Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year's elections.
Years in Oak Park or River Forest: 12
Are you an OPRF graduate? No
Do you have children who have, are or will be attending OPRF? What are their ages? Yes; 18, senior, and 14, 8th.
Why are you running for this office?
I offer the voters experience, independence, creativity, and a commitment to one of the best high schools in Illinois – which can and should be even better. I have been a fan of the school since we moved here. I have been mostly pleased with the education our son has received, but as I've gotten more involved with the school, I see that there is a real need for improvements. Since I already have both experience and a record of independence as a voting member of another taxing body in Oak Park, I felt that I could help.
I have served the school already as a volunteer, through the Huskie Booster Club, as the parent of a boy whose wrestling club is held at the school, and most recently through two advisory committees with which I was asked to participate – the STEM advisory group and the facilities planning advisory group.
The latter is relevant to running for the D200 board because, as an architect with over 25 years' experience with KN12 schools, I would bring to the board direct experience and creativity to the challenges and possibilities in school facilities planning, design and maintenance.
Through my efforts as a board member of the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects, I became involved with the Des Plaines Valley STEM Advisory Board – of which D200 is a part there is a module in the STEM program that includes architecture). I've become convinced that the STEM program, only recently introduced to OPRF, can become of great benefit to the full range of students, but in particular to kids in the "College Prep" cohort in the school. Several parents with children in this largest middle range at the school have told me that they feel their kids have been neglected for the sake of the children at either end of the spectrum. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics education is sorely needed, to improve our nation's competitiveness but also to fill the many tech sector jobs – jobs that too often must be filled by immigrants lured through the H1NB visa program. We don't grow enough engineers, doctors, scientists, etc. in this country. OPRF should "front page" its emerging STEM program.
As an architect and an elected official, I know how to plan and do big things – I helped lead the purchase and renovation of the new Township Senior Center. We did that by setting aside funds each year for several years, such that we were able to pay cash at a bargain price) for the building and the construction. I was able to help the Township plan for sufficient cost contingencies; the rehab even with change orders came in at the budget we set. All that was achieved with no referendum, no special levy, and no bonding or borrowing required. In recognition of my efforts on the new Senior Center, I received the 2012 Excellence in Public Service award from Township Officials of Illinois Trustee division). I previously received that same award from the Illinois Association of Township Senior Citizen Service Committees, for my innovative development of a consolidated information packet for extreme heat and cold conditions, to which our seniors are especially vulnerable.
I have been an independent voice throughout my time on the Township Board. Early in my tenure I brought up the possibility of using a unique statutory authority for the Township to fund new senior housing. I instigated and helped us apply to the State for funding for the market study which we received), to figure out if the numbers would work. And when it didn't – we stopped, instead of just going ahead and spending more money anyway. I also instigated a change in Board policy toward greater openness when we have a vacancy on the board, and I pushed the Township to change our policy on staff salaries, to ensure that our fullNtime employees are all at least paid a living wage. None of these initiatives were popular at first with the Board, but over 8 years I've learned how to build consensus to get us to do new things.
As a schools architect, I can help the D200 board work through challenging facilities issues. One example is the pool s) situation. With the Park District looking to build a new outdoor pool across the street from D200 property, while OPRF needs at least one if not two new or completely rehabbed pools, I simply do not believe that there is not a way for the two taxing bodies to work together, to save money, and build a new indoor pool facility that both units could use.
In that regard I have experience with intergovernmental cooperation – the Township recently renewed its agreement with all of the taxing bodies in Oak Park and River Forest. Each pays a share of the cost for our Youth Interventionist program at OPRF. Led by Supervisor Boulanger we were able to work together across all the units of government, each paying a fair share, to get it done. We can do the same with the pool issue – and others.
Most urgently, there are serious concerns from my fellow taxpayers about the District's fund balance and its decision to nonetheless increase the levy. As a Township Trustee, I have eight fiscal years' experience with the budget and levy process – and I have at times pushed the Township to eschew raising the levy in response to the current economic and employment climate. I also know about responsible budgeting; the Township for the past several years has been recognized for the excellence of our budgeting and financial reporting, the only Township in Illinois so honored.
I offer the voters experience, independence, creativity, and a commitment to one of the best high schools in Illinois – which can and should be even better.
Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? If so, when and which office?
It has been my honor for almost eight years to serve the citizens of Oak Park as a Trustee of Oak Park Township. I was first elected in April, 2005 – when I ran as an independent against a slate of incumbents – and was reNelected in April, 2009.
