Jack Davidson

Below are candidate-submitted answers to a biographical survey Wednesday Journal sent out to all candidates running in this year’s District 200 school board elections.

Age: 46 

Previous political experience: D200 school and facilities advocacy

Previous community experience: Member, Board of Directors, In Her Shoes Foundation

Occupation: Director of Business Development, Rightpoint Consulting – focusing on process improvement and cost containment

Education:  BS Computer Technology, Purdue University 

How would you define the role/functions of a D97 school board member?  

Assuming you mean D200 board member, I feel that the role or function of a member of the board is to govern the three main areas of board responsibility: legislative, administrative, and judicial.  Legislative is the first area of responsibility and refers to policy making.  In my mind, an effective board should adopt policies that give direction to the superintendent and staff, enabling them to manage the district.  The board should seek administration and community input in the development of policy, and after adoption should hold the superintendent and staff accountable for its implementation.  Evaluation criteria and measurement metrics should be established for each policy that enacts, directs, and monitors behavior to clearly set expectations and measure the effectiveness of policy.  Administration is the second area of responsibility, which includes approving and monitoring the budget, approving and monitoring any district contracts, and hiring and evaluating the superintendent and staff.  Draft budgets are presented to the board by administration based on the goals and objectives clearly outlined by the school board.  The responsibility of the board is to ensure that strategic goals and objectives are truly aligned with the spending outlined in the budget.  Finally, the board’s judicial responsibility refers to hearing formal appeals sessions and hearings brought forward by staff, students, or parents.  Naturally, these appeals require confidentiality, impartiality, and a full understanding of statute, school policy and school regulations.  The handling of appeals properly is critical to the effectiveness and fairness of a school board and vital to establishing and maintaining the trust of parents and the community.

As a board member, you may be asked to make decisions relating to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. What is your understanding of TIF districts? What are your thoughts about their impact on school districts? 

TIFs divert property tax revenue from all taxing agencies (60% of which are D97 and D200) for 23 years to TIF District funds, where are used for just about any purpose.  One would think the school districts would be against this diversion, and sometime they are, such as when D97 sued the village concerning the 1983 DTOP TIF; or when D200 sued the village a few years ago over the distribution of DTOP TIF funds.  TIF was originally intended to create new funding sources to support the revitalization of blighted areas, and as such when a TIF district is established, the property values (EAV) are frozen at their current value.  The difference in EAV over the lifecycle of the TIF is what is diverted.  Since the State of IL subsidizes their per-pupil state aid to school districts that have had property tax revenue diverted by TIFs, as is the case within Oak Park, the school districts have agreed to generally support village TIFs. This gets tricky because of the moral dilemma brought by awareness that our school districts are re-classified as financially impoverished, the augmented aid from the state to the village is taking state aid from school districts that are actually needy, such as lower income communities.  Increased state aid is still less than the diverted property tax revenue to the TIF district, but the only way to increase revenue under the basic tax cap rules in the state of IL the available options to increase your levy other than by the rate of inflation for our school districts is by referendum for an increased levy above the tax cap maximum or by new growth.  Since the current board approved a temporary reduction in the levy for 2 years by $10M each year, they had to revert back to the previous levy or they would lose the inflation rate on that $10M reduction permanently forcing a more urgent need for another operating referendum.  In conclusion, TIF is a complex topic that not many understand and has a direct impact on school districts due to levy increases limited to the rate of inflation which could potentially cause a school district to go to referendum to make up a shortfall in operating expenses or a drop in fund balance below the 25% target.  2 of the 3 TIFs are expiring this year and next, and it is critical for our elected officials to consider the influential forces on budgeting and balancing the fiscal responsibility with the expectation of the community.  Because the expiration of TIF is classified to new growth, our elected board will have an opportunity to decide to levy against the growth in EAV within the TIF districts (that will result in an increase in property taxes), which will be much higher than the rate of inflation, or choose not pass that burden on to taxpayers. 

Do you think that OPRF has an equity problem? How do you define equity? Do you believe that the district is currently utilizing its resources effectively enough to address the long-standing issue of equity? 

