Kathleen "Kassie" Porreca

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Age: 53

Profession: School administration / currently a middle school principal

Years in Oak Park: 7

Why are you running for this office?  

I have been involved with the Park District for four years as a member of the Park District Citizen Committee (PDCC). Last year I served on the Comprehensive Master Plan Task Force. I have been a user of the parks ever since I moved to Oak Park and have been very pleased with the facilities and services in our community. Before my tenure on the PDCC, I knew nothing about our parks or how they operate, but I wanted to be more involved with my community and I liked our park system as a consumer. Becoming more involved has allowed me to become knowledgable about the breadth and depth of planning and the high level of professionalism with which our Park District operates.

The mission of the Park District aligns very closely with my profession as a school administrator. In both, we serve the needs of the public, we work with the whole community, we attend to programming, facilities, and scheduling, we work to enhance the lives of our constituents, and we must be responsible stewards of public resources. I feel that my skills can be a valuable contribution to our community. I'm very proud of our parks and want to be involved to a greater extent through a position on the Board.

I'm not allied with any particular group, special interest, or agenda. I believe that a good Board member is a person who comes to the job with a balanced mind, a sense of fair play and cooperation, good listening skills, a keen sense of inquiry, and the ability to work with others for the greater good. I believe I possess those attributes and will work hard as an elected Board member to make the best decisions for all the residents of Oak Park.

Have you ever run for or served in a local political office before? If so, when and which office?

I have never run for any office before. My interest in this office is not in elected office, per se, but in being of greater service to the Park District and our community.

Are there individuals or groups which actively encouraged your interest in running for the Park board?

My colleagues on the PDCC are very enthusiastic about my race for Park Board, and they have been very supportive. Former and current Board members were helpful to my decision as they shared their experiences as Board members and related what they were most proud of during their time on the Board. My husband and my son have also been encouraging and helpful. 

Do you know any of the current Park Board Commissioners; if so, can you talk about your interaction with them?

I have come to know all of the current Commissioners through my work with the Park District. David Wick and I were on the PDCC together before he was elected to the Board. Paul Aeschleman, David Wick, Jessica Bullock, and I worked on the Comprehensive Master Plan task force together last year. I have spoken to Sandy Lentz on multiple occasions at various Park meetings. Victor Guarino and Paul Aeschleman very graciously invited me to run with them on the same slate after I decided to run for the Board. And I have observed the entire Board on many occasions as they conduct Board meetings.

What do you consider to be the greatest strengths of the Park District?  

I have observed that our Park District works hard to serve the many needs and constituencies of our diverse community. The parks and the Park District provide services, programs, and recreation for community members of all ages and interests. The variety of programs and opportunities for recreation and enrichment are vast. As a member of the PDCC, I have seen firsthand the extensive planning and study that goes into crafting the overall program that is offered.

The Park District demonstrates a commitment to equity and access, which is strongly aligned with my own values. I am very proud to say that in the past several years, the Park District has been able to increase the amount of scholarship dollars awarded to families in need from approximately $9,000 in 2012 to over $32,000 in 2014, and that I was instrumental in that increase. When Director Jan Arnold approached the PDCC for suggestions about how to reach more families, I was able to suggest a plan of action to work with the school principals to identify families who qualify for financial assistance. As a principal, I know that those families are already identified through the school meal program, and that principals are able to reach out to those families to make sure that they know about resources available to them. My suggestions were incorporated into policy and practice, and that has nearly quadrupled the amount of financial assistance that is disbursed to families in need in our community, providing greater access to Park District programs.

I have noted that the Park District is responsive to community input and seeks it in a variety of ways: through community meetings to discuss park master plans, community surveys, participant surveys, through the website, through citizen committees (such as the PDCC, the Greening Advisory Committee, the Art Advisory Committee, and the Senior Advisory Committee). They also work hard at transparency. Every report and document, every strategic plan and internal measurement, is available on the PDOP website, making it easy for interested residents to stay informed about what is happening.

