Objections to the petitions of two Highland School Board candidates — and those candidates’ subsequent withdrawals — mean only four names will appear on the ballot this spring for the four open seats on the board.
Six candidates had filed nominating petitions seeking election. However, two incumbent board members seeking re-election filed objections to their opponents’ petitions.
Sitting board members Duane Clarke, who has been on the board four years, and Renè Friedel, a 14-year member who also serves as board president, filed objections to the petitions of Aaron Schuster of Highland and John Hipskind. In their objection, Clarke and Friedel alleged that neither Schuster or Hipskind had collected the required number of registered voters’ signatures, which was 50.
The Madison County Electoral Review Board met Friday morning at the Madison County Courthouse to hear evidence and rule on the objections. By statute, the board consists of County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza, Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida, and State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons. However, Gibbons could not be there, so he appointed Assistant State’s Attorney John McGuire to serve in his stead.
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But the board adjourned without having to render a verdict, because both Schuster and Hipskind opted to withdraw rather than fight the objection. Schuster withdrew on Thursday and did not attend the hearing. Hipskind was at the hearing, but withdrew after making a statement before the panel.
Clarke and Friedel issued a joint statement Friday afternoon, following the hearing.
“A School Board member is a volunteer position that requires considerable dedication and significant amounts of time to fulfill the commitment that is required to serve in that capacity. Any member must be a law-abiding citizen that is conscientious to detail and have the ability to follow procedures whether they are election laws or ultimately school policies,” the statement said. “The members of the School Board are a cross-section of the community which offers different perspectives from their individual careers and lifetime experiences. Our current School Board is authentic, knowledgeable and has been successful in implementing policies that are in the best interest of the community, the district and, above all, our children. Anyone looking to serve on the Highland Community Unit School District No. 5 School Board must have an enthusiastic determination and sincere devotion to the education of our next generation.”
At the hearing, Clarke presented evidence that he said showed names and addresses of people who signed his opponents’ petitions were unregistered voters.
Hipskind objected once during the hearing to evidence presented by Clarke, saying that the evidence presented bared no signature or seal of the county clerk. Ming-Mendoza then stated that while Hipskind had the right to object, but that he might simply just be “delaying the inevitable.”
Clarke then presented several Illinois election cases the rulings where he said precedent backed his case.
Hipskind then made a short speech and after voluntarily withdrew from the candidacy.
“I ran because I have two young daughters who will be going to Highland,” Hipskind said. “I wanted to be a part of their education and serve my community.”
Hipskind, an attorney, also said that if someone spent the time to get signatures and wants to serve, the people of Highland should decide if they serve or not.
After the hearing, Clarke remarked on Hipskind’s disappointment.
“I understand his frustration,” Clarke said. “I have kids of my own, and a parent’s perspective on the board is important, but I also provide that perspective.”
Had Schuster and Hipskind’s names appeared on the ballot, the contested part of the election would have boiled down to four people vying for two seats open to Saline Township residents.
Because membership on the Board of Education is restricted to a maximum of three members from any congressional township, the election would have set up as Clarke, Friedel, Schuster and Hipskind, all Saline Township residents, in a contest against one another for two spots on the board. Sitting board member Joe Mott also lives in Saline Township, hence only the two open seats.
There are two more board positions up for election in the April 4 general consolidated election.
Incumbent board member Steven Price of Highland opted not to seek re-election.
Jim Gallatin of Highland, also an incumbent, and Zachary Lewis of Alhambra filed petitions to seek the other two open spots on the board. Gallatin lives in Helvetia Township and Lewis in Alhambra Township. No objections were filed against them, and as of now, they face no opposition.
However, anyone who wants to be a write-in candidate has until Feb. 2 to file paperwork with the county clerk declaring their intention to seek election. Write-in candidates do not get their names printed on the April ballot, but they also do not need to circulate a nominating petition. However, they must get a minimum of 50 votes — a number equal to the signature requirement on nominating petition of regular candidates — in order to win a spot on the board.
Schuster filed his paperwork Thursday declaring his intent to run as a write-in.
“Due to a lesson in politics, my name will not be on the ballot, so I am a write-in candidate,” Schuster said. “I hope people do not consider this as a lack of care and take the time to write my name on the ballot.”
Schuster is an automotive technology instructor who has lived in Highland his whole life. He is married and has two children, one of which will be attending kindergarten in Highland public schools next year.
This will be Schuster’s first time running for any type of office.
“Schools should be a place for children to learn, prosper, and feel loved,” Schuster said. “I feel that sometimes we lose sight of that, and I want to do what I can to maintain a great school environment for all the kids.”
Hipskind said he will not go the write-in route, he will be devoting more time to elect people to the school board “who put the interests of the children and taxpayers over politics.”
“I plan to work harder to get other people elected than I probably would have worked on my own campaign.,” Hipskind said.
Because voters have to actually scrawl a write-in candidate’s name on their ballot in order to cast their vote for that person, it makes write-in campaigns hard to win. However, it’s not impossible. Current Highland School Board member David Raymond of Alhambra was elected as a write-in.