Election 2011: Voters Say 'No' to 159 Referendum for a Third Time; School Board Elections Very Close

As of Tuesday night, school board candidates Joe Spalla, Patrick Markham and Carrie Zakula, were within 20 votes of one another.

For the third time since last February, Mokena voters said no to a referendum that would have raised property taxes and decreased Mokena School District 159's $2.7 million deficit. 

According to unofficial results, 2,557 voted no (54 percent) and 2,167 voted yes (46 percent). The measure would have increased property taxes by 29 cents per $100 equalized assessed value.

"Everyone has had to learn to do more with less," said school board candidate , who campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility and who led the polls with 25 percent of the Board of Education vote. "The voters have spoken for the third time."

Mary Cummins, a parent and member of the committee for the referendum, said she was disappointed with the result. "It seems like elsewhere in the suburbs, a referendum is an automatic 'yes'," she said. "What's so different about Mokena that we can't get this passed?"

School administrators had said that if the referendum were to pass, the district would restore programs including full-day kindergarten and extracurriculars as well as staff.

"I'm just so disappointed for the students in Mokena," said Superintendent Karen Perry. "It's a shame they're going to have to pay for this."

New Lenox Precinct 7, Frankfort Precinct 10 and Frankfort Precinct 27 were the only precincts in the school system to tilt in favor of the referendum; 12 others opposed it.

While just 390 votes marked the difference between "yes" and "no" Tuesday night, pending the count of provisional ballots, the school board election was much closer.

Ford was leading with 25 percent of the vote, or 2,549 ballots cast in his favor, according to the unofficial results. Pro-referendum candidate was behind him with 24.81 percent of the vote (2,442). , who ran alongside Ford in opposition to the referendum, had 24.69 percent of the vote (2,430). He was only eight votes ahead of pro-referendum candidate , who got 24.61 percent (2,422).

With all precincts counted, Spalla appeared to trail but he leapt ahead when the early voting figures were added in late Tuesday night.

With the race so close, candidates were hesitant to comment on the results.

"It's anybody's rules," Markham said.

The voter turnout in Will County was 18.82 percent overall, with 70,992 ballots cast among the 376,923 eligible voters.

Clarification: Mike Ford campaigned on a platform of "fiscal responsibility." This article originally misstated his campaign's message as "anti-referendum."

