OPRF student newspaper organizes candidate forum
The Oak Park River Forest High School's student paper, Trapeze, organized and moderated a forum for District 200 school board candidates | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 15, 2013 6:40AM
OAK PARK — The D200 school board routinely make decisions that profoundly impact the daily lives of Oak Park River Forest High School’s 3,200 students.
Thursday afternoon before an audience of two dozen OPRF students, the editorial staff of the school newspaper, Trapeze, turned the tables, quizzing 10 high school board candidates, including incumbent board president Terry Finnegan.
The event was organized by Trapeze co-editors Allison Channic and Angelica Haennicke, and staffers Alexa Lisitza, Nia Smith and Cassie Bey.
Friday afternoon Haennicke allowed that the questions might have been more fine-tuned, but she expressed satisfaction at how the event turned out.
“We feel pretty confident we (realized) our goals,” she said of the forum. “The overall purpose was to understand what the candidates stand for.”
The board candidates participating besides Finnegan were John Bokum, Tom Cofsky, Eric Davis, Steven Gevinson, Julie MacCarthy, Melanie McQueen, Jackie Moore, Steve Nations and Jeff Weisglass.
One of the school board’s harshest critics, River Forest resident Barbara Langer, did not attend the event.
Channic, a senior, served as both a questioner and official timekeeper for the two-hour event, keeping things moving along smartly.
Each of the nine candidates who were there at the start (Finnegan arrived late from work) were given three minutes to introduce themselves. Channic read from a list of questions compiled from two weeks of querying fellow students on what issues they wanted to candidates to address.
When those were handled, Channic read questions from the audience.
The question topics ranged from school board transparency and public participation in school board meetings to budget priorities to ways to address the vexing achievement gap. Other topics included the handling of special programming.
The first issue, though, was one apparently close to high school student’s hearts down through the generations — the cafeteria food. Students expressed concern about both taste and nutrition.
There were two general candidate response to the question — those that left the issue with the administration as an operational responsibility, and those who were open to spending time exploring it at the board level.
Haennicke said she believed most of the candidates were well qualified for the board, and that each candidate did well in their own way, either in command of the subject, or passion, or both.
“They all were mostly pretty impressive in their own ways,” she said, adding that “they all seemed to be self-assured in dealing with the budget.”
Haennicke admitted she and her fellow students don’t always appreciate the burdens involved on those who pay the bills.
“From the student perspective, we often don’t consider the taxpayer’s side. We only see the expenditures,” she said.
“It’s difficult because the candidates are dealing with both the taxpayers and the expenditures.”
The achievement gap was another issue that elicited both passion and an array of ideas from the panel.
Haennicke also noted some flaws in the answers.
“Some side-stepped an issue with vague responses,” she said. “They acknowledged the issue, but gave no details. Other had a good, detailed approach.”
But overall she was impressed with the candidates. Asked to be more specific, Haennicke noted one candidate in particular.
“For me personally, Mr. Gevinson’s experience and wisdom in dealing with the issues around the school (stood out),” she said.
Haennicke and Channic and the rest of the Trapeze staff will discuss the candidates’ answers, flaws and all, and publish formal endorsements for the high school board’s four open seats in the March 22 issue.
While Haennicke couldn’t say with certainty the candidate forum was the first-ever such event, it was the first one of which she was aware — and something she’d like to see repeated.
“I definitely hope they do it again,” said Haennicke.
As for organizing forums of candidates for other offices, she said that’s feasible but the school board forum was most relevant to students.
“Yeah, personally I’m very interested in the workings of the community,” said Haennicke. “But the student’s interests have to come first.”