University of Chicago Medicine Breast Cancer June 2022

District 230 voters will settle it

 

     “Winning isn’t worthwhile unless one has something finer and nobler behind it,” Amos Alonzo Stagg once said, which may be one of the few things two clashing sets of candidates agree upon as the election race for the High School District 230 Board of Education heads to the wire on Tuesday.

            District 230, which includes three high schools—Stagg in Palos Hills, Sandburg in Orland Park and Andrew in Tinley Park—is one of the largest in Illinois. And its election contest is shaping into the Battle Royale of any local race on the ballot in Palos-Orland in this election.

            If ever there was a need for a meet-the-candidates forum that was never held to help voters sort out the credentials and views of the hopefuls, it was in this race where seven contenders are vying for three four-year terms up for grabs on District 230’s school board.

            One set of candidates offers two incumbents—President Rick Nogal and Vice President Patrick O’Sullivan, along with Denis Ryan, a District 146 school board member, running together as the 230 United slate.

            John Thomas Donovan, Frank Ryan and Mary Ryan Norwell make up the other set of candidates. The seventh candidate, Palos Heights resident Wesley Boske, does not appear to be visibly campaigning and did not respond to a request to be interviewed by The Regional News.

Battles lines drawn

Nogal has essentially portrayed Donovan’s candidacy as nothing short of an invasion of the suburbs by what he calls “Chicago-style Machine politics,” noting Donovan’s position as a key member of Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan’s staff. He has chafed at what he calls lies by Donovan’s camp regarding District 230 finances and academic performance.

Nogal and others in his camp have questioned why Donovan’s team includes two people named Ryan, and have implied that the move is an example of “ballot shenanigans” designed to confuse voters and pull votes away from Denis Ryan—a charge that Donovan flatly denies.

Donovan, in turn, has mounted an aggressive push to portray board members as lying to themselves and voters by painting an overly rosy picture of district finances and academic performance, as well as claiming they are asleep at the switch when it comes to beating back efforts by some state lawmakers to pull funds away from the district and re-distribute them to needy areas. He also claims that some board members and district officials are attempting to sweep what he calls a “heroin problem” under the rug.

Donovan has said publicly that he considers himself “loosely allied” with Frank Ryan and Mary Ryan Norwell, and Donovan’s bright green campaign signs carry his name only—but a mailer touting the trio as “Team 230” recently appeared in mailboxes in the district.

Both camps have thrown other accusations at each other, ranging from harassment at early-voting sites to pilfered lawn signs, and more.

The candidates

  • Rick Nogal, 58, of Palos Park, served two terms on the Palos School District 118 Board of Education, from 2003-11, including two years as president. He is finishing his first term on the District 230 board. Prior to his election in 2011, he served on the board’s Student Services Committee for four years.

He also served as chairman of the board of directors of Palos Community Hospital from 2000-10, as well as in a number of volunteer posts in the community.

A business litigation attorney, Nogal earned regional and even statewide acclaim last year as a champion of the successful movement by suburban school districts to fight Senate Bill 16, the proposed School Funding Reform Act of 2014. Had it passed, the legislation would have resulted in a loss of millions of tax dollars annually from District 230, as well as its elementary school feeder districts.

Nogal helped lead two public forums that rallied citizen opposition to the bill, and his detailed analysis of the projected impacts of SB 16 was used as a model by other school districts.

This year, Nogal is engaged in the push against Senate Bill 1, the successor to SB 16 and was scheduled to convene a public meeting of the minds on the bill last night.

            Nogal has repeatedly pointed with pride to what he calls the school board’s fiscal integrity on his watch, as well as the academic performance of students in the district.

 

  • John Thomas Donovan, 28, of Palos Park, has not yet held elective office but grew up around public service. His father, Thomas R. Donovan, was a top official in the administrations of Chicago Mayors Richard J. Daley and Michael A. Bilandic, and later served as longtime president of the Chicago Board of Trade.

Candidate Donovan is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and DePaul College of Law. He currently serves as a top legislative advisor to Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

A theme of his campaign is that district residents are paying too much in property taxes for schools, while the quality of education at all three high schools has declined.

He also disputes the current board’s assertion that it has not raised its tax levy in recent years and vows to “ensure that our property taxes do not increase.”

Donovan has also criticized the district for ignoring a student population that, like other teens across the nation, “is plagued by drugs.” He scoffed at those who say that heroin is not a significant issue at the schools and said a friend of his who attended Stagg is currently serving a drug-related sentence.

He has proposed expanding the use of naloxone, a drug credited with saving increasing numbers of lives of people who have overdosed on heroin. First responders are making more use of naloxone, and Donovan said he wants to make it available to parents in the district.

