East School Board candidates square off in forum
By Denise Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org March 7, 2013 10:40PM
Audience members listen as candidates running for the District 131 school board square off during a candidate forum on Thursday, March 7, 2013, at East Aurora High School. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 12:24PM
An audience of about 200 gathered in Hawks Auditorium at East Aurora High School Thursday evening to hear what the six candidates vying for five open seats on the East Aurora School Board had to say.
Incumbents Ignacio Cervantes, Stella Gonzalez, Annette Johnson and Richard Leonard, along with newcomers Marcella McIntyre Duermit, Zach Montroy, Mary Louise Peryea and Kirsten Strand are running for the board’s five open seats in the April 9 election.
The forum, sponsored by Aurora East Educational Foundation, was moderated by Alderman Richard Irvin, an East Aurora graduate, local attorney and member of the foundation’s board of directors.
The school district has made unflattering headlines in the last six months because of controversies plaguing the impoverished district. Those included major bookkeeping problems within the finance department that revolved around thousands of dollars in charge card purchases with no receipts, late fees for utility bills and major discrepancies in health insurance premiums that resulted in the abrupt resignation of the finance chief and the firing of a coordinator.
Superintendent Jerome Roberts said a positive “tide was already turning” in the way things were handled in the finance department by the time some of these issues were made public. But there were other missteps by the district, including retraction of a progressive policy regarding transgenders that received national headlines; and a nasty name-calling exchange between two board members during a public meeting.
The board can also boast major accomplishments, including the Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy that will open this coming school year; and a $660,000 grant through the Dunham Fund that will put laptops in the hands of 750 of those academy students.
A crowd close to 200
The candidates were asked questions about how they would improve academic excellence, how they would react to current fiscal conditions; the role of the school board; how they would keep employees accountable; and their definition of transparency.
The tenor of the forum was polite and respectful, with Irvin keeping the pace light and on track. But there was no question who the incumbents were, and who were challengers to the board. That became especially evident when questions that were generated by the community focused on the negative publicity that has resulted because of recent missteps by the district.
Incumbents Cervantes, Gonzales, Leonard and Johnson touted the many positive programs taking place in the schools; as well as changes in procedures and policies that have been implemented to improve everything from accountability to communication to teacher morale.
The challengers on the other hand, called attention to the need for a stronger more unified board that could built trust, respect and professionalism; with Montroy and Strand specifically calling out the current leadership for its lack of vision and for actions that have lead to embarrassing headlines.