Scott Miller, 4 years: Candidate Profile
Millburn Elementary D24
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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.
Office sought: Millburn Elementary D24, 4-year term
Family: I am married and currently have 3 children in D24; 6th, 4th and 1st grade. My fourth child will begin K in D24 this fall.
Occupation: Employed at Northwestern Mutual
Education: BS University of Iowa, MS University of Illinois
Civic involvement: Youth Sports Coach and Board Member of Lindenhurst Area Soccer Club (LASC)
Elected offices held: n/a
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No.
Key Issue 1
To establish a short\long term strategy which ensures D24 remains a top district in Illinois. This is accomplished by positioning ourselves so we are a desired district for teachers and are capable of recruiting\retaining top educational talent.
Key Issue 2
We must increase our cash reserves and still fund our core curriculum. We can do this by pushing the costs of "extras" to those who participate, better utilizing technology and research changing our district from geographical schools to a grade center concept.
Key Issue 3
Look to grow the current curriculum. We can't operate with the mindset that we'll always be in the current financial situation. We need to be prepared to grow our school and grow our educational opportunities to keep pace with other top districts. This again comes from having a short\long term strategy for the district. I would like to see increased "extras" be reviewed\piloted, such as foreign language and increased technical training.
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?
I'm very proud of how our D24 students have performed on standardized tests. We have an excellent core group of teachers who prepare our kids for formal testing and give them the foundation necessary to be successful in High School level courses. I've spoken to high school principals and have listened to the reports given by our school administration. These reports consistently state how well prepared our children are for High School. We need to ensure we continue to position ourselves so we can recruit and retain top educational talent.
I would like to see the district continue to stay abreast of technological advancements such as e-readers and on-line book options. This is a viable future option which can alleviate the yearly textbook costs and management of those textbooks.
The only frustration I've had in recent months is the lack of a short\long term strategic planning. We talk about the changes we need to make for next year but we have failed to address our options for the following years. If we're cutting teachers and increasing class size this year, what is our plan for the 2012\2013 school year if the financial woes continue? I was happy to see starting in March the district will begin an engagement with an outside agency with the hopes of developing both short\long term strategies. I would like to see part of the short\long term strategy look at piloting additional "specials" such as foreign language. I would also like the district to look at an optional all day K program.
Some districts have begun to offer this on a fee basis. That fee offsets the potential teacher cost. In some instances the all day K cost has been less than a family would pay for day care.
This could be an attractive solution for the district. (I would like to note that my wife currently stays home so the need for day care does not affect me.) We also need to review the long term pros\cons of moving from two K-8 schools to grade centers. These grade centers for instance may be split K-4 and 5-8 or possibly a more traditional K-5 and 6-8.
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?
The district like all districts in the state needs to address the shortfalls in state funding. When your budget is designed with x amount of dollars coming from the state and in some programs you get 50% or less of that funding our district does not have the reserves to offset the loss of state funding. So unfortunately we've had to cut members of our teaching staff. I believe cutting our teachers is a slippery slope. It may help to offset the budget but at what costs to the students 2-3 years down the road.
I do not believe we can sustain the documented increase in class size for more than 2 academic years. At this time we need to look at what's most important for our school. That answer should be educating our children. We should manage our budget accordingly by moving money from the extra-curricular budget which offsets costs of sports, band, etc and move that money to the core academic budget. (I have children who participate in sports in D24. The total cost to sponsor a school sport and other non-academic extra-curricular activities should be funded by the parents until the district is able to increase their cash reserves.)
The "extra" academic activities such as Honors program, academic teams and the spelling bee should continue to be funded by the district. These activities are related to core academic achievement and are critical for D24 to be a desired district in Illinois. (I currently do not have children who have participated in the Honors program or academic teams in D24. I have had a child participate in the spelling bee.)
We need to research moving to grade centers this would allow us to close the redundancy of services we currently provide at both schools. The largest impact to our budget is salaries and benefits we need to work with our teachers to keep those costs static for the short term.
At this time I do not support a tax increase simply because the current board has not provided a short\long term plan for how those funds will be utilized. The exception to this is they've stated teachers would not need to be cut for the 2011\2012 academic year. But what happens if state funding continues to lag? Do you we ask for an increase again? What happens if state funding returns to 90%+ of expected contributions? What do we do with the surplus? Do we invest in new resources and build the curriculum? Do we invest the money and build our current cash reserve?
We currently have a 3-month reserve. This is adequate to obtain a bond rating but ideally we would like to have a 6-month reserve. These questions need to be answered before you can ask the community for additional tax revenue. We also need to look at our state\federal leaders to decrease the current minimum lending amount of 500K
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.
Our district currently does not have a union. However, I would like to be viewed as pro-teacher. To me that means I'm in favor of fostering a strong administrative group, open-minded school board and strong parent support to give our teachers the best working environment possible. I would like to give teachers the benefit when utilizing new and ground breaking teaching technologies and theories. I think we need to set yearly objectives for our teachers and hold them accountable to achieving those objectives. Give them the support to think outside the box and grow as educators. I do not have personal experience as a teacher but would accept support from our current teachers. I would welcome meeting with our teachers so they understood my positions on topics they see as critical and supported me for the right reasons.
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?
In the current environment we must look to keep employee costs as flat as possible. If that means we work on a 1-year contract with a salary freeze, I believe that is a viable option and one which should be presented to the teachers.
Again it comes down to what the single most important goal of D24 should be. That is educating our children. We need to look at how many teacher positions could be saved by freezing salaries for a year. Unfortunately, D24 is looking at a 10% increase in health care costs for the 2011/2012 school year. We need to look at passing some of this onto our teachers. We shouldn't expect our teachers to absorb the entire 10% increase, nor should the teachers expect the district to absorb the entire 10% either. The current D24 budget allocates 83% of that budget to teacher salaries and benefits. That's actually higher than the national average of 80%.
Another option I'd like to see the board investigate it potentially offering early retirement to teachers. Why ideally you don't want to see your quality seasoned teachers leave. If those teachers are set to retire in a year or two and you could potentially save the job of an exceptional young teacher the board should have the data available to weigh the pros\cons of this type of program
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?
Absolutely not. Its decisions such as these which financially cripple a district. You've agreed upon a contract with the administrator\teacher and paid them for the job they've been contracted to do. The "golden parachute" has no place within public entities.
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