Jonathan "Japes" Palles Bungalo Questionnaire Responses
1. Please provide some biographical information including age, where you grew up, education, current job, family info and how long you have lived in Berwyn
My name is Jonathan "Japes" Palles. 45 years old. I grew up in Oak Park, attending Mann School, Julian Junior High, and freshman and sophomore year at OPRF. I graduated from York HS in 1995. In 2000, I began working with children in the group home program at Hephzibah Children's Association. I spent 10 years working with children in programs at Hephzibah and West Suburban Special Recreation Association. In 2010, I completed my Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education. I worked for a year as a classroom assistant before getting my first teaching position. I taught in D100 for several years before transferring to Berkeley school district where I taught computer class before becoming an Instructional Coach. In 2019 I left education to get into the technology field. I am currently a vCIO at Impact Networking.
My wife and our two daughters (7 and 2) have lived in Berwyn since 2011.
2. Please provide activities and experience in the community that you have.
I have been involved in community organizing in some capacity since around 2013. I have supported several candidates in their run for elected office by door knocking and fundraising. I also participated in some of the planning and campaigning for the 2017 referendum. In addition, I have been an organizing member of the Berwyn Free Library Initiative
3. Why are you running for the school board? What objectives do you hope the district achieves while you are on the board?
I'm seeking a seat on the D100 School board because I believe that quality education is cornerstone to a thriving community. I believe all Berwyn residents deserve access to schools that meet the diverse educational and social needs of our students. We must provide safe spaces where students are challenged with instruction that meets their individual needs. My experience as an educator in Berwyn South and other districts gives me insight into achieving these goals.
During my tenure, I would like to create friendlier, more welcoming board meetings where community members feel comfortable in expressing their views regarding the direction the schools need to go. Over the past several years, board leadership has been dismissive and disrespectful toward attendees who spoke up. One meeting, a school employee yelled at community members after they spoke out regarding Ridgeland Estates. This type of behavior is unacceptable and discourages community input.
I hope to balance fiscal responsibility with providing teachers and students with the resources they need. While I want schools to have all the funding they need, we must keep in mind that increasing the tax burden will force families out of Berwyn.
4. For non-incumbents, how many school board meetings did you attend before September of 2022?
I have been attending most monthly board meetings since March 24, 2021. Between March 2021 and September 2022, I attended approximately 12 board meetings.
5. What organizations are supporting your candidacy (either implicitly or explicitly)? What public officials or current or former elected officials are supporting your candidacy?
I am supported by:
Alderman Joe Carmichael
Alderman Rob Pabon
South Berwyn Education Association
6. COVID - The district's test scores dropped from 30% in 2019 to 18% in 2022 in English and from 30% in 2019 to 17% in 2022 in Math. Statewide scores did not drop as dramatically.
What do you think the district should do to try to catch students up academically?
The effects of COVID impacted communities differently. If you look at communities with high levels of low income students (and lower average household incomes), their achievement levels have been slow to rebound. Communities with less low income students (and higher average household income) have returned to (or near) pre-pandemic levels. We also know that communities with greater poverty experienced higher rates of food insecurity, housing insecurity, and mortality rates. Frankly, many Berwyn families dealt with more stress and trauma than communities with higher incomes.
Now that schools have returned to in-person instruction, lower income communities are experiencing higher levels of chronic absenteeism (27.4% in Berwyn). Many families are still recovering from the long term effects of COVID.
What I believe is most important is to attend to the physical and emotional needs of our students and families. The district has supported families with free breakfast and lunch. We need to also support the mental health of students with more social workers and therapists. Teachers need professional development and additional support to meet the complex emotional needs of children who have experienced trauma. Schools need to continue to develop opportunities for families to participate in school based activities to build a sense of community, increase engagement and build connections within the school. By meeting the basic needs of students, they can come to school more prepared to learn.
7. Working class families leave District 100 - Enrollment has declined in District 100 over the past 5 years from between 3700 to 3800 students to 3100 students. The percentage of families with a median income below the national average also declined from 81% to 64%.
Why do you think working class families have been leaving the district? Do you believe that this is an issue that District 100 should address?
Taxes in Berwyn continue to rise and services are still limited. This is not my opinion alone, this is what I hear from folks when I am out canvassing. In the past 2 years, I’ve seen a 29% increase in my property taxes. We see increased spending across the entire city, not just in the school district. While I believe the school districts need to consider the tax burden on the community, the burden shouldn’t rest on the backs of our children. The City of Berwyn needs to limit wasteful spending.
8. Racism - Sarah Lopez, a former member of the District 100 board, was fired from her job with the city of Berwyn for making racial slurs against a city contractor. She resigned from the District 100 board after the incident became public.
There was also a case in the district where the district was sued by an African-American family because their daughter was allegedly pulled by her hair through the hall by a district administrator.
Do you think the termination of Lopez from her employment with the city and her resignation from the board was justified? Or do you believe that she was unjustly terminated?
What efforts do you think the district should undertake to be racially more sensitive?
Sarah Lopez’s actions were an embarrassment to our community. As a government employee and elected official, her unapologetic racism is a blight to our community. It confirmed what many folks had been saying for a long time… that there are racists in Berwyn leadership.
