After election filings in 2020, the Avoca District 37 Board of Education did not have enough applicants to fill the seats. That is no longer the case, and the race is heating up.
Six district residents are now officially vying for four open seats on the board, as reported by The Record and confirmed through candidates’ statements. Only two of those six candidates, however, will appear on ballots.
Voters will see incumbent board member Gil Gibori and candidate Ami Das when they get to the polls, while four additional candidates — Sarah Balassa, Dan Seals, Jim Rohner and Cecilia Dunn — are county-registered write-in candidates.
Gibori, Das, Balassa and Seals are also connected as a slate, the Avoca Coalition, from the Avoca Action Committee
Dunn filed on time and was initially approved for the ballot; however, her name was removed following a successful objection from Gibori that was filed with Cook County, official records show.
Gibori told The Record via email that he did not believe Dunn, who in July and August addressed the board at public meetings, was fit for the board. With only three initial applicants for the board’s four open seats, Dunn was running unopposed, and Gibori said felt he “had to act” and challenge her candidate petitions.
In an email from Gibori to Dunn sent Jan. 1, which Gibori provided to The Record, he said, “the district is best served by school board members who are informed, sober, and reasonable. I found your temperament and discussion at the meetings to be counter to each of those. I felt that without a caucus or contested election for the community to vet you, as they have each candidate in the past two elections, I had to act on my own as every citizen has a right to do.”
Through an attorney, Scott Erdman, Gibori claimed that Dunn did not number her petition sheets and failed to have all necessary pages notarized. The county Election Board sustained the objections on Jan. 20, and Dunn was removed from the ballot.
Dunn, a grammar-school teacher in west-suburban Elmhurst and a Wilmette resident, said this was her first time running for public office. So when she received notice of her challenged petitions, she emailed Gibori asking if she could clear up any questions.
She was surprised by his reply, which criticized her behavior and made no mention of the petition errors. Gibori said in the reply that his objections were not about Dunn’s opinions, but she isn’t so sure.
When addressing the board on Aug. 13, Dunn advocated against in-person learning options and criticized the administration’s early response to the pandemic.
“The only conclusion I can draw is he didn’t like idea of healthy discourse,” Dunn said. “Clearly I had not agreed with him. Because I disagreed he removed me. … You have to have different voices heard.”
Dunn acknowledged her petition errors and lamented that they caused her ballot removal.
“It was an oversight,” she said. “I am willing to own that mistake, but it feels like a clerical mistake shouldn’t be the reason our community should not have three solid candidates to begin with.”
In a followup email to The Record, Gibori further explained the impetus for his challenge.
“I, along with other serious individuals involved in the process, found her behavior, language, and temperament to be (caustic) and counter to what we believe a board member should be,” he wrote.
Gibori is also leading a slate of candidates he helped put together called Avoca Coalition, which promotes Gibori, Das, Balassa and Seals.
According to Gibori, the Avoca Coalition unofficially formed in mid-February and then was made official Feb. 20 by the State Board of Elections as a candidate political committee called the Avoca Action Committee.
The CPC chair is Jamie Taylor, an outgoing Avoca D37 School Board member.
Gibori told The Record that Dunn’s candidacy led to the group’s formation.
“Certain community members, concerned about Cecilia Dunn, recruited Dan Seals and Sarah Balassa, to form a slate with Ami Das and me. None of us were connected socially prior to this coalition,” Gibori told The Record. “Ami Das and I had children in the same class at Avoca West, but were just passing acquaintances. We found that the group gelled quickly, bringing different professional skills, points of view, and backgrounds in public and community service.
“We have coordinated a vigorous, rather intricate and strategized campaign to make sure the voters remember to write-in Dan Seals and Sarah Balassa while selecting Ami and myself on the ballot. It has been an energized process, (reinforcing) our belief that we have a strong combination to help the School Board move the district to its next level.”
Gibori is running for reelection after being voted to the board for his first term in 2017.
According to his candidate bio, Gibori has more than two decades of experience in educational support. A Wilmette resident, he is the founder and CEO of The House Tutoring Lounge in Glencoe.
Ilan Gibori, Gil’s brother, was arrested last week for allegedly raping a minor he met while teaching in a nearby school district in Buffalo Grove, as reported by The Record. Ilan, a resident of Vernon Hills, was the director of the Glencoe tutoring center.
Gil Gibori addressed his brother’s arrest in a Facebook post, saying in part: “I was devastated to learn that Ilan Gibori, my brother who has been a management employee of The House – Glencoe since late 2019, was arrested and charged with sexual misconduct. He was immediately terminated. … While I am deeply disappointed, I reaffirm my commitment to providing the high-quality educational services that we offer to our students, while their well-being remains our highest priority.”
Das, of Glenview, is the second name voters will see on their ballot. She is an internal medicine physician and assistant professor of clinical medicine at Northwestern, her candidate bio says. Das played a part in creating the district’s PTC Committee for Inclusion, Diversity and Equity in Education.
Das is married to Avik Das, a caucus-slated candidate for the New Trier High School Board of Education.
Balassa is a graduate of New Trier High School who has previously served on the zoning board and planned development commission in nearby Winnetka. Balassa, who is the owner of a small consulting firm, served on the Avoca Strategic Planning Committee in 2016 and the Avoca Caucus in 2018-19, her candidate bio reads.
A longtime resident of Wilmette, Seals is currently a director at the American Medical Association. He has previously been involved in education as both a high school teacher and adjunct professor of public policy at Northwestern University, his bio says.
Dunn, who also has a campaign website, has 15 years of experience as an elementary school teacher, according to a statement she issued to the community. Dunn said in the statement that in her time as an educator, she’s helped lead school improvement initiatives, diversity workshops and curriculum development.
Rohner, a New Trier High School graduate, has served on the Avoca strategic planning committee, the communication and engagement team and the innovation grants committee, his bio says. A district resident (Glenview) since 2006, Rohner is co-publisher of “The Instrumentalist,” a magazine dedicated for music educators.
The Record is a nonprofit, nonpartisan community newsroom that relies on reader support to fuel its independent local journalism.
Subscribe to The Record to fund responsible news coverage for your community.
Already a subscriber? You can make a tax-deductible donation at any time.
Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.