The staff of the Park District is highly professional and they are accredited in their professional organizations.

What are your strongest concerns about the district at this time?

In Oak Park, we have very little park land in relation to the number of residents in our community. We are landlocked, with no room for expansion, so our space and our resources are limited. Within those confines, the Park District must continue to be innovative and utilize the resources that we do have to maximize the enjoyment of all segments of our community. This will always be a challenge, as the various groups and programs sometimes compete for space or services. It is the role of the Director and the Board to make the best decisions for the benefit of the whole community.

How many Park Board meetings have you attended in the past two years?

As a member of the PDCC, I attended Board meetings when a topic of particular interest to me was on the agenda. I have attended every Board meeting since I decided to run for a position on the Board (approximately the last 4 months). Additionally, I attend the PDCC meetings once a month (for the past four years as a member), and as a member of the Comprehensive Master Plan task force, I attended many meetings and work sessions throughout 2014 as we were working on the plan.

Gov. Rauner recently froze $26 million in grants to 75 parks and recreation projects in the state, including a renovation project for Euclid Square in town, why do you think it's important (or not) that these OSLAD grants ultimately be approved or denied by the Governor?

The Park District has been resourceful and successful in securing approximately $3.2 million dollars in OSLAD grants over the past decade. Detailed financial planning and fiscal responsibility have made it possible for our community to have the necessary matching funds available so that we were eligible to apply for and receive these competitive grants. In effect, this has doubled the amount of resources available to the Park District to complete those projects and improve our parks and has represented a savings to the taxpayers of Oak Park. If the Governor does not continue this program in the future or honor the grants that have already been announced, that will obviously have a negative impact on the projects that the Park District will be able to complete. It might require scaling back or pushing back some elements of the Euclid Square project, and will surely affect future park improvements. 

How important is it that the park district and other governmental agencies/taxing bodies in town work in a collaborative spirit on shared projects?

Collaboration and cooperation between governmental bodies is always a positive, and it's a very worthy goal. I am aware of numerous collaborations between the Park District and other agencies that have benefitted the community. One recent example of this is the intergovernmental agreement between the Park District and District 97 for the Park District to take over the maintenance of District 97 fields. This will enhance the conditions of the fields and be a benefit to both the schools and the Park District – and most importantly, to the kids and the users of those facilities.

What are your thoughts about the renovated Ridgeland Common which re-opened last summer? Were you pleased with the upgrades or any concerns?

What an impressive project! As a member of the PDCC, I had the opportunity to tour Ridgeland Common while it was still under construction, so to see the finished product (as well as remembering what the facility was like before) is very exciting. When I walk in there and see all the families and the activities going on, it makes me very proud of our Park District. It's a great example of being both fiscally responsible (for example, in the way that the wooden roof beams were refinished and reused) and at the same time visionary about the types of facilities we can bring to our community.

As a school administrator, I know that no large undertaking is going to please 100% of the constituents, and I am aware that there have been a few concerns raised here and there about elements of the project. Some do not like the configuration of the new locker rooms, some elements of the construction have required tweaking, etc.

Our family uses the dog park there, and we were happy with the new area when it re-opened. Ridgeland Common is an example of a multi-use facility that provides services for a variety of residents: soccer players, ice skaters, swimmers, hockey players, baseball players, families, dogs, fitness classes, and meeting space.

Is a year-round indoor pool run by the park district a feasible idea in the future, or is the community best served by the existing two outdoor pools, plus occasional use of indoor pools (like at OPRF) for the public through Park District programming?

The community survey conducted by the Park District last year as part of the Comprehensive Master Plan process indicated strong support within the community for the idea of an indoor pool. Accordingly, one element of the CMP is to conduct a feasibility study on that project. After that study is completed, the Park District will have a much better idea about whether or not that is an option to pursue, what the cost of such a project would be, and the options for financing it.

