Chicago-area school board elections aren’t until April 7, but one potential candidate is already making waves in the northwest suburbs: Roy McCampbell.
He’s a Schiller Park School District 81 parent who, by some accounts, is gearing up to run for the District 81 school board in the spring.
And he’s a former comptroller and chief financial officer for the Village of Bellwood who was indicted in 2012 on eight counts of felony theft and four counts of official misconduct. He has been accused of, among other things, inflating his employment contracts and stealing more than $500,000 from municipal coffers in the western suburb, court records show.
McCampbell, an attorney living in Schiller Park, has pleaded not guilty, and the case is pending, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which is prosecuting him. No trial date has been set.
McCampbell, 60, wouldn’t talk to us about his criminal case and declined to comment publicly about anything else.
While not officially a school board candidate, since nominating petitions are not due until December, McCampbell recently attended an informational event for prospective candidates hosted by the Illinois Association of School Boards, according to District 81 board President Dave Stachura.
What’s more, in an email to Stachura, McCampbell indicated he wanted to participate in the event “since it is my intention to declare my candidacy for the April 2015 election for School Board Member,” according to a copy of the email. (A tipster sent us a copy of the note, and we confirmed its authenticity with Stachura and District 81 Supt. Kim Boryszewski.)
Meanwhile, a statement posted Friday on a blog bearing McCampbell’s name said he’s not going to run for the board after all.
Either way, Stachura welcomed the idea of his candidacy.
“If Roy wants to run, God bless him. He’s a smart guy,” Stachura said. “I think he’d be an asset to the board. He sat here [on the school board] for 12 years [in 1980s and 1990s.] He knows the ins and outs of everything.”
“Everybody tells me to stay away from him, but I’ve known the guy 40 years,” Stachura added. “He’s innocent until proven guilty, right?”
That’s certainly true, but some people are up in arms nonetheless over the possibility of McCampbell joining the school board.
Robin Fiala, co-chair of the ABC Parent Group, an organization that promotes neighborhood involvement with District 81, said of McCampbell, “He would definitely not be a good role model.”
“Read the indictment. These are serious things,” Fiala said. “It’s an awful situation. . . . People here are upset about it.”
Nothing in state law prevents McCampbell from running for school board.
But, if he’s ultimately convicted of a felony, the law bars him from serving on a board of education.
Beyond a McCampbell candidacy, District 81 has been a tumultuous place over the past year or more.
McCampbell has been a regular critic of district practices, often as they relate to the education of his kids.
Stachura, who is closely aligned with McCampbell, has been deeply at odds with members of his own board, and Boryszewski, over everything from finances to hiring decisions.
School board meetings are often packed and vocal affairs.
A mediator attended a public meeting last spring and offered to conduct a workshop on how to work together and be a more effective school board – but District 81 officials haven’t agreed on whether, or when, to hold such an event.
Perhaps most alarming, turnover among teachers and other staff has increased amid the turmoil. Thirty-one employees have resigned so far for the current school year, compared to 22 resignations last year and 19 the year before, according to District 81, which has roughly 400 employees.
At least four of the staff members who resigned said they left specifically because of problems with the school board, citing the “political climate” and “volatile environment” as reasons for their departure, according to their resignation letters.
Also, earlier this year, the Better Government Association sued the district for not turning over certain documents that are open to the public under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, the state’s open records law.
As part of an effort to build a database of local school documents, we requested from District 81 – and every other school district in Cook County – copies of confidentiality agreements, and other public records. District 81 was the only district in the county that refused to provide the contracts, until we filed suit for them.
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(At a board meeting earlier this month it became apparent the district is still struggling with transparency issues after a board member tried to stop us from video recording the meeting, saying we needed permission – which isn’t true. Anybody can record at public meetings, and prior approval is not required. The board also voted down a motion that would have added a second public comment section to meetings.)
Amid all the troubles the only thing all the sides seem to agree on is they’re standing up for the children of the district. The district has three schools and about 1,400 kids in preschool through eighth grade. Schiller Park has nearly 12,000 residents.
According to District 81’s mission statement, the school system is “dedicated to providing a child-centered environment that promotes achievement, respect and accountability.”
Time will tell who, if anyone, is fulfilling that goal.
This column – a new regular feature called The Public Eye, appearing on the Chicago Sun-Times’ political portal Early & Often – was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Katie Drews. She can be reached at (312) 821-9027 or firstname.lastname@example.org.