Downers Grove school board hopeful's objectivity questioned over affiliation with teachers union
A second former teachers’ union president is looking to capture a board seat in Downers Grove Grade School District 58 – and her candidacy is raising eyebrows.
Susan Helsdon joins Greg Harris, both former union heads, in seeking election to the Downers Grove school board April 4. Their efforts raise concerns among residents that the former unions bosses are trying to capture the very bodies that negotiate teacher contracts, which some call a conflict of interest.
Andrew Nelms, state deputy director of Americans for Prosperity-Illinois, told the Daily Herald he’s completely opposed to a movement that puts teachers in control compensation, work rules and curriculum.
“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.”
Helsdon, a former teacher, knows critics think too many teachers on the board could work against taxpayers’ interests, particularly during budget negotiations when such a panel could essentially be negotiating with itself.
“Yes, I’ve been a teachers’ union president, but I’m also a small-business owner, and when it comes to conducting business, I'm looking for the best possible outcome for everyone," Helsdon told the DuPage Policy Journal. "I would be working for every stakeholder in Downers Grove.”
If Helsdon, Harris and a third union-member candidate for the board, Beth Taylor, are successful, former union members and officials would hold a majority.
Helsdon faces formidable challenges if her campaign is successful in a district where education spending rose by 26 percent between 1997 and 2015 while enrollment declined 4 percent. The average teacher salary in the district now tops $78,000 and 35 percent of teachers were absent for at least 10 days in 2016.
In 2015, only 40 percent of the district’s students passed the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam – a standardized test. At the same time, the average home value in the area fell by 23 percent, from $397,799 to $308,000.
Helsdon discounts such concerns over test scores.
“The PARCC exam is just a way of assessing student growth,” Helsdon said. “It’s one data point that needs to be looked at along with the whole student curriculum."
District 58 has 13 schools serving nearly 5,200 students: elementary schools Belle Aire, El Sierra, Fairmount, Henry Puffer, Highland, Hillcrest, Indian Trail, Kingsley, Lester, Pierce Downer and Whittier; and middle schools Herrick and O’Neill.
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1860 63rd St
Downers Grove, IL - 60516