GENEVA – The April 2 Geneva District 304 school board election has nine candidates vying for three open seats, only one of them is an incumbent.
Candidates offered a variety of reasons for seeking office.
Among them was Alicia Saxton, who announced her candidacy Dec. 10 at a Geneva Education Association press conference about settling the five-day strike.
“I just feel like the board needs a small refresh,” Saxton had said. “I just want to be able to create a nice working relationship between the teachers and the board of education and hopefully continue our tradition of excellence here.”
A former teacher herself, Saxton started a Parents for GEA Facebook page to support the teachers during contentious contract talks that led up to the district’s first-ever strike.
“I was able to have a pretty big voice through the Parents for GEA Facebook page throughout the strike,” Saxton said.
“With that, I decided I might as well run for school board and put some of my ideas and my background to use for good for our community," Saxton said. "I figure that I might not understand what I got myself in for yet. I have a long four months ahead of me. But I feel like I can say at least I tried, instead of just sitting back and not doing anything at all.”
Robert Cabeen, who once ran unsuccessfully for the school board in 2013, said his reasons for running this time have not really changed much.
“The very first thing that caused me to want to run – I really love education. It’s about the kids,” Cabeen said. “I think that getting a good education is the key for everyone to have a better life. And it’s a mission for people who run for school board that they do the best they could possibly do to get kids a good education.”
Cabeen said his decision to run again was not prompted by the teachers strike.
“But it caused me to think that some out-of-the-box thinking, some common sense … school board members have to represent the kids and the staff and the taxpayers – the people who are footing the bill,” Cabeen said. “Everything has to be up front.”
Cabeen said he has served on boards and dealt with problems people have had.
“If you listen and talk, you can work it out,” Cabeen said. “I think I would be a good board member.”
Al Gaston, owner of Wildwood Restaurant in Geneva, said his family moved to Geneva 15 years ago because of the schools.
“This whole thing [the teachers strike] spun me in the wrong direction. … I was a little taken aback when this whole thing happened,” Gaston said. “I saw three spots open up and thought what an opportunity to mend things up a little and get back to work. I love this community. I love Geneva. … I see both sides of it. … I just felt this is a great opportunity to give back.”
Prerak Patel said with the advent of the district’s first-ever teachers strike, “they need somebody who thinks outside the box” on the school board.
“It seems like they keep following the same old system, doing their best, but things could be changed,” Patel said. “I work in a corporate environment [and] we do this periodically: we cut costs while managing the quality of the products.”
Patel said the district can look at keeping taxes down by cutting costs, while keeping the quality of the education up.
“I believe you could surgically cut costs and therefore cut taxes at the same time and maintain the quality of education,” Patel said. “Make a few changes here and there – but no dramatic changes.”
He gave an example of his frustration with the way the district dealt with a middle school play.
Patel said his son’s job was to work the stage spotlight. The school only has two spotlights that work sporadically and one was not working at all during the play, he said.
“Millions of dollars spent and only two spotlights and one not working,” Patel said. “Seriously? The best way to bring that change about is to become part of the system.”
Patel said he is using his own money to finance his campaign and is not accepting donations from anyone.
Jessica Breugelmans said she decided to run for school board more than a year ago and began attending school board meetings.
“My background is education and I’m also a community advocate,” Breugelmans said. “An excellent public education is the right of all children and excellent schools not only benefit the children, but the whole community. Running for the board was the next step on my path of supporting my community, and also ensuring our students receive an excellent education.”
Breugelmans said she has a master’s degree in teaching, but opted to do private tutoring while being a stay at home mom. Now that she’s moved to Geneva and her son started kindergarten, she said she started up a new tutoring service locally.
Her website, ww.breugelmansforboard.com, has more information about her campaign.
Katherine Frye said her children had been in private school in Lake County, where they were paying $10,000 ayear for tuition. She was a private school teacher and her husband was a public school teacher, before he left for a job in business so she could stay home with their children.
“We knew Geneva really prided itself on good schools,” Frye said, in explaining the family’s move to the Geneva district.
“When the teachers went on strike … I had a second grader who cried and said, ‘I just want to go to school,’” Frye said. “It breaks my heart to see such a division. It really shouldn’t happen. It’s not setting a good example for our children. It’s now how we solve our problems. We communicate and support one another.”
Frye said in seeking election to the school board, “I kind of jumped in without knowing what I’m getting myself into.”
“I do want to support our teachers,” Frye said. “Our teachers are not only educators, but they also act in place of mom and dad … and have a really big impact on our kids’ lives.”
Jill Johnson said as a lifelong resident of Geneva, being on the school board would be another way to serve the community.
“I attended Geneva schools and so they are really important to me,” Johnson said. “I have always really been involved in my community and wanted to serve in my community. … I serve on the Geneva Community Chest and I am involved in the schools. This is my calling to serve on a higher level now.”
"I am running for re-election to continue the district’s tradition of educational excellence while ensuring fiscal responsibility," incumbent trustee Michael McCormick said in an email. "I have been proud to work with my fellow board members over the last seven plus years to avoid what could have been some horrible tax increases because of our bond structure and other expenses. While tackling those issues we have nonetheless expanded our educational offerings and insured a terrific education for our students. Although we have done a great job traversing those difficult waters, there are still hurdles ahead that I feel I can help traverse."
Newcomer Kim Edwards could not be reached for comment.