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.
Office sought: Palatine Twp. Elementary D15
Family: My wife Yvonne and I have two children who attended District 15 schools from kindergarten through 8th grade and currently attend Palatine High School. Jenna is a senior and Becky is a sophomore.
Occupation: IT consultant specializing in contract consulting work through the firm I own - Chicagoland Systems.
Education: - Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1982
- MBA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1991
Civic involvement: I have been involved for years in communicating with the District 15 community through District 15 Parents Involved in Education (D15PIE, www.d15pie.org), which I founded in 2005. A primary mission of D15PIE has been to research, analyze and explain subjects such as No Child Left Behind AYP results, School Report Cards and district budgeting/financial issues.
Elected offices held: Candidate did not respond.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
One key issue is improving education results for all District 15 students. Although the District and its teachers overall provide a very good education, like any organization significant improvements can be made. For example, approximately 20-25% of students required summer refresher courses before entering Palatine and Fremd High Schools last fall based on the results of EXPLORE tests taken in 8th grade.
While District 15 shouldn't ""teach to the test,"" these results show we can do better in educating children in District 15. The District also needs balanced objectives that focus on improving results for all children, not only those who are on the border between reaching/missing a target test score.
The current Board has not provided sufficiently challenging and specific education goals for District 15. I've scheduled a series of meetings with community members and the District 15 Administration to get their input on Board-level goals for District 15. The schedule for public meetings with community members is posted on my campaign website at www.ScottHerr.org.
Key Issue 2
Another key issue is fiscal responsibility, which was illustrated by the bond referendum that was defeated 2 to 1 by voters last November. The current District 15 Board passed a resolution in March 2010 to issue $27 million in bonds. I became involved shortly afterwards and helped collect and defend the 7500 petition signatures that put this question on the ballot in November. I then joined the leadership team of Citizens for Accountability in D15, which evaluated the bond proposal and recommended voters reject the referendum.
If $27 million in bonds had been issued, the District 15 June 2010 fund balance would have been $82 million, which was double the Board-approved target fund balance of $41 million.
For most residents, over 60% of their property taxes can be attributed to District 15 and District 211. School boards recommending additional debt or an increase in taxes have an obligation to make a clear case to the community. But the current Board never explained why they wanted to raise so much money in excess of their own target fund balance.
Just like all residents in the district, District 15 must live within its means.
Key Issue 3
The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) notes one fundamental duty of the Board is to connect with the community and says the Board should ""engage in an ongoing two-way conversation with the entire community.""
The current Board has not taken this approach. This is illustrated by their handling of the bond issue that was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin in November. The District 15 Board didn't engage in a public dialogue to explain why they thought they should issue bonds to put an additional $27 million in the bank.
A more recent example is the Board decision on January 12th to reject a proposal that would have improved openness and transparency. As noted in the District 15 Board Briefs, the Board voted against creating a policy prohibiting the Board President from reviewing and/or revising the draft meeting minutes before they are presented to the rest of the Board for approval. The Board also voted against a proposal requiring all motions to be recorded as spoken. The Board members who voted ""no"" didn't clearly explain why they don't support this proposal that would have improved public perceptions about board openness and transparency.
Another obstacle to the open communication policy recommended by the IASB is the limitation on public communications to a 5-minute one-way ""Citizens Address the Board"" item on the meeting agenda. Citizens who make the effort to address the board have no way of knowing whether their communication was understood, had merit in the eyes of one or more Board members, or any indication whether action would be taken.
Would you support reductions in staff, specifically classroom teachers, in order to reduce projected deficit spending? If not, what specific budget cuts do you propose?
The current Board unfortunately approved contracts that increased costs beyond the District's expected revenues. According to District 15's January 12th forecast, the deficit is expected to grow from 3% of revenues this year to 8% of revenues in the 2015-16 school year. The Board asked the District 15 Administration to come to the February 9th Board meeting with a specific list of possible budget cuts with a focus on avoiding impact to student programs and current instruction. These cuts would be my first choice in balancing the budget.
If this effort to balance the budget is unsuccessful, my recommendation would be for the Board to direct the District 15 Administration to form a team to look at all spending with input from teachers, staff and the community to identify any spending that doesn't add value to the core mission, which is teachers educating students.