KMB April 06, 2011 at 07:32 PM
OMG just because she has an MBA does not qualify her to hold this postion. This is exactly the problem with this school board, they do not think like business owners!!!!
KMB April 06, 2011 at 07:36 PM
She absolutely had an agenda...to get the referendum passed. I have met her and I do not believe for one minute she had anything on her mind but getting the referendum passed, why do think we were blackmailed from the very beginning? She does not deserve and she will never get my respect. She tore this town apart!
Mad Dad April 06, 2011 at 07:47 PM
Well, I have spoken to her mulitple times and have heard her talk to others at the so called community work sessions. She is one of the most abrasive, stuborn, closed minded person that I have ever met. She really has no "people" skills, and that is not a good thing if you are trying to convince a community to pass a referendum. As far as "not" haveing an agenda goes.......she passed referendums in other districts downstate and was brought here by Bradbury specifically for that reason!!!!! TO PASS A REFERENDUM!
Joe April 06, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Years of financial mismanagement and the misappropriation of funds have lead to this. Not just in the school district, but in the village itself. How many businesses and their tax dollars did Mokena lose to surrounding communities? For years, those running the village refused to allow for sustainable growth. New homes were approved and new schools, but no new businesses. The job of paying for and supporting everything fell on the resident tax payers. Mokena has some of the highest property tax rates in the area, but unlike Frankfort and New Lenox, Mokena voted against commercial growth until it was too late. Now, we've got a shiny new junior high and renovated elementary schools that are barely 50% full. Nearly a quarter of the deficit would be eliminated by closing the under-used intermediate school, but it's been kept open. The adults running the show are worried about themselves rather than the kids. Yes, it's a shame the kids have to suffer, but maybe they'll learn from the mistakes of the adults who were supposed to be looking out for them.
JG April 06, 2011 at 08:11 PM
@ KMB unfortunately you are proving my point in my original post about lack of respect and placing blame. For all of the talk about cutting administration how much more are you willing to pay for "qualified" superintendent and "qualified" business manager? Surely you know the difference between Bradberry's pay and Perry's pay. The same goes for the difference between Jim and Barb. One could argue that you get what you pay for. But that could also mean increasing administrative salary spending. Thank you for clarifying that a board of seven people did not choose Mrs. Perry and that Tim King single handedly anointed her. At least we have someone to blame, right? As respects the re-drawing of the boundries perhaps I misunderstood your point. Were you talking about keeping two districts and re-drawing their boundries or were you refering to consolidating two districts into one district? I believe that in either case the voters of each district would have to approve such an action. Interesting that you completely avoided my question about Mr. Markham and his past. @ Kipper, I disagree with you. I believe that the community has failed the community. All of the current board members, with the exception of Tony B., were elected by this community. Tim received enough votes to win a spot on the board. We as a community put him there. We as a community also turned a blind eye to the district when times were good, home values were rising and the economy was growing.
Mike April 06, 2011 at 08:19 PM
The village problems with business was not under the present mayor's admin.
Joe April 06, 2011 at 08:33 PM
Sure enough, but the problems facing the school district have not come about purely because of the current administration. It takes years of poor planning to reach the point we are at. Decades of mismanagement and poor planning have led to current crisis.
Dee Miller April 06, 2011 at 08:40 PM
Mike, I like Warner, but even though he was not Mayor at the time we lost all the businesses to our surrounding areas, he was on the Village Board at that time, as well as, several other Village Board members that are still there. Just saying thats all.
Volunteer April 06, 2011 at 08:55 PM
I believe that we did lose as a community. We can all point fingers and place blame but the reality of this is we need to quit pointing blame and hope and pray that the new board members can at least help and try to fix this problem. This is not something that you can just put a band-aid on and this can be fixed. We should all look towards the future now and forget about the past with Bradberry that is over and done with and nothing we can do about it now. Hopefully, everyone that has voted will be happy with who they put in as board members and go from there. Everyone can agree to disagree because that is why we are in the LAND OF THE FREE (thanks to all of the people that have served and are serving right now for us). But no matter what we have a crisis that needs immediate attention. There is going to be no fast fix for this. I am leaving this in GOD's hands as he always has the right answer for everything. All we can do from this point on is hope and pray for the best for our community and for our school district.
KMB April 06, 2011 at 08:57 PM
OK JG why dont you tell me who's fault this all is. I am guessing you want to blame us the taxpayers, right? And in order to recieve respect, you have to act respectful to others, which Perry has never done. The very first 'community meeting' she disrespected the entire communtiy the way she spoke to all of us, as if we were her students and not highly educated taxpayers! And are you suggesting that we couldn't find more quailfied people to fill these positions because we aren't paying enough. Really, in this economy? As far as Mr. Markham, I have met him and I believe he will put the children first, unlike Perry. Just because we turned a blind eye in the past is no reason to open our wallets now. Not when there are viable solutions to put in place FIRST!
Just Thinking Ahead April 06, 2011 at 10:05 PM
