By Kevin Beese
A group of women is out to change things in Bellwood.
The five women, calling themselves the Bellwood Education Dream Team, are seeking seats on the School District 88 Board of Education and the Bellwood Library Board. Two of the women – Dorothy C. Smith and Deborah Giles – are seeking seats on both of the governing bodies. Smith already serves on both boards. Joining them are Constance Riales, who is running for Library Board; and Maria Perez and April Falco, who are running for the District 88 Board.
“It’s a mess,” Falco said of District 88. “We need to get away from the machine that is running the district. We need a board that is going to assist teachers, a superintendent that is going to be for the students, and a district that supports families.”
Giles said she had no idea what was going on with the School District and library until she attended a Library Board meeting in 2015 when she saw political heavyweight Chuck Baxter “signal” a board member about an issue. She has been attending board meetings and videotaping them ever since.
“It was blatant,” Giles said of Baxter’s actions. “He was signaling a board member to stop talking about something. I go to all the board meetings and he is there. I see him there.”
“We want him out,” Riales said of Baxter. “We are tired of their ‘poli-tricks,’” Falco added.
They will face the Team 88 slate that includes incumbents Katie S. Ross and Marilyn A. Thurman. The ticket also includes Barbara Conner and Delphine Powell, who were added when Juliette L. Elliot and Lana Means were both removed from the ballot due to petition errors. Smith, who has served on the Library Board for 12 years and the School Board for eight, started out as part of the Baxter team, but broke away two years ago.
“I couldn’t stand being part of that,” Smith said, “seeing how they acted during board meetings, the mistreatment of people.”
Ross, a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher, wound up part of Team 88 despite her allegiance to the Bellwood First Party. She said she has known Thurman for years and attended the same church as she did.
“I was getting my petitions ready and they took them in for me,” Ross said. “I never asked to be part of their slate. People know my credentials. They are some of the most outstanding credentials of any district candidate. I have the best background. People who know me say I have good character.” She said Team 88’s actions have put her in an awkward position. She said she has no idea whether being part of Team 88 will help or hurt her candidacy.
“It could go either way,” Ross said. “The bottom line is you have to let the chips fall where they may … I am proud to be associated with the district and to help in any way that I can. The schools need all the help that they can get.”
She said she does see Baxter having an influence on some board members, but noted that she is not one of them. Ross said she is running for another term because the Bellwood schools need improvement.
“I am very aware of how to help. I like to see children learn,” Ross said. “I love seeing them learn.”
Dream Team member Maria Perez has not been on District 88 grounds since December when a letter was sent to her from the school superintendent barring her from district facilities. Perez said she touched a board member trying to get her attention and have a conversation with her. It remains to be seen what will happen if she is elected, Perez said. She said the School Board is neither serving students nor their families.
“They should be ashamed of themselves. Their decisions are to benefit themselves,” Perez said. “In the meantime, our kids are making $10 per hour. Our kids deserve the education they are entitled to receive.”
Deborah Giles said the School District is not run efficiently.
“They are not doing the job they are paid to do,” Giles said. “It has frustrated parents.”