Liberty school upgrades

The new addition to Bourbonnais Elementary School District’s Liberty Intermediate School sits on the east side of the property, accompanied by new bus lanes and a two-lane parent pick-up loop.

BOURBONNAIS — It’s out with the old and in with the new on the Bourbonnais Elementary District 53 School Board.

Tuesday’s consolidated election featured nine candidates vying for four seats and ended with the four incumbent board members ousted in favor of four first-time candidates.

The top four vote earners were Erika Young with 1,225 votes (15.5%), Priscilla Dwyer with 1,208 votes (15.3%), Betsy Keller with 1,142 votes (14.4%) and Stephan Moulton with 891 votes (11.29%).

Incumbent board members trailed behind the newcomers, including Jamie Freedlund with 868 votes (11%), Richard McBarnes with 680 votes (8.61%), current board president Rob Rodewald with 568 votes (7.2%) and current vice president John Hall with 542 votes (6.87%).

First-time candidate Tracy Toepfer fell short of making the top four, with 770 votes (9.75%).

Young, a stay-at-home mom, small business owner and former 14-year firefighter and paramedic for various departments, including New Lenox and Bourbonnais, said she began attending board meetings after hearing parent and teacher friends convey dissatisfaction with the district.

She decided to run because she felt teachers were being treated unfairly during contract negotiations, she said.

Young said her focus as a board member will be mending the relationship between teachers and the school board.

“I don’t understand why the teachers and school board can’t work together and get along,” Young said.

Dwyer, a former 20-year teacher in Kankakee School District 111 who currently owns a literary consulting business, said she felt it was a “practical and important time” to run, with the district’s hiring of a new superintendent last year and in light of the district’s struggle to settle a contract with the teachers union.

“My focus is on student achievement and community involvement,” she said. “We need to see school board members in the community.”

Keller, a teacher in the Chicago suburbs, said she moved to the community eight years ago and ran for school board to become more involved.

“I believe being a teacher, I will be able to provide insight on the school board,” she said.

Keller also expressed that she will be focused on mending the board’s relationship with the community after the teachers strike.

“I am also looking forward to working with current board members and learning from their experience,” she said. “It’s time to move forward.”

Moulton, a shipping warehouse manager for a Frankfort company, said his focus as a school board member will be on transparency.

“Over the past few years, there’s been a lack of transparency with the community and a lot of unanswered questions with the Liberty (school) expansion,” he said.

Moulton added that, while he does not feel the district got a “bad” superintendent, he was unsure of whether the district did its due diligence in searching for a candidate.

Moulton said he also feels board members should be asking more questions of the administration during board meetings.

“There needs to be more dialogue on how we’re spending money and investing in kids,” he said.

Rodewald served a total of 18 years on the board, including four four-year terms and one two-year term. When asked what board members should focus on going forward, he said the board is getting ready to start a total redo of the board policy handbook.

“That’s board policy work, so that’s the most important thing for the board to focus on,” he said.

Hall served a total of 16 years on the board, including four four-year terms.

He said he was “honestly scared for the community and district” with the departure of experienced members from the board.

“I hope the new board members can quickly learn that the school board is a policy making committee,” he said. “We employ one person and make policy.”

He added that he hopes the board going forward will put the education of students first.

New board members are set to be sworn in during the next board meeting April 27.

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.