Are there individuals or groups which actively encouraged your interest in running for the D200 board?
No, although I did submit my name for consideration for appointment to fill the most recent vacancy on the D200 board. Although I was not appointed, a couple of the Board members who read my nomination encouraged me to consider running. But this is about wanting to use my experience to make the school my boys attend or will attend) better.
What do you consider to be the greatest strengths of Oak Park and River Forest High School?
The community and our tradition of excellence.
We have a highly educated community, an electorate that expects a lot for its tax dollars and knows what a quality public education looks like. In my case, as a graduate of an excellent public elementary, junior high, high school, university and graduate school, that includes me. While OPRF needs to improve, we are already ranked in the top 3% of public high schools in the US – I recently saw us ranked around #700 out of 26,000 – a status the parents and other taxpayers expect us to maintain, and one which helps us continue to attract high quality teachers.
What are your strongest concerns about the school at this time?
Everyone is concerned about balancing the need for fiscal stability with our responsibility to the taxpayers. It should be possible to leverage the current high fund balance to address shorter term needs, without increasing the levy, and still meet critical budget needs. After eight budget and levy cycles at Oak Park Township, I have the experience to see the details and the big picture, to help D200 adjust course without capsizing the ship. We don't want to be like the State, with huge interest payments for borrowing and still not meeting obligations, and we also don't want to be like the Republicans in Congress, willing to only say no when there are real needs. We need the Board to start asking better questions and to hold staff accountable for better answers.
My other strongest concern is the safety and security of all of the students at the school. Most of that comes from my exposure through the Township's Youth Interventionist program. What I'm hearing from other parents, from my child, and from the OPT interventionists is that the school's problems with drug and alcohol abuse and drug-related violence are far from over. The Township has been able to help – our new Senior Center is also the home for the new FACE-IT diversion program – but I feel the need to do more. I marched with parents united against drug and alcohol abuse but we need to continue to engage the whole community to turn the tide on this situation.
How many District 200 school board meetings have you attended in the past two years?
Three. Two as a concerned parent and once as a representative of the Township.
What is your opinion of the Strategic Planning Process currently underway?
Since I am involved with the parallel facilities planning process, I think that the two need greater integration. We need to build a consensus around an approach to instruction, curriculum and class size, and those issues are impacted by the building – we do not have unlimited room to expand. It's kind of like Rubik's School. We need to look outside "the usual suspects" to see how issues such as distance learning might better support what happens in the building. We also need to work more closely with Triton, to maximize our students' ability to get a head start on earning college credit while in high school. We also need to do a much better job integrating what D200 does with what D97 and D90 are doing. Right now the "handoff" is insufficient; students and parents need to better understand and prepare for what the high school expects and requires, and the high school needs to do a better job of communicating those expectations.
Should District 200 become an active funder and partner in the Collaboration for Early Childhood initiatives to boost the success of a-risk children in Oak Park?
Absolutely. OPRF simply cannot address the issues presented by under-prepared, low-achieving students who arrive for freshman year without being an active stakeholder in the entire continuum from when children are very young. As John Williams, Oak Park Township's director of Youth Services told me, if you're spending all of your time fishing drowning kids out of the river, at some point you have to head upstream and figure out why they're ending up in the water in the first place. This is why I have been a strong supporter of the Collaborative as an Oak Park Township Trustee – I helped lead the move to expand our purview in funding Youth Services programs to include support for younger children than we had traditionally targeted.
That has turned into funding for the Collaborative's program to develop a database tool to capture information about younger children even before they are in the D97/D90 system, to assist them in identifying and accessing potentially helpful programs from a variety of sources for preschool children and their families.
Is the current financial reserve held by the school district a reasonable amount or too much?
Yes. What I mean by that is, while there is a need to retain sufficient fund balance to meet our obligations for example) under the current employee contracts, and to not have to go for another referendum to do so, in the meantime that large fund represents capital that should be leveraged to do other things. Right now, it's just sitting there, earning little or no interest. The D200 board should investigate some of the more innovative funding strategies that taxing bodies can use to meet both shortNterm and long-term needs. The aforementioned pool issue, a capital improvement project, is one of those needs that I believe we should investigate in that regard. I also think that we need to get serious in future negotiations with our collective bargaining units – a 3.5% locked-in annual teachers' salary increase is just not realistic under current economic conditions.