The new board members will find out exactly why we needed a "yes" on the referendum. They will get in there and, in time, find out what we all knew in the beginning...but I guess you didn't believe it because Mrs. Perry was the messenger...after all the cost cutting, we still need more money to operate! Check out the situation in Lemont...had to borrow from H.S. district to make payroll this year. No money to open school in August. We're about a year behind them.
RH April 06, 2011 at 11:23 PM
I am happy that this referendum failed again. Our property values have decreased, still our property taxes go up. The ability to sell a home in Mokena is becoming increasingly difficult due to the higher taxes in Mokena compared to surrounding communities. In fact my monthly property tax escrow payment is twice my mortgage principle and interest! Additionally I did not see the teachers take a pay cut, nor did I see the administrators hire any non-union teachers to decrease the costs. Unions do not make fine teachers, and many fine non-union teachers could be hired if the will were there. In fact at the junior high I witnessed the better teachers (with less seniority) get laid off and the high-seniority less-eager (and higher paid) teachers stay. We dont need our school district being run by the union, we pay the bills, so we should have the say on teachers salaries and hiring firing. We will have quality schools at sane prices if and only if we go non-union. I personally dont want any more of my property tax payment going to union dues, unsustainable pension promises, and the enormous political contributions (bribes) the unions make to politicians who simply guarantee to the union that they will come pick my pocket later for more taxes. I want politicians that fight for my tax payment, not the ones that fight for the unions who want to forever increase my tax payment.
RH April 06, 2011 at 11:31 PM
When a politician says to a public-worker union "Ill fight for your jobs" he's essentially saying I wont represent the taxpayers, I'll represent you. At that point the taxpayer is un-represented because the elected official and the union are in bed together, and nobody is on the other side of the table representing the taxpayer anymore. Collective bargaining at a one-sided table. At least referendums guarantee that someone is representing the taxpayer even if the union and politician are cozied up on the other side of the table.
Kipper April 07, 2011 at 03:55 AM
We are not a year behind them! Get over it, the majority is not buying it. 3 times and still the majority didn't buy it! We have 9mil in reserve money still were gonna spend that in a year? please explain further how we will do that?
Mike April 07, 2011 at 02:35 PM
The referendum lost. The School Board election is over. Ford, Markham and Spalla won. Now let's put all that aside and do the heavy work in 159. Perry. She has a year on her contract, but she's a disaster as a supt. What to do. Most supt contracts have a article that outlines the job description. Most of the time there will be a section that will say "other duties as directed by the School Board". Take Perry and assign her to your first sub teacher everyday. You will still have to pay her contractual salary, but the district will save about $17,000 during the year. Direct her not to do any other duties except sign documents that mandates the supt's signature. Have her set the Board agenda with the Board President and attend Board meetings, but not participate. Assign one of the principals as Head Principal for the year. Pay this person a stipend of $17,000 for the extra work. This principal will communicate with the other principals on a daily basis and solve building problems that are not resolved at the building level and solve district problems with the help of the business manager. All personnel problems will be solved at the building level with the HP's help if necessary. Personnel problems not resolved at the HP level will need to be resolved by the Board. Begin a supt search. Restore all students activities for 2011, freeze all 2011-12 salaries and benefits at 2010-11 levels , restore free student bus services. More to come.
Mike April 07, 2011 at 02:55 PM
Extend the present teacher contract for 1 year minus the salaries and benefits that will be frozen. Establish ad hoc committees including Board members and community members to discuss and make recommendations to the Board on closing MIS, streamlining and prioritizing student extracurricular activities, total review and revisal of the curricular day and the curriculum that will include length of the student day, evaluation of the teacher workdayand the school calendar. Rehire all non-certified staff for 2011-12. Establish a residency rule for employment and give all present employees 5 years to move into the district. Completely revamp the present pay schedule. Discontinue any contract with the present auditor and school lawyer. Ask IASB for recommendations for new auditor and new lawyer. Interview at least 3 of each. Get ready to pay top $ for GREAT SUPT. And, my major recommendation to the Board is that your were elected to make decisions. Listen to the total school community, but have the guts to make decisions on your knowledge of the district that sometimes can't be shared with the community. Show strength, competence, knowledge and unite the communtiy through great decision making. Your first concern should always be the CHILDREN.
Truth April 07, 2011 at 03:12 PM
@Mike I hope your last name is Ford. And if it's not, I think you missed your calling.
Lynn April 07, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Good thing Mike Fords kids go to a catholic school! Also thank goodness I live in Frankfort where we have full day kindergarten and great schools that have managed their money. Reading all of these comments just affirms what is wrong with Mokena.
Mike April 07, 2011 at 04:44 PM
It's not and I didn't.
Crabby in Mokena April 08, 2011 at 02:18 AM
It's unfortunate that our community has been able to rally around this critical issue. Believe me, I understand that we are all progressively over-burdened by taxes in this State. But for those of you who think Ford is going to be a difference maker - just know that he is divisive - he's not a team builder - it's gonna be interesting.
