On the Inequity of Community Representation in School District 227

Shelia M. Friday

Commentary
By Shelia M. Friday

As we approach our suburban election on April 7th, it is imperative to consider the district-wide representation on the Rich Township School District 227 Board of Education, or lack thereof. The current Board consists of seven members, three residents from Olympia Fields, three from Matteson and one candidate from Park Forest, which is me.  Out of the nine candidates running for election or re-election to the Board, 5 candidates are from Matteson, 2 candidates are from Olympia Fields, one candidate is from Richton Park, and again me, being the sole person from Park Forest. No one from Country Club Hills, Chicago Heights, Tinley Park, and University Park is seeking election. While I commend the candidates for their decision to serve the community, there is a continuous inequity of representation on the Board.

The election can result in several scenarios.  Should the two candidates from Olympia Fields be successful in their election bid, there will be a total of five members or 71% from the community with the lowest number of students in the school district on the Board. Should three candidates from Matteson win, there will be a total of four members or 57% from that community on the Board. Should the one candidate from Richton Park win, that community will have a community member on Board for the first time in several years. Lastly, should I, the one candidate from Park Forest get re-elected, the Village will retain its one voice on the Board. In the best case scenario, will there be equity in representation after the election?

I am not suggesting that candidates should be elected solely based on where they live. However, the true interest of each community be represented and known. For example, in March of 2013 it was rumored that Rich East was going to close. At that time Park Forest had two residents on the board, and we both spoke passionately about our support for Rich East and our community. Well, as recent as November of 2014 at a Policy Committee Meeting, the subject of closing a school came up once again.  Again, I immediately spoke up in support of not only Rich East but each school. Had I not been on the board when the statement was made, what options would have actually developed? It leaves one to wonder but I believe that me being there, made a difference.

I am from the mind-set of accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative, and unbeknownst to most people, the Board actually votes unanimously more than 80% of the time. However, that’s not the story being told. The community is being told untruths.  For example, one untruth is that I and fellow members of the Board did not support a free science lab at Rich East. This never happened and why would anyone of sound mind not support a free science lab? You hear that the same board members did not support a CTE (Career in Technical Education) program at Rich Central. Again, it is untrue. Nonetheless, just as I believe in equity in Board representation, I believe in equity in education. I believe that all students, regardless of which campus they attend should have the same educational opportunities. Once I, along with other members of the Board, was assured that the program would be available to Rich South and Rich East students with an interest, the Board unanimously voted in support of the program on Dec. 19th, 2013, which was only two weeks after the initial vote. By the way, we had requested the information a week prior to the first meeting. It’s called due diligence and it is what representing the interest of every child in every community within the district looks like.

Whenever possible, there should be equity in representation on the Board. It creates a check and balance to ensure that each community is considered and involved with the policies, vision, goals, and mission of our school system, and that no community has a monopoly on the Board.

Shelia M. Friday

Shelia M. Friday is endorsed by eNews Park Forest in the 2015 Consolidated Election for School District 227. She is the only representative on the board from Park Forest and consistently fights to keep Rich East High School open, despite board members from other communities who would see it closed. She has earned another chance to serve, and we encourage all voters in School District 227 to vote for her first.