Within an hour of awarding a $3.8 million contract for the construction of a new athletic complex, three members of the La Salle-Peru Township High School Board were on the radio urging voters to re-elect them.
Board president Jim Quesse and board members Rose Marie Lynch and Rick Sipovic took part in an election forum on AM1220 WLPO Thursday night. Board member Al Cherpeske also is up for re-election but as the lone candidate from the school district’s unincorporated area he is unopposed. He declined to participate in the forum because of a previous engagement. Newcomer candidate Dennis O’Keefe also declined to participate in the forum.
With the incumbents on good terms with one another and O’Keefe absent there was little of the political hostility heard during the mayoral election forums earlier in the week.
In fact, the general position of the incumbents would be to keep the current board in tact.
“This (current) board has been one of the best I’ve served with in my eight years on the board,” Quesse said, sharing a sentiment similar to comments made by Lynch and Sipovic throughout the broadcast.
With general state aid for schools declining in recent years and local property values, generally, on the decline, L-P hasn’t been immune to the financial struggles that have led to considerable staff and program cuts at neighboring school districts in recent years.
Earlier this month, the L-P board chose to cut some administrative and faculty positions and not replace some retiring teachers to improve the district’s financial position.
When asked what they will do to further improve the district’s financial health, the incumbents touted their recent efforts to put the school on a three-year plan to achieving balanced budgets.
“We’ve been cutting back. We have cuts coming up for this coming year,” Lynch said, adding that local schools will remain in financial trouble until the state’s educational funding system is improved.
Sipovic added that while the board will continue to make financial adjustments he does not want to damage the district’s educational offerings.
“We at L-P have been so fiscally responsible over the years that our tax rate is one of the lowest in Illinois for schools,” he said.
Quesse similarly said he believes the district will return to a balanced budget without major cuts.
“We’re not going to etch in stone any draconian cuts because of a worst-case scenario,” he said.
Reactions and opinions
While the incumbents supported one another’s ideas throughout the forum, there were some strong reactions when given the opportunity to respond to comments made by O’Keefe in a previous article in the NewsTribune.
In that article, O’Keefe said the current board is “vindictive” and has a mentality “fire, spend, build, tax and a my way or the highway attitude.”
Lynch declined the opportunity to respond, but Sipovic and Quesse shared their thoughts, which included an opinion that O’Keefe’s intention to run for school board is solely based on the board’s decision last school year to not re-appoint Bill Booker as head baseball coach, among other personnel changes.
Quesse called O’Keefe’s comments “a laughable idea.”
“Mr. O’Keefe is the only person on this ticket who has a vindictive agenda,” he said.
Although personnel discussions are kept secret has part of closed meeting protocol, Sipovic said if the community could hear what board members discussed they would realize no personal vendettas go into personnel decisions.
“Any moves that are made by the board of education…we do anything but that. We consider every angle,” he said.
Similarly, when asked if the board, which often votes unanimously during regular board meetings, could benefit from an outsider set of opinions, such as those of O’Keefe, the incumbents said there are already a diversity of opinions.
The impression of a uniform set of opinions is a result of consensus building through committee-level discussions that are less attended and reported on than full-board regular meetings.
“This is a board comprised of seven community members and we’re all just ordinary people and we have diverse backgrounds,” Quesse said.
Matthew Baker can be reached at (815) 220-6933, or email@example.com.