Hinsdale High School District 86 Board member Ed Corcoran said this week fellow member Kay Gallo should not vote on matters involving two of the donors to her re-election campaign, because she would have a conflict of interest.
Perkins + Will, the district’s architectural firm for recent construction projects, donated $1,250 to the campaign fund for Gallo, Roseanne Rosenthal and former School Board members Dennis Brennan and DeeDee Gorgol, who ran as a slate, in the April election.
Hinsdale High School Teachers Association, also donated $1,000 to the Gallo team campaign.
Gallo, who won re-election in April, however, said she appreciated the money from the union.
“We wanted to do more advertising, but we didn’t have the funds,” Gallo said. “We were sweating how we were going to pay for signs.”
Recent votes show she was not influenced by the money, she said.
Gallo voted for a salary increase for the teachers that was based on the consumer price index, a lower percent than the teachers sought. She also voted against re-awarding the contracts for the summer construction, which potentially could affect Perkins + Will, although her primary objection was the work would proceed while school was in session.
“I just know myself and how I look at issues,” Gallo said. “I’m nobody’s puppet.”
When Jennifer Planson and Michael Kuhn, along with Vinaya Sharma, campaigned together for the School Board in 2011,they chose not to accept the teachers’ union financial support. Planson, who was elected along with Kuhn, doesn’t remember the exact conversation, but the slate decided, “there would be a negative public perception” if they accepted the funds, Planson said.
“I don’t necessarily believe it’s wrong,” Planson said. “While I would have appreciated the funds, it would not have swayed my vote.”
Board member Richard Skoda said when he first ran for the board in 1995, the union, knowing he was a teacher, offered to donate to his campaign. He turned them down because he believes it would have been improper.
Sharon Steward, director of campaign disclosure for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said the election code does not bar school board member from accepting donations from a teachers’ union or firm that does business with the school district.
“The school may have its own rules, like an ethics code,” Steward said.
The District 86 School Board has adopted the Illinois Association of School Boards’ code of conduct for its ethics policy, which states members will avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety, and not use board membership for personal gain or publicity.
“But there’s nothing that says if you receive a donation from some company or a union, you can’t take some action on a matter that may directly or indirectly affect that organization,” said Ben Schwarm, deputy executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards. “It’s really up to that individual.”
School board members are just like any other elected official on a county board or in the General Assembly.
“If legislators who received campaign contributions from unions couldn’t vote on any matter that directly or indirectly affects the union, you would never have a quorum,” Schwarm said.
But what about the “appearance of impropriety,” that the state association’s own code of conduct says school board members should avoid?
Eliminating that is “harder to get at than you think,” Schwarm said.
“If the teachers union donates $100 to a candidate’s campaign, there are people who wouldn’t think that’s an impropriety,” Schwarm said. “There are people who wouldn’t think a $1,000 contribution is an impropriety.”
Gallo said, in the future, she might abstain from voting on matters involving Perkins + Will or the teachers.
“I’ve been put on notice,” Gallo said. “But I could change my mind before then. I’m definitely open to as much compromise, education and input as possible at the time the vote comes to me.”