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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
City: Crystal Lake
Office sought: Crystal Lake Elementary D47
Family: Married, two children
Occupation: I am a Certified Public Accountant and Owner of Nancy L. Gonsiorek, CPA, LLC; an accounting firm providing audit, tax and financial services to nonprofit organizations.
Education: BA Business Administration/Accounting
Civic involvement: Chairman, The Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee of McHenry County 2003-present
University of Illinois Master Gardener, since 2003
Nunda Township Planning Commissioner, 1999-2002
Member, The Land Conservancy of McHenry County
Member, Environmental Defenders of McHenry County
Elected offices held: CCSD 47 Board of Education,2007-present
Currently serving as the Board Vice President
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No.
Key Issue 1
I am not sure that I can rank my issues, 1-2-3. One primary issue is to provide a quality education in a fiscally responsible manner. District 47 is an $85 million dollar and I am proud to say that we run our district like an efficient business. I believe I have been a great asset to our community in this area over the past four years, because of my expertise as a Certified Public Accountant. We have made a lot of changes in our business and finance department that will help to keep us financially strong. If re-elected I will continue to represent the taxpayers of Crystal Lake by providing strong financial oversight of our school district; ensuring that we provide the best education that we can for our kids while staying within our budget.
Key Issue 2
Another primary issue is to be an engaged board member. I am accessible to our taxpayers, parents, and our school district administrators and staff. I make time to visit our schools to develop a first-hand understanding of the issues of the day and to celebrate our successes. I devote adequate time to reading my board packets and asking questions, to ensure a thorough understanding of the issues at hand, and to ensure we are staying focused on our district goals and objectives, as stated in our strategic plan. I stay abreast of current issues though general publications as well as the publications and practice aids and live training provided by organizations such as the Illinois Association of School Boards.
Key Issue 3
A third primary issue is to ensure we are focused on our mission statement, ""Educational excellence for all students is our passion and our commitment."" Whether we are discussing finances, technology, or curriculum and the punitive law we call No Child Left Behind, we want to make sure we put our students and their ability to learn and achieve first. It is important to understand that while our government evaluates us based on one test on one day -- and only in certain subjects -- there is so much more to preparing our students for the future and ensuring we provide that excellent education. Not all students will become engineers or scientists. We must expose our children to a well-rounded education so they can find their own way. This means providing a substantive curriculum in fine arts and humanities. I believe that, at District 47, we need to provide a more substantive "encore" program and I am committed to making this happen.
How satisfied are you that your district is preparing students for the next stage in their lives, whether it be from elementary into high school or high school into college or full-time employment? What changes, if any, do you think need to be made?
District 47 is considered a high-performing school district, as is our high school district 155. Our kids are performing well compared to other schools in McHenry County, the state, and around the nation. They are graduating high school and going to college in higher than average numbers. This is all good.
While there may be some challenges to educational continuity by not being a consolidated unit district, I believe that we are better off because of it. We can truly focus on what is best for our K-8 students and that can be very different from the needs of a high school student. While I think there is room for improvement in the area of preparing our students for higher learning, our districts have established a framework for inter-district communications between administrators, principals, and teachers of the high schools and our middle schools. I would like to see this continue and expand. Hopefully time and continued communication will benefit all. Most importantly, our district 47 and 155 superintendents enjoy an open, collaborative relationship and that flows from the top down.
While I believe both our districts are focused on providing a high quality college prep curriculum, I do not want us to ignore other areas of study. Once our students arrive at high school to pursue a college prep path, they have little time to take a class in fine arts and humanities. We need to recognize that middle school may be the last chance for some students to receive instruction in these areas. To that end, I would like to see district 47 offer enhanced encore classes to expose students to a variety of studies and provide a well-rounded education.
We are doing very well in the math and science curricular areas but I would like to acknowledge that there are many careers outside of math and science. I would like to do more research in this area but I worry that we short-change the educational experience by limiting exposure to career opportunities in the arts and the trades.
