Evanston school board candidates say campaigning costs pose barriers


Illustration by Emily Lichty

Evanston school board candidates said expensive campaigns can make it hard to run for office.

Madison Bratley, Photo Editor

After the November 2022 elections, Evanston/Skokie School District 65 Board of Education candidate Omar Salem said he and his daughter collected over 200 old lawn signs from around the city. He painted them this winter for his own campaign ahead of April’s municipal election.

Salem is one of five candidates running for a spot on the District 65 school board. He’s self-funding his campaign with a self-imposed cap of $500 in a race where a single lawn sign costs upwards of $5, and more extravagant strategies like targeted mailings with voter data cost thousands of dollars, he said. “I don’t want to spend that much money on paper and plastic,” he said.

Salem said if his strategy is successful, he hopes his race will convince other Evanston residents that they can run on $500 alone, combating what he sees as a trend of an increased “pay-to-play” quality in school board campaigns. He and other candidates said the high cost of campaigns makes it harder to get involved.

A 2022 Illinois Association of School Boards survey of Board members throughout the state found 57% of respondents spent between five and 15 hours a month on school board activities. The survey also found 80% of responding school board members identified as white. 

Like Salem, Evanston Township High School District 202 Board of Education candidate Kristen Scotti is running a campaign for the first time. They said the high cost of running could make potential candidates reconsider.

“I know that (the) school board is a really important job,” Scotti said. “But it’s also a little weird that people are spending so much money for a volunteer position.”

District 202 board member Stephanie Teterycz initially launched a reelection campaign but withdrew in February. She also works as Director of Operations at Stoddart Research Group and is finishing a master’s degree, which made her decision to leave the race an issue of “competing priorities.” 

“These are all factors to consider,” Teterycz said. “These are barriers and obstacles for some people.” 

She said the time and money it takes to attend events like coffees and forums detracted from the time she could spend on her master’s. 

Salem works as an English Language Learner and business education teacher at Niles North High School but said he is on leave while he works with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, a state-wide teacher union association. 

He said his work with the IFT overlaps with campaigning for District 65, like spending time with the Illinois State Board of Education and legislators, making his candidacy more convenient. 

“If I were still teaching full time in the classroom, I would not be running for school board,” Salem said. “There’s no way I could do it.” 

Scotti said being on the board also comes with burdens aside from the time drain. For instance, ETHS’ reopening plan, which some community members saw as too gradual, resulted in a board member’s car being ransacked

Scotti and Salem both said they want to see more community participation in Board of Education elections. 

“My hope is that we can make it less political and make it more what I believe school boards are supposed to be — parents and community members that are engaged, that have the right skill set and experience and education,” Salem said. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MadisonBratley

Related Stories: 

District 202 Board of Education gives orientation to candidates as the April elections approach

District 202 board members discuss racial academic achievement gap, proposed tax levy

District 65 board to choose from 12 hopefuls to fill seat left by Anya Tanyavutti