It should be noted the vast majority of District 15 spending is for salaries and benefits, as one Board member pointed out at the January Board meeting. Unless we are successful in finding other savings, this would mean the next choice would be reducing the increases that exceed inflation. Any further reductions would only be taken after exhausting every other option.
How would you prioritize capital projects? Is the board's direction to budget $2 million annually on capital projects enough? And would you tap into reserves to fund those projects?
Most large capital projects can be planned years in advance. My approach would be to ask for an annual capital projects plan that specifically identifies as many projects in advance over a 3-5 year horizon. The number one priority is projects that affect the health and safety of our schools.
The Board asked the District 15 Administration to bring a specific capital project list to the February 9 Board meeting. Although $2 million annually may be enough on an ongoing basis, the current Board has been postponing some projects resulting in a backlog of projects. Until the administration presents its list on February 9th it is too soon to know whether $2 million will be enough for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
A key question to determine whether each project should be done now would be: Would postponing a project significantly increase the total cost of the project or are there health and safety issues involved? If yes, then I would support using part of the $14.5 million excess fund balance to do those projects now.
How do you attempt to create equity in District 15, a large elementary district with diverse demographics? What further steps can the schools that have struggled with No Child Left Behind standards take?
The word ""equity"" can mean different things to different people and I encourage people to share their views on this subject with me. As the question notes, District 15 is a very diverse district. This diversity can be seen in some of the largest population subgroups: 29% Low-Income, 28% Hispanic, 20% Limited-English-Proficient, 14% Asian/Pacific Islander, and 11% with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).
All children are individuals and each has his or her own way they learn best and their own unique needs. Fortunately, current Illinois and federal laws provide additional funding for many of the children who require greater resources to reach their potential. For me the highest priority is providing all children in the district the opportunity to learn and succeed.
I've started meeting with the District 15 Administration to get a full understanding of current District 15 policies focused on meeting the wide variety of needs of District 15's diverse population. My subsequent meetings with District 15 will focus on understanding the corrective action plans that NCLB law requires for schools that don't meet ""Adequate Yearly Progress"" (AYP) targets. For 2010 there were three District 15 schools that didn't reach AYP targets. A fourth school made AYP in 2010 but not in 2009.
One focus of these meetings will be on what Board-level policies and goals can be established that help schools meet NCLB standards while not forgetting about the large number of students not missing AYP targets. Following these meetings I'll post additional information on my campaign web site on this topic.
It should be noted there are significant flaws in the current No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). One flaw that Assistant Superintendent Mary Zarr noted at the January 18 Navigate15 meeting is NCLB annually escalates target levels, which means the vast majority of schools nationwide eventually would not meet ""Adequate Yearly Progress."" The new Elementary and Secondary Education Act under development by Congress will hopefully address these flaws.
The bottom line is District 15 should strive to do the best it can for all kids to get what they need to grow and succeed.
What impact do you think the Navigate15 process will have on Dist. 15, and what can be done to ensure the community is engaged in the process? How should the board incorporate community input into future initiatives?
Navigate15 is a good start at engaging with the community and my hope is Navigate15 will improve relations with the community and that participants will continue to stay involved. To-date the only subject covered in Navigate15 meetings has been curriculum so it is too early to know the ultimate impact of Navigate15. One significant challenge of the Navigate15 leadership team will be to extrapolate the input from the 100-150 community members attending to accurately represent the opinions of the approximately 100,000 residents of District 15.
Simply put, Navigate15 is one of many ways of working together with the public. Another example is a Citizens Curriculum Advisory Council that District 15 is considering. And for specific issues my experience has been that District 15 is generally responsive to direct communications with teachers, principals and staff.
Regarding future initiatives, my view is any significant initiative should include townhall-style meetings with Board member participation in advance of decisions being made by the Board. This kind of community input can be highly effective in making sure the best decisions are being made.
Would you support another tax increase referendum? Why or why not?
No, I would not support another tax increase referendum. It is imperative the District 15 Board and administration resolve the imbalance between spending and revenues. District 15 had a June 2010 fund balance of $55.5 million, which was $14.5 million above the Board-approved target fund balance of $41.0 million. District 15's budget for this year shows spending exceeding revenues by $3.7 million.
By acting promptly to balance the budget, more of the extra $14.5 million in the bank will be available to address the current backlog of capital projects instead of funding deficit spending.