Below are candidate-submitted answers to a survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.

Age: 46

Profession: General Manager for CenterStage Productions, Inc.

Years lived in River Forest: I’ve lived in Oak Park since August of 1998; almost 17 years.

Spouse, if applicable: Rachel Carlson Boultinghouse

 Do you have children in D97 schools? How many and what ages? 

  • One child aged 9 in 4th grade.

Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? If so, when and which office? No.

If you are not currently on the school board, how many school board meetings have you attended in the last year?  About 20 in the last year (12 mos.)

Why are you running for this office? 

I began to follow District 97 Board proceedings well over 2 years ago after involving myself in the effort to block building a new D-97 administration building behind Village hall.  In that effort I spent countless hours researching the District regularly attending Board meetings.  That interest just stuck.  I applied to be on the CLAIM Committee and was accepted.  In that endeavor I began to invest my energy and effort researching SB-16, which was working its way through the Illinois Legislature.  Seeing that D-97 was making no public calls to action and knowing that there were to be at least two open seats on the Board, I felt that I should get involved to spread the word regarding this issue and to do everything in my power to make that a district priority.  As I will state further below, regardless of the issue one feels is most important, whether that is the achievement gap, special education, the arts, whatever, all of them are at risk if funding to the district is significantly cut.

What do you think are the three biggest challenges facing the district in the next four years?

I think the three biggest challenges facing the district in the next 4 years are:

  1.  State Funding.  With General State Aid coming in at 89% of the budgeted amount, potential cuts from the forthcoming SB1 that could cut up to 50% of the General State Aid (±8% of overall educational resources) and the promise of increased pension liability shift to the district from the state, District 97 looks to face some big funding challenges if projected cuts come to fruition.  Regardless of what issues people feel are most important, without the funding that current forecasts have been made upon, all other programs are at risk.  Whether it is the achievement gap, early childhood education, the IB program or the arts, without the funds to support the programs our community values, all children are at risk of receiving a lessened educational experience.
  2.  Referendum.  In 2011 District 97 set themselves up for the next referendum to occur in 2017.  Within 4 months of the passage of the 2011 Referendum, District 97 resumed the march to replace their aging administration building after projecting doom and gloom cuts if the 2011 Referendum did not pass.  The general view with the public is that we were all deceived.  If budgets were so desperate, how could the District even contemplate a new building?  Especially when the last pitch for a building indicated a need of 16,000 sq. ft. to house two governmental bodies and now the current plans suggest 24,000 sq. ft. for one governmental entity.  The messaging between the two pitches (2012 vs. today) is confusing, uses different metrics and generally feels as if it approaches a bait and switch type of shell game.  Looking at current income (before potential State cuts) and current expenses, the expenses are rising at a greater rate than income such that in order to maintain accepted reserves and current curriculum and programming, the District must go back to the public for a referendum.  Getting public buy in for this next referendum will be a monumental challenge in light of how the new building replacement has been communicated in relation to the 2011 Referendum and in relation to the previous pitch in 2012.  We aren’t even a decade past the times when the Village had to bail out D-97 and while the District’s finances have greatly improved, they aren’t as rock solid as they could be, especially given the District issues DSEB bonds each year that partially cover operational expenses.  They are placing operating costs on credit, a practice that would be devastating to expand and one that would become increasingly necessary if this upcoming referendum were to fail.
  3.  New superintendent.  Though this specific issue will soon be over and the new superintendent will be selected before the next board is seated, the new superintendent’s working interaction and oversight could conceivably be managed with an entirely new Board.  The Board has one employee, the superintendent. That person and their relationship with the next Board will set the tone for all other outcomes in the District.  This is one hire that the District MUST get right from the outset and manage well for our schools to improve.  I participated in the front end meetings that were combined with the other Board members and Candidates feedback to create the Leadership profile that HYA will use to shape their search and recruitment effort.  The Board indicates that candidates will be able to participate in the interviews with the shortlist candidates.  I will make myself available to every extent possible when that point in the process comes up to help steer the current Board towards the best candidate.

What skills/talents do you have that would enable you to deal with those challenges? 

As a General Manager for a fast paced, ever changing production company, I am tasked with maintaining an eye on overall operations of our company from a 30,000 ft level.  This perspective enables me to be one of the only candidates to place State funding and district finances as one of the primary issues to campaign on vs any other issue.  The current Board acknowledges that State funding is an issue but chooses to remain in a reactionary position relative to potential cuts.  If I were on the Board I would use every ounce of influence to suggest that the Board lead from in front on this issue.  The District should be leading a phone and letter writing campaign to inform our citizens of the risk we face NOW, while the legislation is being crafted and negotiated.  While I applaud the effort to address inequality in Illinois’s education funding, it should not be done on the backs of others and to the detriment of others, especially if the net result only gives others an additional mouthful. Should the State enact SB1 such that it significantly cuts current State funding to D-97, should the referendum not pass, those two coupled with pension liability shift that is anticipated, all kids in the district will suffer. Like all of the other candidates we all want the best possible outcomes for our schools and for our kids.  What I don’t hear much of, however, is a concern for the fragility of current funding levels in the district.  We cannot afford to return to the days when D-97 needs another bailout.

If elected, what are three goals that you have for the next four years? 

In the next four years I would like to do the following:

  1. Issue a call to action over SB1.  D-97 should engage the public in a series of town hall meetings and a PR campaign to relay the possible negative impact the passing of this bill could have.  There is no reason this cannot happen now.  It is not good enough wait for this to be a problem.
  2. I would like to start the campaign for the 2017 referendum immediately.  Knowing that public concern and content over the administration building are less than optimum and knowing that this perception issue will cloud efforts to pass a referendum in 2017, it is never too soon to engage the public.  Current efforts to discuss annual budgets are to post that it will be discussed at a meeting and that the public can weigh in.  Typically, two or three people show up to these meetings, and typically no one says anything or asks any questions.  D-97 needs to take this to the streets and make every effort to clearly and transparently show where funding goes, show how current funding levels are raising at a lesser rate than costs are rising.  They need to demonstrate that they are acting responsible and to take comments and suggestions from the public.  This needs to be part of the referendum PR campaign.  Knowing that the District is battling public apathy makes this a difficult proposition, but it is one that needs to happen.
  3. Publically, I have outlined three initiatives relative to strengthening the arts in D-97:  I’d like to see the District incorporate the iPads and other technology in arts education, I’d like to see each of the middle schools host a new play competition and production of those plays in alternating years and I’d like to see the district engage the vibrant arts community in Oak park to host juried exhibitions of student work in the schools.

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