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Mary Drew and the Deficit Reduction: Outgoing D161 Board Members Reflect on Their Legacy

Patch recently caught up with Summit Hill School District's four outgoing board members to discuss their time with the district and why they're not running for another term.

Mary Kenny has been a member of the Summit Hill School District 161 Board of Education for so many years that she’s lost count — she guesses it’s somewhere between 25 and 30.

In the late 1970s, Kenny canvassed residential construction sites in the area, talking to families who were building their homes in the district, to create support for the construction of Indian Trail Elementary School.

She was the president of the Lincoln-Way Area Special Education District 843 Board of Education for more than ten years and she is currently president of the Summit Hill board.

During her time with District 161, enrollment has grown from approximately 1,200 students to 3,400 students.

For the first time in decades, Kenny’s name will not appear on the ballot in April. Her nearly 30 years on the board will come to an end after the election this spring.

Patch recently spoke with Kenny, and her fellow outgoing board members, Joy Murphy, Denise Wildeveld and Denise Lenz, none of whom are seeking re-election.

“It’s much easier to deal with a growing district when people are willing to support education,” said Kenny.

Frankfort Square residents today have a greater tendency to be retirees and people without children, said Kenny, as compared to the young families who moved to the area during her early days on the school board. This creates a challenge for the district, since fewer community members have a personal investment in local schools.

Summit Hill has had its share of challenges in recent years. The outgoing board members recalled the daunting task of cutting an approximately $2.5 million deficit to a deficit of $700,000 during the past year. Other hurdles the board members mentioned include a reduction in state funding, low teacher morale and an administration that Kenny said seems unwilling to admit to a need for improvement.

“We did the best that we possibly could do for our taxpayers,” said Lenz.

The board members also discussed the need to make tough, unpopular decisions during their time serving the district. Foremost among these was the vote to close Mary Drew Elementary School last February due to low enrollment, an event that evoked strong reactions from many community members.

“It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fun,” said Wildeveld. “This is not a popularity contest.”

Outgoing board members also recalled a few of the most memorable accomplishments from their time with the district. The deficit reduction was discussed with both pride and frustration.

Wildeveld cited the district’s bullying prevention efforts and the implementation of the new summer bridging program as some of the board’s primary successes.

“Without affecting student programming, we were able to cut the deficit $1.7 million,” said Murphy.

In April, Murphy, Kenny, Wildeveld and Lenz will leave four open seats at the board table.

“I’m exhausted,” said Kenny. “It’s time for somebody else to pick it up.”

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FSR February 02, 2013 at 02:28 PM
Great questions Square Dad!
Walker Percy February 06, 2013 at 04:01 AM
Why rain on someone's parade, Square Dad and FSR? Irregardless of how you feel, show some class. Anybody who is an elected official for more than 30 years in an unpaid position deserves a little bit of respect.
FSR February 08, 2013 at 04:50 AM
Walker Percy not so sure what was so classless about a very fair question? Time doesn't earn respect as far as I know.
john bruno March 27, 2013 at 04:40 PM
No class what this Board is doing to Barb Rains.....Why can't her Contact be left to the new Board to be elected on the 9th.....What is the hurry to get Jim Martin in place by the old board? What if the new Board doesn't want Jim Martin? Hope the new Board rescinds the decision until they can do their own search for a Super.....
Square Dad March 28, 2013 at 07:17 PM
I agree 100%, John! Seems like they are trying to their crony the job before the election. That nonsense might work in Chicago and Springfield, but we shouldn't tolerate here.

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