North Chicago residents voice support for return to elected school board, but disagree about timing

Steve Sadin
4–6 minutes

An elected board rather than the current appointed panel may return to North Chicago School District 187 after a decade, with some community members seeking a vote on the issue in the 2023 municipal election while others prefer waiting until 2025.

After explaining the process for returning the schools to community oversight in April, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) held a series of meetings over the past month in an effort to get more community input, particularly from Latinx residents.

Krish Mohip, an ISBE deputy education officer who has conducted each of the five recent community meetings, said the state board will discuss the North Chicago schools at its Sept. 21 meeting, where next steps will be considered. A vote is one of the possibilities.

Residents and local officials voiced support for an elected school board during the final community meeting Wednesday at the Green Bay Early Childhood Center in North Chicago, but disagreed on how soon the elections should take place.

North Chicago Mayor Leon Rockingham, Jr., who is a native of the city and a product of its schools, said at the meeting he wants to see the board elected again, but favors elections in 2025 rather than next year.

“Let ISBE continue the process,” Rockingham said. “(The year) 2023 is too quick to have an election. People need time to understand what it means to be a candidate and to vet the candidates. There needs to be time to plan it all out.”

Vance Wyatt, North Chicago’s elected treasurer and a Foss Park District commissioner, said he would rather have the election next year based on conversations he has had with a number of residents.

“Everyone I talk to around town wants to have the election in 2023,” Wyatt said. “I hear it from families with children in kindergarten through high school. People have been talking about this since 2015.”

North Chicago resident Randal Riley implores the Illinois State Board of Education to let the citys residents elect their own school board

North Chicago resident Randal Riley implores the Illinois State Board of Education to let the city’s residents elect their own school board.

Should there be an election for the District 187 school board in 2023, it would take place as part of the municipal elections May 2. Candidates for those local offices are already gathering petition signatures.

Cash strapped in 2012, with barely half the students meeting or exceeding academic standards set by the state, the ISBE placed the district under a financial oversight panel to control spending in May of that year and dissolved the elected school board a month later.

Over the last 10 years, the financial score went from 3.25 to 3.7 on a four-point scale, according to ISBE data. The academic performance has also improved sufficiently for the state to consider the local election of a school board.

State Sen. Adriane Johnson, D-Buffalo Grove, also spoke at the meeting. Like Rockingham, she said she favors an elected board, but wants the first elected members to take office in 2025 to give ISBE time to arrange the transition and properly assess the procedure.

Johnson said she also wants to see the Latinx community fully engaged in the process. So far, few members of that group have come to the recent meetings — one held at each school in the district — to give their views.

“They are a high percentage, and they are not fully engaged. We need to change that,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure the entire community is ready to make the change.”

Lupe Bueno, a Waukegan resident, said at the meeting she wants to see the election this spring in part because a decade of a board appointed by the state is long enough.

“I don’t think it’s too early,” Bueno said. “A school board should be a reflection of the people. This should go to the community in early spring. It’s been 10 years.”

Rockingham also wants to see the Latinx community more engaged not only with the schools, but the community overall. He said reaching out to organizations like the Mano A Mano Family Resource Center and the Hispanic Camber of Commerce will help.

Rockingham said appointing Peter Villanueva to the North Chicago Library Board in April is a start to getting the Latinx community civically engaged. Sitting on municipal boards and commissions is good preparation for elective offices like a school board or city council.

“Sitting on boards is a good training ground, but it doesn’t stop or hinder individuals from also running for elected positions,” Rockingham said.