The Park District and OPRF currently do share use of the OPRF pool for swim lessons. Naturally, the school district programs and curriculum must take priority use of the school's facilities, which necessarily limits the availability for other groups.

 

What are your thoughts concerning the renovation of Park District offices? Should the Park District have collaborated with the village and D97 on shared office space as suggested by Village President Anan Abu-Taleb and members of the D97 board?

It is my understanding that the Park District offices were in need of renovation, and the District did collaborate with the other entities to explore various options for shared spaces. In the end, after some lengthy and thoughtful discussion, the Park District determined that what made the most sense for them was to move ahead with the renovation of their current space. The Park District offices house a large number of staff as well as the equipment for buildings and grounds, and it was important to proceed in a timely manner.

Collaboration and cooperation are important; I also believe that there will be times when each independent governmental entity must make decisions on its own that are deemed to be in the best interests of their body. When three (or more) separate and autonomous staff and boards are working together, there will be times when everyone's goals and timelines align perfectly for group projects, and times when they do not. Each of those entities has its own individual goals and responsibility to the taxpayers and their own overarching mission. I believe it is important for those taxing bodies to keep communication open for future discussions and look for future opportunities to work together. The community will benefit greatly when those relationships are maintained in a positive and mutually respectful manner. As a member of the Park Board, I will work to collaborate with other elected officials in our community for the mutual benefit of our residents whenever possible.

What are your thoughts concerning the use of pesticides, Astroturf or other potential environmental issues as they relate to the Park District?

These are issues that are of great concern to the community, and to the Park District. I have been pleased to learn through my involvement with the parks that the Park District utilizes an integrated pest management plan that involves minimal use of herbicides. Fields are not sprayed at all; only cracks in sidewalks and border areas. Natural methods of turf management (seeding, irrigation) are used on the fields. I like that we are minimizing the use of chemicals in our parks.

I am personally not a fan of artificial turf (I am not an athlete, I do not have kids who are in sports programs, and my usage of the parks tends to be walking the paths and admiring the plants), but a limited number of artificial turf fields were deemed beneficial as one strategy to maintain the athletic fields for greater usage hours and wear and tear. The Park District conducted a field study several years ago, and the recommendation was made to install three artificial turf fields to maximize athletic usage. Two of those fields have now been installed (Ridgeland and Irving School), with one left to be installed to complete the implementation of that plan.

As a principal (and someone who is responsible for the facilities at my school), I know that natural turf can be expensive to maintain, requires resources to maintain, can be easily damaged, is often unplayable for a length of time after it rains, and is often muddy and dangerous for students to run on. Athletic teams are one important component of the program our Park District provides our community, and fields must be maintained to the highest degree possible to provide facilities for athletic practices and games. Artificial turf is a tool that does not have the concerns of natural grass, and therefore allows for maximum usage. The number of hours of playing time on an artificial field is much greater than grass, which allows those fields to be used more, providing many more participants the opportunity to play sports. Studies have been conducted supporting the safety of these fields with scientific inquiry. The use of artificial turf can also conserve money and natural resources, since sod does not have to replaced, water is not used to irrigate fields, and equipment is not needed to maintain the field. Artificial turf fields are one component in the variety of facilities that we utilize to serve the many needs of our community. 

During my time on the PDCC I have learned a great deal about how our Park District maintains sustainable and ecological practices, such as: the pursuing of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in new construction projects, the use of recycled materials in parks projects, the construction of the bio swale at the Conservatory, the environmental education center in progress at Austin Gardens, the "Carry In, Carry Out" refuse program, and the work of the Greening Advisory Committee, just to name a few. The Park District demonstrates care for our natural resources in numerous ways. There is even a tree inventory! Park District staff knows the location and condition of every tree in the park system, they monitor their health, inoculate them, and care for them. In short, our Park District has a demonstrated commitment to environmental preservation and sound, green practices.

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