Equity in education can be a complex topic.  Equity can be characterized as horizontal or vertical, and quantified by performance measurement.  When comparing any two students, there are a substantial amount of individual characteristics that they both may have in common or in contrast with one another.  Horizontal equity refers to the equal treatment of equals. The educational opportunities provided to two comparable individuals should and often are the same.  Vertical equity considers the equal treatment of unequal students.  At the classroom level, teachers attempt to meet this need via differentiation, such as providing students who have different reading levels with different classroom texts intentionally meeting those diverse levels.  D200 should be vested in ensuring vertical equity is addressed and solved for by providing each demographic subgroup with the specific materials and services needed by that group.  The challenge becomes one of fairness with opportunities and allocation of services while providing different resources to various individuals based on their needs.  No two students are alike, which means that no single solution exists for the complex array of students, needs, and resources at OPRF.  When establishing performance guidelines theoretically, OPRF has to determine what the minimum level of standard performance should be for all students.  Performance metrics could easily be established for all students requiring a minimum level of competency.  It’s more difficult in practice, because helping students on both sides of the bell curve to cross that finish line may prove challenging. The culture, intelligence, environment, disposition, and unique needs of each student contribute to where each student begins a school year and how far they progress throughout the year.  It may not be equitable to demand that students on both sides of the bell curve achieve the same outcome, and there should be focus from the administration to continue to develop programs that are tailored specifically to the needs of the various groupings of students.  One way to determine where these groupings exist within the ecosystem of a school is to identify personas that represent population densities that achieve in similar ways and group them together hypothetically to understand the unique characteristics and needs of each persona.  When all personas are identified, then the task begins of developing programs that are tuned specifically to the needs of that group of personas.  From a monitoring perspective, board leadership needs to determine a method to closely watch the gaps in equity performance on an ongoing basis, not just once per year as is currently measured.  OPRF does face equity challenges that are unique to our environment, and I feel that more programming needs to be developed to support and engage students on the left side of the bell curve.  This could be accomplished through a dramatically expanded mentorship program which I have experience in developing through my work in non-profit foundations.  Leveraging the intelligent, successful, and accomplished citizen body of our villages is an opportunity we have over others. 

Were you for or against the recent swimming pool referendum that failed? Explain your position.  

I voted against the swimming pool referendum, primarily because of the tremendously high cost of the project ($37.3M/32,283 sq/ft = $1155 per sq/ft) vs. the national high school median construction cost ($235 per sq/ft).  I also voted against the referendum because I felt that the process that was executed could have been more forthright, honest, and transparent.  Without dredging up a complete historical recall of the activities leading up to the failed referendum, the examples that resonated with me was the choice of the board to de-prioritize the results of the board-sanctioned Stantec report that concluded that an 8-lane, 25-yard swimming pool would meet the requirements of the project, in addition to the choice of the board to not pivot with their approach due to the results of the board-sanctioned community survey that concluded that the community favored the less expensive option that preserved the parking garage.  I suspect there were reasons the board voted to proceed with the more expensive option that aren’t publically known, but the process by which the board chose to educate and engage the community and their overall responsiveness to community feedback is a key platform of my campaign and one which I believe the current board could have executed more effectively and used to their advantage.  I feel that the failed referendum has more significance than the impasse that isn’t acknowledged, in particular the effect the referendum has the community.  I believe that by executing a more transparent process, we could have avoided dividing the community and prevented the damage to friendships and neighborly relationships that still lingers today.

What is your impression of the new community outreach committee that will be attempting to build community consensus around a financially feasible long-term facilities plan that addresses numerous issues at the high school, including equity, 21st century learning environments and a plan for replacing OPRF’s old swimming pools, among other issues? 

I love the new approach being spearheaded by Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams, who is a fantastic addition to D200.  Committees should be impartially and equitably staffed with members from our key stakeholder groups (unbiased parents, students, and community members) and not strictly governed with intended or planned outcomes and guardrails that limit their creativity and output.  I call this the VOC – or Voice Of our Community.  I firmly believe that two heads are always better than one, and I believe we have an opportunity to empower the smart and experienced citizens of our community for ideas, feedback, and input into the decision-making processes at the board level.  I am passionate about being responsive to our citizens and leveraging the voice of our community for true stakeholder input and feedback on complex projects such as the facilities plan, and this committee being led by Dr. Pruitt-Adams is a giant leap forward in the right direction to build consensus and allow a project to organically gain momentum and acceptance in the community.