He added that his experience in Springfield with Madigan makes him well suited to help lead the district’s fight against SB 1 and any other attempts to pull state dollars away from the district.

  • Patrick O’Sullivan, 44, of Orland Park, was elected to the board in 2007 and is finishing his second term. He has served as board president, as well as chairman of the building and finance committee, which he said gives him a “well rounded” view of district operations, which serves taxpayers well. He also pointed to his involvement in contract negotiations as a valuable experience.

The president of PRO Insurance Services, O’Sullivan is a Sandburg graduate and earned a bachelor’s degree at Bradley University. He also coaches youth athletics in the area.

In the fight against SB 16 and SB 1, he has been at Nogal’s shoulder, figuratively and sometimes literally.

O’Sullivan pointed with pride to a number of achievements during his eight years on the board, including adding a 30-minute block of time to the school day, which can be used by struggling students to get tutoring and other assistance, and for enrichment purposes for those who don’t.

If re-elected, he said he plans to continue on the same track, including fighting SB 1 and resisting what he said are attempts by some in Springfield to move local school board elections to the fall, which he said could lead to the “politicization” of what are supposed to be non-partisan contests.

  • Mary Ryan Norwell, 59, of Orland Park, describes herself as “a lawyer, professor, volunteer and a Sandburg mom.”

            A retired assistant state’s attorney, she currently serves as legal services director for Catholic Charities. She ran for judicial posts twice in recent years, falling short both times.

            For the past decade, she has taught law as an adjunct professor at IIT Chicago Kent Law School. She also has taught in the law enforcement program at Kaplan University.

She grew up in Chicago and attended Queen of Peace High School.

Norwell’s view of the district has been shaped by her family’s positive experiences at Sandburg, especially how many students are involved in extra-curricular activities that enhance their life learning experience.

At Sandburg, she has served in several volunteer capacities.

She also is active in the youth ministry and other efforts at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, as well as in Scouting.

As Donovan has, Norwell has criticized the district on several fronts, saying it ought to be doing a better job academically, and that the district should have convinced the Illinois Department of Transportation to make Sandburg’s section of La Grange Road a top priority, since the torn-up roadway is “an accident waiting to happen for our young drivers. There are large ruts where there were once road, lanes are narrow, lights are dim and the road is cluttered with construction horses. The danger is enhanced with poor weather and heavy traffic,” she said.

  • Denis Ryan, 55, of Orland Park, has served on the Community Consolidated School District 146 Board of Education since 2009. Before that, he was a member of the board’s finance committee.

He is a Certified Insurance Counselor with the Ryan Reum Insurance Agency. As a member of the Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois’ Legislative Committee, Ryan helped draft legislation to protect businesses in Illinois, according to his campaign biography.

Additionally, he is a director at large with the Illinois Association of Schools Boards and is chairman of the Orland Park Civic Center Authority. He also has coached youth athletics in the area.

As a supporter of Nogal, O’Sullivan and the current board, Ryan said he “wants to make our schools shine” and that “what they accomplish at Sandburg is amazing.”

He said he plans to continue what he said is the fiscal responsibility of the current board.

“If you look at your property tax bill, 67 percent of that is schools,” he noted. “It’s a considerable investment for an extremely important job, educating the children of our community, and we must continue to make sure that funds are spent wisely, for everyone’s sake.”

  • Frank Ryan, 58, of Palos Heights, is an attorney in general practice in Oak Forest.

Like Norwell, he has run for judge before but fell short at the polls. He also ran but lost a close race for Palos Township supervisor more than a dozen years ago.

He earned his undergraduate degree at Northern Illinois University and his law degree from The John Marshall Law School.

Ryan said he is running for the District 230 board because he is concerned about the three school’s academic performance. He pointed to a ranking that showed that no school in the district is in the top 100 statewide. “I think we can and must do better than that,” he said.

He also claimed that district officials treat Stagg High School “like the poor stepchild of the district.”

“There aren’t enough [Stagg] kids going to college,” he said.

Additionally, he recalled last year’s Stagg graduation as a “fiasco,” chiding school officials for scheduling an outdoor graduation “with heavy rain in the forecast” and which resulted in furious parents and students. “If these people can’t even run a graduation ceremony properly, what makes anyone think they can get the rest of it right on a daily basis?” he asked.

District 230 serves about 8,000 students and all or parts of 11 municipalities in its nearly 73 square miles, including Palos Heights, Palos Park, Orland Park, Palos Hills, Hickory Hills, and Worth.

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Nogal

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Denis Ryan

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Donovan

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Frank Ryan

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Norwell

 

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