School Board Race Pits Unit 5 Parent Against Newcomer | WGLT

School Board Race Pits Unit 5 Parent Against Newcomer

Mar 23, 2017

A longtime district volunteer will face off against a professional educator in the only head-to-head matchup for Unit 5 school board in the April 4 election.

Taunia Leffler and Solomon "Sol" Roberts-Lieb, both of south Bloomington, are vying for one of three 4-year terms on the Unit 5 school board. Because of limits on how many board members can reside in certain areas of the district, either Leffler or Roberts-Lieb can win—but not both.

Incumbents Joseph Cleary of Normal and Meta Mickens-Baker of Bloomington are running unopposed, as is newcomer David W. Fortner of Carlock. Cleary initially faced a challenge from former Unit 5 administrator Erik Bush, but Bush has since dropped out of the race, citing personal reasons. (His name remains on the ballot due to his late withdrawal.) Still, that means at least two new faces will be joining the school board, which controls an operating budget of around $147 million.

Leffler and Roberts-Lieb would both be newcomers to the board, although Leffler has volunteered with Unit 5’s Promise Council and Citizens Advisory Council for several years, among other groups. Her campaign materials also prominently say her children attended Unit 5 schools—an apparent reference to Roberts-Lieb’s decision to send his only school-age daughter to a private religious school in Bloomington.

Roberts-Lieb has faced questions about that himself.

“For me, I wanted my child to have a faith-based education, and Trinity (Lutheran school) provides that, and that’s not the role of the public school,” he said. “And a lot of people don’t want that, and I’m OK with that. We live in a free society where we can make those choices.”

Leffler said her past volunteer work signals her commitment to public education.

“I don’t think only Unit 5 parents can (serve on the school board), but I do think I have a vested interest because my children have gone ... to Unit 5,” Leffler said. “When you look at some of the projects I’ve been involved in, it has been totally focused on public schools. I’m a big believer in public schools. I think everyone has a choice whether to send their children to public or private schools, but I’m really focused on making our public schools stay intact.”

State funding and endorsements

Both Leffler and Roberts-Lieb were driven to run for Unit 5 school board in part due to uncertainty over state funding for public education. They also agree that the district should expand partnerships with local organizations and businesses to find new resources, augmenting local property tax bases and state funding.

Leffler and Roberts-Lieb were both endorsed by the Unit Five Education Association (UFEA) and the Unit 5 Support Professionals Association (UFSPA), the unions representing the district’s teachers and support staff.

Roberts-Lieb is the associate director for pedagogy strategy and industry relations at the University of Illinois’ Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. He says that experience of helping educators enhance their skillsets and try new things would serve Unit 5 well.

“Teacher development is the No. 1 thing that we need to look at,” Roberts-Lieb told GLT in an interview last month. “If we want to have teachers that can teach new media, that can teach new skills, they need to have those skills as well. We really need to look at how to we develop our teachers so they can develop our students.”

Roberts-Lieb supports mission-specific charter schools that are affiliated with public school districts but don’t compete with its other schools. He also wants the school board to be more transparent by making its agendas and meeting materials easier for average voters to understand and potentially comment on.

Leffler has worked at State Farm Insurance for 27 years. She points to her work on the district’s Promise Council, Back 2 School Alliance, and Diversity Inclusion Committee as important steps toward leveling the playing field for all Unit 5 students by eliminating obstacles to learning.

Those programs, she said, are also examples of how Unit 5 can find ways to lessen the burden on teachers. Promise Council provides mentors for students. Back 2 School Alliance provides school supplies to students, so teachers don’t have to pay out of pocket.

“We want the teachers to do what they best, which is to teach,” Leffler told GLT in an interview last month.

All Unit 5 voters in Normal and parts of Bloomington will see Leffler and Roberts-Lieb on their ballots on April 4. You can view sample ballots on the McLean County Clerk’s website.

District 87 and Heartland races

There are other contested races for educational boards.

Two, six-year terms are up on the Heartland Community College board of trustees. Challengers Bennett Morris and Mary Campbell face incumbents James Drew and current board chair Gregg Chadwick.

Bloomington's District 87 school board has four, four-year terms open and there are five candidates: Incumbents Brigette Beasley, Kiasha Henry and Mary Yount along with challengers Chuck Irwin and Elizabeth Fox Anvick.

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