Downers Grove school board candidates raise some eyebrows
Like any good teacher, Greg Harris appears capable of challenging his listeners -- but this time, they are quite a bit older than usual.
Harris, a former teachers union president, is campaigning for a seat on the Downers Grove Grade School District 58 board. His effort is raising some concerns among residents that teachers or former teachers have done the math and are trying to gain control of the very body that negotiates with them.
Harris was a long-time classroom instructor and also union president of the Valley View Districts of Bolingbrook and Romeoville.
Last year, only 40 percent of the district’s students passed the the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam. Harris thinks money is key, arguing that some financial resources consumed by the district should be directed toward programs directly benefiting students.
“My philosophy is you analyze and measure data, and if it works you continue with it, but you’re always open to new initiatives,” he said of the poor exam statistics.
Harris is one of six candidates vying for four openings on the seven-member board. He joins Susan Helsdon as former union presidents who are running. Another candidate, Beth Taylor, is a former teacher and union member.
If all three are successful, a majority of the board would be former union members and officials. Some people say this means union advocates would be negotiating teachers’ contracts with themselves.
Andrew Nelms, Illinois deputy director of Americans for Prosperity, told the DuPage Policy Standard that he’s opposed to the possibility of the school board representing the interests of the teachers union instead of advocating on behalf of taxpayers.
“The concern is that folks who have held positions in public unions now stand to be advocates on school boards,” he said. “This could be the start of people with vested interests becoming involved.”
Harris has a daughter in a local school and argues she would always come first.
“I’ve always been about helping and educating kids,” he said. "Now, I have even more skin in the game. I’m running for the kids, not the teachers."
Currently, District 58 comprises 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, serving nearly 5,200 students.
The Illinois State Board of Education reports that spending for the district was up 26 percent between 1997 and 2015, while enrollment was down 4 percent. The average teacher salary has also spiked to $78,000, though by 2015 home values in the district had fallen by an average of 23 percent, from an average of $397,799 to $308,000.