Five candidates vie for 3 seats in Dist. 66 school board race

Transparency, overseeing spending of referendum funds key issues in contest

Voting machines are set up on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023, inside the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock. Early voting starts on Feb. 23 for the April 4 consolidated election.

Election Day is less than a week away, and in Center Cass School District 66, there seems to be a common theme among the five candidates for three seats on the school board: ensuring referendum money is spent appropriately.

In November, residents voted by a narrow margin to pass the district’s limiting tax rate referendum, which raised the limiting tax rate. This was the second time a referendum of this kind was proposed by the district, and the vote was contentious among community members. With three open school board spots, candidates said they want to be part of the board to be certain there will be transparency, communication and appropriate spending of referendum dollars.

Megan DuPass

Megan DuPass, 40, is a reading specialist teacher in Downers Grove who has lived in the District 66 community for six years. She has three children, two of whom are students in District 66 and one who will be in the coming years.

DuPass attended many school board meetings leading up to the votes on the referendum, and during that time she felt called to run for the school board. She believes that as a teacher she understands school districts and can bring a different kind of perspective to the board.

“I am living what teachers and the administration deal with every day,” DuPass said. “Our district is small and yet community members don’t know what’s going on in the classroom, but there are so many good people out there who do support our students and we just need to be more communicative with them.”

DuPass has been canvassing the community and has heard a lot from community members about their concerns regarding transparency. She believes more communication is needed to bridge this gap. Additionally, she said the referendum campaign created division among the community despite everyone’s common goal of helping students.

While DuPass voted to support the referendum, she said she recognizes the passing of the referendum really affected some community members. She wants to listen to those community members to let them know they are valid, she said.

“I truly believe that all residents of the district want what’s best for these kids, even if we have different approaches,” DuPass said. “It’s about bridging the gap between the needs and solutions, and if we can communicate effectively and listen, then we can do what’s best for the children.”

Stronger 66 – Tripp Burton, Tiffany Watson, Nikki Giancola-Shanks

Tripp Burton, Tiffany Watson and Nikkie Giancola-Shanks come from different backgrounds but have similar goals and met while working to get the referendum passed last year. Each felt a calling to run for the school board, and having worked together on referendum efforts, they felt the best way to succeed would be to run together – a decision they made before the referendum was passed.

Giancola-Shanks, 39, has lived in the district for four years and has a 2-year-old daughter who will enter the district. Burton, 40, has lived in the district for nine years and has a seventh and third grader in District 66 schools. Watson grew up in the community and attended District 66 schools. She and her husband felt so strongly about the district that they moved back so their children could attend district schools. They have a second grader in the district and will add their kindergartener and preschooler next year.

“We are a bipartisan slate that does not believe politics should be part of the school board,” Giancola-Shanks said. “We have different backgrounds and we want to work together for the kids in this district.”

Giancola-Shanks works as the director of external affairs and student loan policy at the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and previously worked as a teacher. Burton is a Minooka High School English teacher. Watson is the assistant vice president of a financial advising firm. The group believes its diverse background will help the board be well informed on issues.

“There have been some good strides, but it’s up to us to make sure that going forward we continue these good practices and communicate to the community more,” Watson said. “We need to ensure early tax money is accounted for accurately and spent responsibly.”

The group recognizes that the referendum created division among the community and said it hopes to hear and represent all community members. Holding the board accountable and creating more conversation with the community will be a key part of their plan to establish more unity, they said.

To make steps toward greater transparency, the group hopes to record board meetings as a way to make them more accessible. Additionally, they would like to continue the town halls and develop updated roadmaps for the community regarding how referendum money is spent.

“The first step is to say that no matter how you voted on the referendum, you deserve to see how that money is spent, and to have it spent how the district said it would be,” Burton said. “We want to have discussions and debate before decisions are reached so that everyone understands how decisions in this community are being made.”

Doug Wiley

Doug Wiley, 43, is running for school board because he believes he can effectively communicate about district finances in a way that will benefit the district and community, bringing everyone together and moving forward with financial stability.

Wiley has lived in the district for 13 years and has two students in the district and one who will be a kindergartener in the fall. He works as a comptroller for Indian Prairie School District 204, a position he feels has direct correlation to the needs of the District 66 school board.

In his roles leading up to being comptroller, Wiley completed school district audits and worked on district investment plans. He has worked in partnership with the school board and served on the community engagement group in District 66 after passage of the referendum.

“I have held multiple roles in school finance and feel that’s led to a unique skill set that translates directly to being a board member and the position our district is in financially,” Wiley said. “A school board doesn’t usually have that kind of experience, but it’s important to have conversations, and because I understand how schools are funded, I want to have open communication and be able to explain the situation as best as I can.”

Wiley said he feels the referendum has provided the district with an opportunity to provide resources to students and rebuild its fund balance, and that is what he hopes to be part of as a school board member.

He said it is important for the district to stick to its spending plan but also for the community to understand the need for a little bit of flexibility in order to put the funding to its best use. Through community forums and providing more accessibility to meetings, Wiley said he hopes the board can be more transparent, leading the community to be more involved.

“It’s not about focusing on one issue, it’s about hitting the ground running and seamlessly starting work with the current board members, and I believe I can do that,” Wiley said