If they are successful, it is possible that former teachers union members and officers will control the board.
Four of the board’s seven seats are up for grabs on April 4. Six candidates -- including board President John Copper Jr., longtime educators and former teachers’ union presidents Greg Harris and Susan Helsdon -- are battling for the spots.
Harris and Helsdon join retired District 58 teacher Beth Taylor in seeking to fill the board with a majority of union veterans. Christopher Heppner is also considered an incumbent after he was appointed to the board in September of 2015.
The developing situation in Downers Grove raises the larger question of whether teachers' unions now seek to take over the very boards that negotiate their contracts.
Andrew Nelms, state deputy director at Americans for Prosperity Illinois, a tax watchdog organization, told the DuPage Policy Journal that he is completely opposed to the movement that may already be in motion.
“The concern is that folks who have held positions in public unions now stand to be advocates on school boards,” he said. “By and large, folks who run for park and school board spots have been people who really like and care about those kinds of things. This could be the start of people with vested interests becoming involved.”
Currently, District 58 is comprised of 13 schools -- with elementary schools Belle Aire, El Sierra, Fairmount, Henry Puffer, Highland, Hillcrest, Indian Trial, Kingsley, Lester, Pierce Downer and Whittier -- along with middle schools Herrick and O’Neil. Together, they serve nearly 5,200 students.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, spending for District 58 was up 26 percent between 1997 and 2015, while enrollment was down 4 percent. The average teacher salary is now more than $78,000, while more than one in three teachers (35 percent) were absent for at least 10 days in 2016.
Despite the increased spending, only 40 percent of the district’s students passed the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam last year.
At a recent candidate forum held at O’Neil School, Harris, Helsdon and Taylor all pledged to keep District 58’s money invested in programs directly benefitting students and to keep their doors open to parents, MyLifeSurburan.com reported.
Those variables alone aren’t enough to allay all of Nelms’ fears.
“I think we can be sure the trend won’t result in lower property taxes,” he said. “Taxes almost never go down when local elected officials continue to push higher, costlier agendas based on pro-union principles.”
In the eight-year period ending in 2015, average home values fell 23 percent, from $397,799 to $308,000.