A theme seemed to develop during Thursday night’s forum for Board of Education candidates. Communication was on the minds of the audience members.
The sponsored the candidate forum, which was held in the City Council chambers at the municipal center. A crowd of fewer than 40 people was on hand for the event, which lasted an hour and a half.
The budget, innovation and bullying policies were all issues raised in audience-elicited questions, but numerous questions pertaining to communication came up during the forum.
Bethany Weeks, the youngest candidate and the daughter of sitting District 203 Board Member Dave Weeks, raised the issue of transparency throughout the forum.
Weeks' father was earlier this week at the board’s regular business meeting. Among the reasons she said she was running are to try and bring a younger perspective to the board and to end the regular 6-1 votes, alluding to her father being the sole "no" vote.
“To me, transparency is being open with the public,” Weeks said. “… I don’t think the board is transparent.”
She said many board decisions are made during closed session or at sub-committee meetings. Throughout the forum, she raised the issue of her father’s censure, the fact that subcommittee minutes were not filed for seven months and that several board members were union endorsed.
At one point, the moderator of the forum Barbara Dwyer had to remind the candidates to stick to answering the questions, in part because Weeks and another candidate Jay Fisher used part of their time to address other issues.
In answer to the transparency question, Fisher said he felt the board could do a better job making community members aware of district spending. He favors putting the district’s checkbook online.
The other three candidates and board incumbents, Terry Fielden, Mike Jaensch and Suzyn Price, said the district was transparent and that community members are free to review the district’s board documents, attend meetings and in regard to budgetary concerns, to even sit down with the district’s chief financial officer.
Two other questions posed from the audience related to communication, including how well the candidates felt the district was doing with communicating with taxpayers who do not have students in the district and attempts to communicate with people outside of board functions.
Fielden said he had spoken with a community member who asked about the mailing the district sends out and if it was expensive. Fielden said it is not very expensive and still necessary, since many people do not have computers. He said he regularly answers e-mails from community members.
“We do have two monthly meetings and the public is welcome to come, but we don’t see that enough,” he said.
Again, Weeks said the board’s communication with the community was lacking and she raised the issue of her father’s censure before running out of time.
All of the board members and Fisher said e-mail was an important tool to communicate with taxpayers, as are using the district’s Talk 203 messages and being out in the community and at events.
Fisher said Talk 203 could be used better and added that one of the district’s failures was in how it communicates with taxpayers.
“I’ve dealt with parents at an elementary level and parents don’t understand why the district does the things it does,” he said.
“I’m always available for talking,” Jaensch said. “It happens at , ’s, the swimming pool.”
One of the questions not relating to communication was about bullying and the district’s policy for handling the problem.
“Bullying is not tolerated and it is outlined in discipline code and I think the district does a good job enforcing it,” Jaensch said, adding that next year the district will implement guidelines for social media use that will be age- and grade-dependent.
Fisher referenced an anti-bullying task force and program that is being tested in three school districts in DuPage County, adding that District 203 should follow suit.
“We need to create a culture of prevention,” Fisher said. "Bullying is not something that just the district should handle," but there is also the need to educate the community and families.