I have witnessed racist behavior from other board leadership while attending school board meetings. I have watched for years as the district refused to do anything to address the fact that non-English speaking folks couldn’t participate in school board meetings because translation wasn’t offered. In 2022, they did begin offering Spanish-language translation, but didn’t effectively communicate the option was available.
The District needs to focus on diversity in their hiring. The demographics of the teachers is a direct contrast to the demographics of the students. 85% of our students are Hispanic, while 83% of our teachers are White. While we do have a higher percentage of Hispanic teachers than most schools in the state, less than 1 percent of our teachers are Black (.4%). Representation matters and it is important that children see people who look like them in leadership positions.
9. Dress code - District 100 currently has a dress code for students in the upper grades. Do you support or oppose the dress code? Please explain why.
I do not support student uniforms. I don’t believe it is the responsibility of the school district to dictate what students have to wear. Research has not found any measurable differences in behavior or academic performance between schools with uniforms and those without. That said, I feel that D100 made the right choice to allow students in the middle schools to wear dark pants.
10. Tax increase - In 2017, the tax levy increased by 50% from $13.5 million to $19.5 million due to a tax rate increase. Residents had passed a tax rate increase referendum that proponents stated would increase the levy by 15%, not 50%. To rectify the situation, the board rolled back the tax rate increase. Another plan that was presented to the board was to keep the tax rate as is and abate money back to the tax payer.
If you had served on the board at the time, which plan (tax rate rollback or abatement) would you have supported? Please explain why.
I don’t feel that I have enough information to answer this question. I would want to see details of what each plan would have cost. What would have been the value to the schools? What would have been the cost to the taxpayers? I support funding schools, but we have to balance the burden on the taxpayer.
11. Use of look-back to restore tax rate - In 2019, the district had the option of undoing the tax rate rollback from the previous year using the "lookback" option allowed under state law.
The board passed a levy in 2019 that used the lookback option and increased the tax levy by 10%, which was above the cost of living cap. If you had served in the board at the time, would you have supported or opposed the use of the lookback to increase the tax levy by 10% and restore the previous tax rate? Please explain why? Also, all of the candidates in 2019 stated publicly that they would not pursue the lookback option. Then some of the candidates who were elected then voted for the levy that used the lookback. If you were one of those candidates who stated that you would not pursue the lookback and then voted for the levy that used the lookback, please explain why you went back on your promise to not pursue the lookback.
I don’t have enough information to answer this. As with the previous question, I would want to have concrete numbers to understand the cost / benefit to the district and the tax payers.
12. Ridgeland Estates - In 2021, the city approved a project to build 29 single family homes on the property at 3000 Ridgeland, the area immediately north of Freedom Middle School. Part of the proposal was to use the Freedom School driveway as the south alley to the homes and to give the district the property west of Freedom School where a storm water detention vault for the homes would be built. In exchange, the district would receive $250,000 in TIF funds to build a parking lot west of the school and the alley would have served as a second fire lane to the west side of the school. The originally proposed contract between the city and the developer specified that the developer would receive all of its TIF money before District 100 received any TIF money.
Many people opposed the project because of traffic safety concerns and other issues. Others supported the plan because the district would get a parking lot and a second fire lane.
Did you support or oppose the proposal? If you had been on the board at the time, how would you have voted? Please explain why?
I spoke during open forum when this proposal was up for consideration. I opposed the project because I didn’t support the Ridgeland Estates project. The addition of a through way would only add to congestion and create further safety concerns for the students walking to and from school. In addition, I asked that 2 members of the board recuse themselves from this vote because of the potential conflict of interest since they were employed by the city.
13. Purchase of 3000 Ridgeland - In October of 2022, the district purchased the property at 3000 Ridgeland from Kasper Development, the developer that was going to build the Ridgeland Estates homes. Kasper had purchased the property from Physician's Records for $900,000 the year before and had razed the property. The assessed value of the property at the time District 100 purchased the property was less than $800,000. The district purchased the property for $2.4 million.
Do you support or oppose the purchase of the property at 3000 Ridgeland for $2.4 million? If you had been on the board at the time, how would you have voted? Please explain why?
This was another meeting I attended and spoke at. The decision to purchase the property seemed rushed and the cost too high. I still have concerns about the cost of developing the property going forward. At the time, there had been discussions regarding the need for additional space (for staff parking). I do agree that the school needs additional parking for teachers and for parents. Outside of the need for parking, I don’t believe there were other plans. The justification given for the purchase was that there was another party interested in purchasing the property, but I have no insight into who that party was and what they intended to do with it. So, while I opposed it as a citizen, I don’t know that I had the full information necessary to make a vote on the matter. I do know that, if elected, I will push for community involvement in deciding how to best develop the property.
14. Depot District TIF extension - In May of 2019, the city presented to the district a proposal to extend the Depot District TIF district for 12 years. Extending the TIF district would cost the district a loss of property tax revenue of $4.8 million dollars over the 12 year period.
Do you support or oppose the extension of the Depot District TIF? Please explain your reasoning?
I don’t mind going on record that I do not support the creation or expansion of any more TIF districts in Berwyn. That said, as a School Board member, I wouldn’t have voting power in these matters, so my opinion on the matter is moot.