Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year's elections.
Profession: Own and operate Nations Home Inspections and Energy Ratings. By education I'm an engineer – I have a BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering.
Years in Oak Park or River Forest: I've lived for 17 years in Oak Park. My wife, who grew up in far northwest suburban McHenry, became fascinated with Oak Park after playing a high school field hockey game here in the 1980s (she won't let me say exactly what year). So when it came time to settle down, Oak Park was the place.
Are you an OPRF graduate?
No. I graduated from Shawnee Mission South High School in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.
Do you have children who have, are or will be attending OPRF? What are their ages?
My two kids are ages 14 (8th grade) and 11 (6th grade) and attend Julian Middle School. My older child will be a freshman this coming fall and is looking forward to attending OPRF.
Why are you running for this office?
I have long had an interest in education and educational policy. I ran for this same post back in 1999, so this is not just a recent interest for me. I think the school board has become dysfunctional and there is a real need in this community for a reasonable, common sense school board. The time is personally right for me to run again. I am not a one-issue candidate but one that believes there are some tough issues facing the school and the taxpayers of our community.
I think the key to making good decisions as a school board member is understanding that sometimes you need to be an advocate for the school, and sometimes you need to be an advocate for the voters and taxpayers -- and you need the common sense to tell the difference. As an engineer I need to see proof that policies are working before I'll endorse their continuation. But I also see the value in experimentation, and I understand that to improve educational outcomes we'll need to try various approaches. Some will work, and some won't. We'll continue the best policies based on data, and we'll abandon the policies that aren't working.
I also have experience in the classroom. I teach Weatherization at Triton College, and so I have first hand experience with the trials and tribulations that teachers face. I understand the pressure that comes externally to ensure that the students learn the material, and I understand the even greater pressure that teachers put on themselves to be successful for their students.
Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? If so, when and which office?
Yes – I ran for this same post back in 1999. I lost to three incumbents.
Are there individuals or groups which actively encouraged your interest in running for the D200 board?
All of my friends were extremely supportive when I first floated the idea to them. That great support encouraged me to keep moving forward.
What do you consider to be the greatest strengths of Oak Park and River Forest High School?
The greatest strength of OPRF High School is the backing of the great people of Oak Park and River Forest, and especially the parents who send their kids here. Like any great institution, it's the people and the relationships that make it so great. The diversity of the school in all respects – race, religion, income, interests and pastimes – is a great and enormously important strength. The fact that any student can find his or her place in the school both academically and socially is a wonderful aspect of OPRF High School and something that needs to be continued and nurtured.
What are your strongest concerns about the school at this time?
My strongest concern about the school at this time is that a dysfunctional school board is losing the support of the citizens and taxpayers of our two villages, primarily through misguided financial decisions. The decision to file a lawsuit against the Village is another bad decision that is causing the board to lose the support of the citizens. Common sense is not being applied.
How many District 200 school board meetings have you attended in the past two years?
I haven't attended any recent school board meetings.
What is your opinion of the Strategic Planning Process currently underway?
It's not going well in the first place (it's not on schedule), and it's being overwhelmed by the financial issues. The voters are upset with the way the Board is planning for the financial future, and this makes the voters reluctant to believe that the Board is capable of the process. This is a very real problem. The Board's actions must be legitimate in the eyes of the voters or there will be no buy-in and everything else is irrelevant.
Should District 200 become an active funder and partner in the Collaboration for Early Childhood initiatives to boost the success of at-risk children in Oak Park?
It's too early to make a decision on this question. I haven't seen any numbers regarding what D200 would be expected or encouraged to contribute in terms of money and time. I haven't seen any numbers about how many kids are expected to be served, for how long, and what types of improvements can be expected. But there is certainly no doubt that early intervention can have a big impact on long-term success, and so this could be a great program for the kids of Oak Park and River Forest and for the success of the high school over the long run.
Is the current financial reserve held by the school district a reasonable amount or too much?
It's too much. In his letter to the Wednesday Journal dated December 18, 2012, Terry Finnegan said, "OPRF High School adheres to the strategy of maintaining at least nine months of cash reserves to support operations between property tax payments." But the District's "Five Year Financial Projections" from September 2012 shows that for FY 2013 there is a 20.8 month reserve in the Education fund, more than twice what Terry Finnegan himself says is needed. And the five year projection shows this fund's balance dropping to "only" 18.5 months by 2018. Long term planning should be one of the key functions of a school board. And this board has failed at that mission by allowing the reserve fund to become so large. And that's in addition to the continuing pile-on of the recent tax levy increase.
In passing the recent levy increase, the board tried to assuage the concerns and anger of the taxpayers by claiming that they took only a 2.5% increase rather than the maximum allowable this year of 3%. While this may be technically true, it's disingenuous at best. The board took the full 3% increase for all the funds related to operating the school. The board didn't take the full amount for only the Bond & Interest fund, which is accounted for differently from the other funds anyway and can only be used for very specific purposes. So taking the full amount for the Bond & Interest fund would have been an enormous waste, and the board knows that. So it's misleading for the board to try to spin its vote by saying that it didn't take the full amount it could.
Additionally, the five-year projections that the board is using to attempt to justify it's enormous reserve fund assume that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will rise 2% annually, meaning that the maximum levy increase the board can pass is 2%. But historically the CPI has risen an average of 2.5%, which is historically true and definitely true according to the published data in the board's own documents. So the board is intentionally understating the amount of tax dollars that can flow into its coffers over the next 5-10 years. If the board used a CPI value of 2.5% in its projections then it would make the reserve fund seem even larger.