5 Seats Up For Grabs On North Palos Dist. 117 Board: Election 2023

PALOS HILLS-HICKORY HILLS, IL — Five seats on the North Palos Dist. 117 school board are up for grabs in the April 4 consolidated election. Only three of the seven candidates running responded to the Patch candidate questionnaire.

The next board will appoint a new district superintendent when Dr. Jeannie Stachowiak retires at the end of the school year. The NP D117 board will also consider introducing full-day kindergarten.

A special election is being held for two, unexpired, 2-year terms. The winning candidates, if they choose, will run for full terms in 2025. The remaining seats are for full, 4-year terms.

Find out what's happening in Paloswith free, real-time updates from Patch.

Incumbent candidates include Tom Kostas, currently the D117 board president, Debbie Chafee and Lauren Potokar, all of Hickory Hills, and Palos Hills resident, Bobby Greene.
Challengers are John Gawal and Sandy Szcygiel, of Palos Hills, and Hickory Hills resident, Anna Majchrowicsz.

Incumbent Debbie Chafee is a CPA, with 25 years in the financial services industry, working in application development and data analytics. Prior to joining the school board, Chafee was involved in helping rewrite the state school funding formula.

Find out what's happening in Paloswith free, real-time updates from Patch.

“I worked with state legislators for 3 years on a more comprehensive school funding formula that includes regional cost differences, funding for academic interventions and funding for English Language Learner programs,” Chafee said in her Patch candidate questionnaire. “Instead of losing our state education funding, our annual state education funding has increased by 10 million dollars a year. We also advocated for a Property Tax Relief Grant that is part of the new Evidence Based school funding formula.”

Challenger John Gawel is running for his first term on the Dist. 117 school board. A Palos Hills native, he has been a special education teacher for 21 years. He is the parent of an eighth-grader at Conrady Junior High, and a Stagg High School sophomore who went through the NP Dist. 117 system.

He called transparency in spending and accountability for how spending decisions are made are paramount.

“In these challenging economic times of rising inflation and uncertain market trends, fiscal responsibility must be front and center,” Gawel said on his Patch candidate questionnaire. “Just as we see our budgets reflect compromises because of the rising cost of living, these same hard decisions need to be evidenced by the board’s decisions. It is the taxpayers’ money we are entrusted with, and it should be managed with the utmost oversight.”

Incumbent Lauren Potokar, of Hickory Hills, is a business owner. She was appointed to fill a vacancy on the NP Dist. 117 school board in 2021. She is currently president of the Glen Oaks School PTA, and prior to that, the Dorn School PTA. She says her PTA experience gives her a “great understanding of day-to-day operations in the schools, and I am committed to ensuring that our students and staff have all the resources and support they deserve,” according to her Patch candidate questionnaire. She is also the recipient of the Illinois State Board of Education Award for People Who Excel for her service and contributions to the District in 2020.

“I am dedicated to this position and to the children and families of District117. I would love nothing more than to be re-elected and to devote my free time to this district,” Potokar said. “I want to continue to make this District 117 the best place for our children (including my own). My heart attends school there every day, and all I want to do is protect and provide for these children.”

As for the district teaching sex education in the school, including an LGBTQ component, the NP D117 school board voted unanimously to opt out of teaching sex education in accordance with the state-recommended National Sex Education standards.

On the sex education topic, Gawel said “children need more comprehensive exposure to the core curriculum that will ultimately make them better prepared for their upcoming studies.”

“It is important that schools respect and support LGBTQ students,” Chafee said. “They are a very vulnerable group that is currently subject to a lot of political backlash. These students should not be discriminated against or made to feel unsafe in school or in our community. It is important for the school board to respect and support all students that attend our schools.”

The 2023 consolidated election is Tuesday, April 4. More storms and severe weather are possible later in the day, so you may want to head out early. As of Sunday, 798 people from the Palos area have voted early at the Palos Heights Rec Center. You can find your ballot and polling place on the Cook County Clerk website.

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