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Orland Dist. 135 candidates air views at forum

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by Melody Gordon
Regional correspondent

Orland Park School District 135 held a candidates forum to give the district’s residents, parents of students and school staff a chance to meet the candidates who are running for school board vacancies.

The forum, moderated by the League of Women Voters of the Palos-Orland Area, gave audience members the opportunity to ask questions ranging from how candidates will balance the district’s budget to how they felt about extending the school day.

On April 5, voters will decide between four candidates who will fill three vacancies. Incumbent board members John Carmody and Gregory Okon are up for re-election. Joseph LaMargo and Tina Zekich are seeking their first term.

“This [election] is about 10 times more involved than the last one I was in, and it should be,” said Carmody during his opening statement. “The school district is dealing with a lot of critical issues that 135 hasn’t had to deal with in the past.”

With looming budgeting crisis affecting school districts across the state, many of the questions posed to the candidates were regarding how they will uphold fiscal responsibility over the next few years.

Carmody explains that the district is funded with 77 percent of the real estate taxes collected from Orland Park while the remaining 23 percent comes from federal and state, which is shrinking. He forewarns that there may come a time when the school district is funded solely by real estate taxes.

“I’m more inclined to think that this is a time where we are going to have to introspectively look and say, ‘What can we really do to sustain ourselves down the line?’” said Okon in regards to negotiating teachers’ contracts to retain top talent.

With a decline in revenue, Carmody says the board will have to make tough decisions to make the growing teacher expenses balance the revenue.

Okon suggests more give and take between staff and contracting. “If you start to project it out, it starts to dwindle and when you get to that point, fiscal responsibility falls back on the school board and we have to answer when things start to go down.”

Funding teachers and staff is one of many expenses taking huge chunks out of the district’s budget. Luckily, some of the candidates come from financial backgrounds and are willing to think out of the box to prevent a major deficit in years to come.

“We need to be more creative in finding new ways to get revenue,” said LaMargo. By finding state and federal grants as well as looking at district spending habits, LaMargo believes there are ways to save and make the district more money rather than looking for programs to cut.

Aside from finding new ways to finance the district, all four candidates agree that going through the budget line by line is the way to regain control of revenue and spending and maintain academic excellence.

Early voting is available now through the end of March.

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