What budget issues will the district have to confront? What measures do you support to address them? If cuts are needed, be specific about programs and expenses that should be reduced or eliminated. Do you support any tax increases for local schools?
I refer to our current financial situation as a "perfect storm." This is true for almost all school districts in Illinois today. We are experiencing declining enrollment and declining property values. There has been little or no new growth. The consumer price index, which determines the increase in property tax revenues that we will receive, was .01 last year. All of these things diminish our revenue stream but by far, the biggest problem looming over our school budget is the fact that the state of Illinois is in serious financial trouble and there is concern for the state's ability to pay its bills. State payments to schools are late with no regard to how the school is to pay its own bills. During my tenure on the board our general state aid has been cut almost in half. All of these items contribute to that perfect storm of financial problems and that is why so many school districts are in financial trouble today.
In district 47 we are weathering that storm better than most. Our board and Superintendent enjoy open communications with our state legislators, Senator Althoff and Rep. Tryon. They are advocating for our schools and our taxpayers down in Springfield. Additionally, I am proud of our board and our school administration, past and present, for having a financial policy of keeping a healthy reserve for this "rainy day." We are able to weather this storm without making the kind of "knee jerk" reactions that are happening in school districts around the state. We have used some of our reserves to balance our budget without having to cut staff or programs. Lastly, our teachers' union has been a partner with us in these hard times and were willing to agree to a fiscally responsible contract that will help us get our budget back in the black without layoffs or program cuts, which is in the best interests of our students and our long-term success.
Because of the fiscal responsibility exercised by our board and administration, past, present, and fully expecting this to continue in the future, I do not foresee the need to consider a tax increase in the near future.
Is experience as a teacher or support from a union valuable because it suggests educational insights or detrimental because it creates pro-teacher bias? Please clarify whether you have such experience or would accept union support.
I believe a good board should represent a cross-section of the community. Whether one is an accountant such as myself, an attorney, a business owner, parent, teacher, senior citizen, or some other skill set, we all bring something to the table. While I feel strongly that we are running an 85 million dollar business and business acumen is a virtue on any board, I also know that diversity is also very important.
I do not believe our local unions support school board candidates. I would hope to gain support from union members individually simply because I have been a good board member, I do my homework, I am accessible, and I am a proponent for excellent education for our kids and I do it in a fiscally responsible manner. I am honored to receive the vote and support of any individual in our district.
As contract talks come up with various employee groups, what posture should the board take? Do you believe the district should ask for concessions, expect employee costs to stay about the same as they are now or provide increases in pay or benefits?
Negotiating contracts with our collective bargaining units is always a delicate process. Listening and understanding is key. I am proud to say that our board has a healthy relationship with CLETA, our teachers' union. Together, we negotiated a fiscally responsible contract that was ratified last summer, that saved jobs without cutting educational programming. Both sides were willing to make concessions. Our teachers agreed to a one-year salary freeze, followed by two years with annual increases equal to _ of the Consumer Price Index. This was a win-win agreement for our district, our teachers, taxpayers, and most of all, our kids.
If your district had a superintendent or other administrator nearing retirement, would you support a substantial increase in his or her pay to help boost pension benefits? Why or why not?
This is an age-old practice used by many school districts and an area that I always struggle with. This practice is unheard of in the private sector and I daresay that, by and large, our taxpayers find this unacceptable. However, by providing the incentive, we guarantee a notice of retirement that is sufficient to provide for transition. Additionally, we typically replace those veteran administrators who are paid a higher salary with candidates having fewer years of service and therefore the effect is a much lower overall cost to the district and our taxpayers.
To address this situation at district 47 we have implemented an administrator cost-reduction program, which I supported. One facet of this program was to cut the previous administrator retirement incentive in half. While the new program still provides a guaranteed increase for a period of years prior to retirement, the increase is less, as is the number of years over which the increase will be paid. This was one component of a reduction package -- which included a pay freeze -- that has provided substantial savings in our budget in the area of administrators' compensation. Again, I am very proud to be part of an organization where our board, teachers, and administrators have all made concessions to ensure that kids come first.