ST. CHARLES – Outgoing St. Charles District 303 School Board President Kathleen Hewell said she is proud of what the board has been able to accomplish since first being elected to the board in 2003.
"I'm sad to think of losing the working relationships with staff and board members, but I'm really proud of the success of D303 over the last 16 years," said Hewell, who lost her bid for reelection in the April 2 election. "I congratulate the winners. They worked hard and they spent a lot of money on their campaigns. I wish them well."
According to unofficial results from Kane and DuPage counties, Hewell finished fifth among five candidates running for three four-year seats on the board, behind Garrett Seaman.
Winning election to the board for the first time were Rebecca "Becky" McCabe, a former District 303 assistant superintendent, along with Jillian Barker, executive director of curriculum and instruction for a group of therapeutic day schools in the area and Bryant, a business education teacher with the Batavia School District.
According to unofficial results from Kane and DuPage Counties, McCabe, with 2,417 votes, was the top vote-getter, followed by Barker with 2,269 votes and Bryant with 2,180 votes.
In the other race on the school board, incumbent Board Vice-President Nicholas Manheim handily won a challenge from Poonam Gupta-Krishnan for an unexpired two-year term on the board. Manheim received 2,295 votes compared to Gupta-Krishnan, who received 1,749 votes.
Hewell attributed her loss to low voter turnout. In the Kane County portion of the district, voter turnout was 9.54 percent. Voter turnout was also low in the DuPage County portion of the district.
"I'm disappointed that less than one in 10 of our voters came out to make these important decisions," Hewell said. "I think that people that are content with things don't feel the urge to get out and vote."
During her time on the board, Hewell said she is most proud of "finally creating a middle school campus where our two middle schools – Thompson and Wredling – are equivalent buildings where students will receive equivalent opportunities."
Hewell said she was also proud of the district's staff.
"They know that they're going to be challenged and they're going to be valued and they do great work," Hewell said.
In addition, she is proud of the way technology has been integrated into the district's curriculum.
"It has taken a while, but now here we are to the point of one-to-one technology in the middle school and high school," Hewell said.
She also noted the district's high school students now have a "plethora of opportunities" to get ready for college and careers.
In March, an ethics advisor ruled that Hewell committed an unintentional minor violation of the board's ethics and gift ban when she obtained signatures from fellow school board members on her election nominating petition following a school board meeting.
"President Hewell's circulation of her own nominating petition constituted a prohibited political activity," attorney Stan Eisenhammer wrote as part of his investigation into the matter. "Although it did not occur during 'compensated time' (the board meeting had ended), it did occur on school property (the District's Administration Center.) Therefore, this activity violated board."
In January, St. Charles School Superintendent Jason Pearson received letters from residents Danielle Penman and Michelle Casile alleging violations of the school board's ethics and gift ban and asked that an ethics advisor be appointed to investigate the matter. They alleged that Hewell, who was seeking re-election, got fellow board members Lori Linkimer, Heidi Fairgrieve, Ed McNally, Scott Nowling and Nick Manheim to sign a petition for her at a board meeting on district property.
They also alleged that Hewell circulated a petition sheet for Manheim – the board's vice-president – who is also running for re-election. Pearson then appointed Eisenhammer as an ethics advisor to investigate the matter. Eisenhammer is from the firm Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn LLP, which represents the school district in legal matters.
Although Hewell violated the board's ethics and gift ban, Eisenhammer said the violation was "unintentional."
"There is no evidence of undue influence by Board President Hewell to obtain signatures," he wrote. "Nor did Hewell make a promise of any benefit. Rather, each board members' decision to sign her petition for nomination was voluntary."
Eisenhammer also said the fact that Linkimer, Fairgrieve, McNally, Nowling and Manheim signed her petition did not constitute political activities under the board policy and ethics act because they did not initiate, prepare, review or file any petition on behalf of any candidate for elective office. In addition, he said the decision to collect signatures at the conclusion of the board meeting "was purely out of convenience, in that a majority of board members were all in the same location due to the earlier board meeting."
"The board members could have easily walked out of the building, stood on the sidewalk in front of the building and signed the petition," he said. "In that case, there would have been no violation of the policy."
Hewell had said the violation was unintentional on her part.
"The board strives hard to follow every rule and policy and I regret very much that my minor unintentional action has cast a negative light on an outstanding, productive board and distracted from the important work of the board," she said.