Are you aware of OPRF’s most recent disciplinary data (for the first semester of 2016-17) and what are your thoughts about its accuracy?  

Yes, I was in attendance at the D200 board meeting when that data was presented by Mr. Rouse.  I have previously reviewed Senate Bill 100 and am familiar with what the bill suggests.  I also heard the concerns from the community echoed by Mr. Carl Spight in public comment. I had the same concern as Mr. Spight as well as Dr. Jackie Moore when the data was eventually presented and reviewed by the board, as it seemed to me that while there was dramatic improvement in the number of infractions, it was not clear what the measurement criteria is that is used in practice to determine if and when an infraction has occurred and by what level of severity.  Data that exists without measurement or evaluation criteria is simply numbers in a chart or on a piece of paper.  While I do believe strongly in the overall concept and guiding principles of the CCB (Culture, Climate, and Behavior) subcommittee chaired by Ms. Dixon-Spivy, I also believe that some work needs to be done to establish measurement criteria for each type of infraction that will correlate the infraction data back to the behavior triggering the incident.  Strengthing the data set will help the board have traceability into the drivers behind the specific types of behavior that have indeed improved, which will enable the board to focus on the underpinning policy changes or restorative practices that were used to drive an improvement in behavior.  This level of granularity is what is needed to replicate what is working, based on what the data suggests, in other applications of restorative practice concepts throughout policy and discipline enforcement within OPRF.

Are there other issues or initiatives that you are particularly interested in having the board pursue during the next four years and how are you planning to advocate for them? 

I have plenty of pursuits teed up should I receive endorsement from WJ and move on to win a seat on the board, but in particular I’d like to highlight two that have been resonating with me recently.  I firmly believe we can build upon the work that IGOV has done thus far, but work toward strengthening the communication process and feedback loop among the taxing bodies to promote a true culture of collaboration.  I would be a strong opponent for and willing to sign an intergovernmental agreement requiring IGOV taxing bodies to sign off on capital improvement projects across all districts in our community.  This action will enable our taxing bodies to work together like never before, and will provide a measure of checks and balances to ensure that we all are in alignment with capital expenditure projects and are leveraging one another to ensure that these projects provide a tangible benefit to our community relative to their cost to taxpayers.  Having an agreement in place will foster the collaborative nature of working together on solutions for complex project scopes facing our villages as our infrastructure continues to age.  I have alignment with many candidates across the taxing bodies that are willing to enact an agreement that will strengthen the work output from IGOV.  Additionally, I strongly believe that our responsibility as members of the board is to provide a safe learning environment for our children who are growing up during a time of heightened threats to individual safety, and I feel that we could utilize modern technology to build upon current safety programs within the district.  Mobile device apps are rising in popularity that provide a means for a student to alert authorities if their safety is threatened within the property lines of the school or even during their commute, and digital safety augmentation is something I would like to explore. Finally, I am interested in creating a true Strategic Plan (not an outline that exists today as our plan) that functions like a hub-and-spoke model.  The Strategic Plan sits at the nucleus of the model, and the tactical plans for execution and policy surround the Strategic Plan.  I recommend that the Strategic Plan is structured with tenets that govern across the areas of Accountability and Transparency, Teaching and Learning Programming, Expectation of Learners, Vertical Equity, Learning Communities, District Vision and Goals, District Security and Safety, and District Governance.  Each of the individual tenets contains a tactical plan, policy, or operating procedure.  The connective tissue between the Strategic Plan and the tenets should be a method for a continuous and dynamic Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle of plan and policy evolution based on lessons learned from our own experience within the district, as well as lessons learned from other districts that have experienced events that we can learn from.  I worry that our current strategic outline only reflects goal statements with no method specified of accountability and execution measurement.  I am also concerned with our static, 327-page policy “manual” that appears to be an aggregation of individual board-adopted policies, many of which are several years old, and have no connective tissue back to the Strategic Plan.  Policy transformation and permutation would significantly benefit from a dynamic Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and would keep policy standards relevant and current.  As a bonus, one more initiative that interests me is exploring new ways for the board to be responsive to not only attendees of regular board meetings, but also to the community in general.  I am working on some ideas for expanding public comment to be a dynamic conversation with limitations, as well as the use of technology to create more channels for the community to outreach to the board and to initiate discussion around topics of importance to our community.

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