District 233 forum offers insights into 10 candidates positions

District 233 candidates at the League of Women Voters forum were, from left, Pamela Jackson, Debbie Berman, Nathan Legardy, Merle Kimbrough-Huckabee, Gerald Pauling, Paris Walker, Jim Kasali, Jonathan Cook, Jody Scariano and P. Andrew Lindstrom. (Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
  District 233 candidates at the forum were, from left,
Pamela Jackson, Debbie Berman, Nathan Legardy,
Merle Kimbrough-Huckabee, Gerald Pauling, Paris Walker,
Jim Kasali, Jonathan Cook, Jody Scariano
and P. Andrew Lindstrom.
  
(Marilyn Thomas/H-F Chronicle)
 
The 10 candidates seeking a spot on the District 233 school board did their best — in limited time — to give voters at a forum their best ideas for how to improve Homewood-Flossmoor High School.
 
The Homewood-Flossmoor League of Women Voters candidate forum on Sunday drew a crowd of about 50 people who got to hear 2-minute introductions, 1-minute answers to audience questions and 2-minute closing statements from Debbie Berman, Jonathan Cook, Pamela Jackson, Jimo Kasali, Merle Kimbrough-Huckabee, Nathan Legardy, P. Andrew Lindstrom, Gerald Pauling, Jody Scariano and Paris Walker.
 

The Chronicle asked candidates for information on their backgrounds, what they see as important issues and what their top goals for the school board position. The Voters Guide will be available at hfchronicle.com/2019/voter-guide.

 
Each spoke on their integrity, student-centric direction, respect and ability to collaborate with fellow board members and willingness to listen.
 

“As one board member, you have no power, but as a group, you have power,” Kasali said.

 

All recognized H-F as “a gem” in the community and each stressed that all students need to be served, but several argued H-F is missing that mark. 

Walker argued H-F is resting on its Blue Ribbon laurels from 2001. It should work to regain its status, and Jackson said H-F should work to earn “exemplary” status, a step up from the “commendable” rating on the 2018 Illinois Schools’ Report Card.

 

Several candidates argued H-F needs to re-examine how it serves all students. They say the school focuses on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate students and not enough on “the kids in the middle.”

 

Kimbrough-Huckabee and Walker said H-F needs to do a better job at working with Homewood District 153 and Flossmoor District 161 in preparing students for high school.


Legardy argued the work should begin with first graders. Berman said H-F is working with superintendents in both districts on articulation agreements. 

“We can talk and make recommendations, but we don’t control them” and what they teach, Berman added.

 

Lindstrom told the audience H-F offers tutoring, before and after programs to help students and teachers stay after school to assist students. He said students and parents need to “do your part” and care about what it takes to be a student at H-F. He said he doesn’t accept complaints about homework. When he was a District 233 board member for 10 years, he got packets of information each week to review in preparation for meetings. 

“That was my homework,” Lindstrom said.

 

Cook said a student’s individual interests often give them a reason to stay in school. H-F needs to keep its diverse course catalog and extracurricular programs to give students a full range of options. Walker suggested H-F needs a culturally relevant curriculum.

 

A question of finances and whether to approve the tax levy drew varied responses. Walker said she would like to see classes with low enrollment condensed. The tax levy question would take some study, she said.

 

Pauling said he does support the levy saying it is the mechanism for the district to get most of its funding. He suggests the district partner with the villages to “grow the (economic) pie.” New property wealth would help H-F.

 

Kimbrough-Huckabee questioned what the district is doing with its $60 million in reserves. She would not support the tax levy, arguing the district will get its money whether it passes a levy or not.  She believes it is the annual tax increase that the school district would not receive.

 

Legardy said he would like to see the district apply for grants and additional dollars from foundations to supplement its budget. He wants to see how the district can increase property values, and he stressed, “we should not do anything that would destabilize our school” which could result from not supporting a levy.

 

Berman and Lindstrom reminded the audience that the state legislature has failed to adequately support Illinois schools. 

“The best, strongest thing we can do” is to continue to work with legislators for adequate funding, Berman said, and she called on audience members to join with the school board in that effort.  Berman also added that the state mandates board actions but rarely funds them, which also draws from the district’s revenues. 

 

Lindstrom and Scariano said H-F has a Triple-A bond rating because of its strong finances. Scariano said she would vote for a levy calling it “fiscally responsible.” 

 

“We need a properly funded school district,” Jackson said, and she would look at data and what the levy would do for the district.

 

Cook promised to follow “responsible stewardship” practices, and Kasali said he wants a tax freeze, and argued H-F could save money by consolidating with Districts 153 and 161.

 

None of the candidates agreed with a proposal to arm school teachers.

 

Each candidate was also asked about communications with the community and aired videotaped meetings. The candidates felt the district is doing a good job at communicating. Several said videotaping would help with transparency.

 

Current board members Berman, Pauling and Scariano said they have been studying the issues around videotaping and they have not “checked all the boxes” to make videotaping happen. 

 

Berman pointed out that districts have been sued for what they have aired through YouTube. Pauling said the district must follow laws on recording and maintaining video as a record, and consider how it will make that video available. There also are privacy and ADA issues to consider.

 

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