Crabby in Mokena April 08, 2011 at 02:31 AM
I spoke earlier today with four former Board members who were on the Board when Perry was selected. It was a Board vote in favor of her over other candidates. No one Board member has the power to "annoint" someone. While I am no fan of hers - you really should speak more factually prior to pointing fingers. The only thing King has done wrong has been to be a consensus builder in a conflicted Board. If you knew more - you would realize that nothing gets done without a Board vote.
JG April 08, 2011 at 01:20 PM
@ Crabby - I believe we agree that no individual acts on behalf of the board. You said it best, "no one board member has the power..." Kudos. @ KMB - This is our communities fault collectively for not being more involved in the school district. @ Mike - You might have guessed that I was/am in support of the referendum however I would rather have the teachers union walk out than extend any contract. That is too easy and does not address the issue. The community should be involved but they should rely on their elected officials to do the heavy lifting. I for one dont care abour residency requirements for teachers, I care about high quality educators in our district, for our kids. Residency is a red herring. I hope that the new board members bring their guts and conviction however I also believe that several members of the current board have what it takes. How could they not? They took something as unpopular as a tax increase to the community three times in a row. What some call ill advised I call gutsy. The easy way out would have been to ignore it and not put it to a vote. Just because someone chooses not believe something does not mean it is wrong.
Mike April 08, 2011 at 03:36 PM
What has Mike Ford said that was ever divisive. Ford was slammed for his religion, his work ethic, his father's ownership of a business in town, his love for his family, etc. Have you ever had an opportunity to speak to him directly. He is a humble and good man with plenty of intelligence and common sense. Mokena can be proud to have a person like him willing to run for public office. There were only 4 people selfless enough to run. Thanks to them all, even though I only voted for three of them.
RH April 08, 2011 at 05:22 PM
I attended the band concert at the junior high... When they started to talk about this subject in front of the audience I was tempted to ask them why they choose to turn a humble band concert into a political forum? I would have said... since you've turned this into a forum, tell me how much of a pay cut the teachers union was going to take at this time? Or is the first impulse to, in this order.... cut what the kids get, increase what the taxpayers pay and not even consider cutting your own bloated salaries, benefits and pensions. The union runs the show, not the board, not the parents, anyone who thinks differently is fooling themselves. And the union are the thugs everyone is too afraid of or in-bed with to confront. If the board or the parents were truly in control, then they would have control over something as fundamental as teacher salaries and ability to fire/hire best-value teachers. I resent the band concert being turned into a one-sided political preaching event for the teachers union. A pay freeze is NOT a pay cut.
KMB April 08, 2011 at 05:28 PM
I agree with RH. My child came home AGAIN yesterday in tears because the teachers are discussing the referendum in class with the students. Who gave the teacher's permission to dicuss this subject with the students?? And we also attended an awards night where the principal got up and started pushing the referendum in front of the children who where there to receive awards. It is dispicable and I for one am sick of the entire thing.
RH April 08, 2011 at 05:48 PM
I swear the next time this happens at a school event I'm going to raise my hand and make the conversation continue as though it were a political discussion event instead. Then after wasting the time for what the real event should have been, they'll get the message. My kids are not a pawns. Teachers, just do your job and let the board and citizens run the school. And if you do choose to "educate" my kids about the issue, be sure to present both sides, wont you. It would be a good lesson in finance. Somehow I dont think all you union schills will do that though.
JG April 08, 2011 at 06:04 PM
@ RH - Suppose you have an adjustable rate mortgage and your rate is due to adjust in three months. Right now the going rate is significantly lower than what you are paying. You don't get to have your rate adjust until the time when the mortgage allows it to adjust. The situation with the teachers contract is no different. Back in 2006 or 2007 when the last teachers contract was entered into the economy was different. The contract is the contract. Hind sight is always 20/20. I'm not personally a big fan of unions and like you believe that the board should negotiate hard this time around. I too have been at band concerts and heard the presentations. I heard them remind everyone that there were important issues at hand, encourage people to get the facts and vote. Maybe the message was different at your concert RH or your awards night KMB. And kudos to the bands and choir for sounding great and to all the students who earned awards!
feel your pain April 10, 2011 at 12:39 AM
The teachers could save your district and their fellow teachers if they would agree to take a pay cut and freeze for a year or two. It is really too bad teachers are in a union. If it were a corporation they would just give them a percentage pay cut and no raises for a year or two and things would probably be solved. That's what has happened to my husband to save his company.
This is not good enough. April 10, 2011 at 08:24 PM
Ford certainly won, but it is still a toss-up between Spalla, Zakula, and Markham. They were within 20 votes of each other, and provincial votes [including any servicemen who voted, mail-in ballots, and grace period voting] won't be counted until 19 April. Any of the three of them could take the remaining two school board seats. Just FYI.
This is not good enough. April 10, 2011 at 08:27 PM
Don't believe everything you read here.....


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