economics. I’ve answered honestly in everything I’ve done for the city in the last six years and my professional life for the last 25 years. To my knowledge nobody who previously supported me has changed their support of me, as a result of this.”
After the League forum, Hamburg spoke to DNS about his personal opinion on the D-112 candidates: “All nine candidates were well spoken at today’s event,” he said. “Not surprisingly, virtually all audience questions were variations on how candidates viewed fallout from the last referendum and their forward-looking beliefs about reconfiguration. When asked about the last referendum, none of the four candidates who had supported it so staunchly confessed that fact. However, the candidates who opposed the last referendum were Lisa Hirsh, Brent Ross, and Steve Welhouse. Welhouse described the last referendum as a ‘bad plan.’ ”
Hamburg continued: “These three each clearly articulated a vision for limited closures based on a sustainable plan preserving the educational, economic, and social value of neighborhood schools. I am supporting Ross, Hirsh, Welhouse, and Campbell for the four open seats, because they seem most likely to apply the lessons of the last failed referendum going forward.”
Jen Freeman is a former member of the Reconfiguration 2.0 Team, who launched and co-moderates the NSSD 112 Sounding Board. Freeman spoke to DailyNorthShore after the forum:
“I’ve spent a considerable amount of time with all of the D-112 candidates. The harshest criticisms that were leveled at the board and the previous citizens’ committees were that they developed a preconceived notion and put it out to the community without finishing their homework,” said Freeman. “We have candidates who definitely have some self-interest in keeping a particular school open or putting out a reconfiguration model with no vetting and no plan. There isn’t enough money to close only one or two buildings.”
Freeman added, “I really like Bennett Lasko and Dan Jenks very much and have spent time with both of them. Art Kessler is a great guy and Alex Brunk in particular is an unusual person for me to support. He’s a CARE endorsed candidate and that’s not typically a group I align myself with, but he and I have sat down and argued over this a million times and somehow we arrive at the same place.”
Freeman continued: “There’s a parallel there with some candidates having more experience than others and some who are involved for very specific reasons. Adam Stolberg is amazing and he has the support of so many people.” She supports Stolberg in the two-year City Council race and the three incumbents in the four-year race: Dan Kaufman, Alyssa Knobel, and Kim Stone.
Freeman recently created a non-partisan website for D-112 voters http://d112election.com
Here is a breakdown of the candidates and incumbents running in all of the races:
- Two incumbents, (Julie Gordon, Stacey Meyer) and two candidates (George Spathis, Elizabeth Garlovsky) competing for three seats on the District 113 Board of Education (Highland Park and Deerfield High Schools).
Two candidates competing for Park District of Highland Park commissioner, Terry Grossberg and Mike Stroz.
Three incumbents (Dan Kaufman, Alyssa Knobel and Kim Stone) and one new challenger (Stan Lester who was absent on March 19) for a four-year position on the Highland Park City Council.
- Laura Saret, Davis Schneiderman and Adam Stolberg are vying to fill former Councilman Paul Frank’s two-year seat on the Highland Park City Council.
- Eight candidates and one incumbent on the North Shore School District 112 Board of Education: Alexander Brunk, Julie Campbell, Lisa Hirsh, Dan Jenks, Art Kessler, Bennett Lasko, Jane Solmor-Mordini, Brent Ross and Steven Welhouse.
Early voting for the April 4 election began March 20 and will run through April 3 at the Highland Park Police Station.