District 200 faces school board shake up

Sarah Lipo, Managing Editor

It is April 4 at around 9 pm, and Tom Cosky sits crouched over his buzzing phone in his darkened living room. His heartbeat pulses as he watches the numbers rise and fall, as if keeping time with his anxiousness.

The April 4 election proved to be a game-changer, as seven new candidates vied for four vacant spots – the new candidates hoping to increase transparency and communication on the Board, especially after many key issues taking place this past year.

After a whirlwind night, Director of Finance Tom Cofsky and Vice President Jackie Moore were the two incumbents garnering enough support to secure a position on the 2017 School Board. They will be joined by newcomers Craig Iseli and Matt Baron, who received 16 and 15 percent, respectively.

Cofsky said he was “a little surprised, but overall relieved and grateful.” Baron spoke to this, using the words appreciative while Iseli called the result humbling. As Iseli put it, “People have put their trust in me to deal with some pretty significant challenges.”

As one long road ends, another journey is just beginning, especially with key challenges like the facilities plan and balancing the budget lingering on the horizon.

At the forefront of these challenges is the issue of equity. Community member Monica Sheehan is an individual closely watching the board’s decision-making. “ I am guardedly optimistic about the new Board and hope it will focus on equity, addressing the needs of all students, and complete the three year old strategic plan, which remains just a framework,” she said.

Cofsky agreed with Sheehan, saying, “The big, overarching umbrella is really about equity, and identifying and continuing to do the things that will drive the performance of the community.”

Baron said he hopes to create more equality in distribution of resources. For example, he said he hopes to create advantages for “special ed students to students who are shuffled in the middle.” At the same time, he knows the OPRF community must “continue to explore ways to responsibly bring our reserves within an appropriate level.”

With equity comes the pool saga.

Sheehan, an opponent of the pool plan proposed earlier this year, said she believes a more productive pool plan should be at the forefront of the Board’s agenda. “I hope the Board actually utilizes the paid, objective research and listens to the wider community this time around rather than trying to appease a special interest group,” she said.

The Board intends to do just that. Iseli puts it simply, saying,  “For deciding what the specific solutions for individual pieces (like the pool) should be,  we should allow the Imagine OPRF team to work the issues while the board sets the expectation and trusts that our community and administration will come together and find options that engage the students and community…”

All in all, the new Board seems ready to get down to business. Iseli is optimistic, saying,  “I am just excited to get started…[To] get to know the people at OPRF even better and understand how I can best fit in to help.”

Continuing board members such as Secretary Sara Spivvy do not foresee any notable changes occurring in the board’s dynamic. “Given that we have only two new members I don’t expect the dynamic to change much,” she said. “Steve Gevinson and Jeff Weissglass will be very missed – they are both extremely thoughtful board members and have a long history with the high school. However, I don’t anticipate any real change in how we work together.”

Cofsky’s new term is a bittersweet one, as his last child leaves the high school this spring. He said that does not affect his motivation to make OPRF a better place for future students. He is proud of the Board’s new pick for superintendent. “I want to make sure she is supported,” he said of Dr. Pruitt-Adams and her recent appointment.

Unlike Cofsky, Baron’s children are about to enter the high school.  After Donald Trump seized the presidency this past November, Baron said he “felt  responsiblity to do more.” He knew he wanted to assist with “the bigger scope the high school deals with, (and) felt like (he) had to contribute something positive to the political process.”

Positivity and the drive to do more seems to fuel this breath of fresh air the April election brings. Although dedicating time to the board comes with its struggles, Baron said he feels it constitutes “a sacrifice that is well-worth it.”

As the new term opens May 2, the Board will meet to appoint the newly elected to their positions. Cofsky predicts his role will again center on something surrounding finance. “We will have to figure out who is best at each position,” he said. “I suspect I will still have some role in the finance area, but I look forward to sharing that.”

As new voices gain power in the community,  Baron says there are “so many things I am positive about.”