Voters will see at least two new faces on the DuPage High School District 88 Board of Education after April 5.
Current members Olga Flores and Jim Luebker opted not to run for re-election, leaving four seats open in April. Incumbents Sharon Kucik and Mark Johnson are running to keep their posts, while Mark Turk, Timothy Gillen, Raymond Kielminski and Lisa Lullo each hope to win a seat.
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The district faces a unique situation, since both Addison Trail and Willowbrook high schools just completed $115 million in renovations funded by a voter-approved tax increase that transformed them into state-of-the-art learning facilities.
But as a result of both the Illinois budget crisis and the low sales and property taxes generated by the recession, District 88 faces a $1.9 million shortfall that already has cost 39 staff members their jobs.
All six candidates answered questionnaires, while most also participated in interviews, to explain what qualifies them to deal with this challenge. They also offered insights on how to handle it. These are their edited comments:
Gillen: I have lived in Villa Park since 1969, both my sons graduated from Willowbrook and I was proud of the education they received. Now I have something to add as budgets are tight and we must do the best we can with money available. As a Villa Park taxpayer, I don't want to pay more.
(We must) see where the extra expenses are that could be cut, and use state and tax collected funds wisely.
I also don't see us being at odds with the teachers unions. I see us needing to put together a small raise for them; a larger increase when the money isn't there doesn't make sense. I think it's only fair we ask the teachers to pick up a little. We've been contributing to the schools and I think they need to come to the table and meet some criteria, too.
Johnson: This is my 12th year on the board and I've been president for past eight years. I did some soul searching about running again, but colleagues pointed out I know the history of the district.
When the shortfall first hit, the board decided not to make all the cuts in one year. This was partially to see the impact on the children, and partially us hoping things would turn around. Since they haven't, we have created a financial committee that will create a strategy for cost containment.
When we must cut a teacher, we are careful to mitigate the impact it has on all the intervention programs. It is possible we will soon have to let go about 15 to 20 instructors. And we must also add 10 minutes to the day, which will allow us to absorb that hit and continue offering quality education.
Finally, I was disappointed when talks for a pay cuts with the union stalled last year. But as a result of those meetings, the union has reached out and meets with board members monthly because they are also concerned for the students. We're moving forward with a mutual trust.
Kielminski: I have more than 10 years experience as a board member in our feeder (Saklt Creek Elementary) District 48. During my tenure, we've also dealt with significant financial problems, hard negotiations with teachers unions and done things that have improved the district dramatically. In addition, there are no current board members who represent that feeder district's community.
With the District 88 budget, you clearly have to look at all areas for cuts. Anything farthest away from students and out of the classroom is the first thing you look at, as well as programs not being fully utilized. As a board member, you're not supposed to have your mind made up ahead of time, so I cannot speak decisively until seeing feedback from the administration.
Ultimately, both the district and unions are looking out for the kids. I've dealt with this, and the big thing is developing and maintaining a trust. The math doesn't change and we all have to accept we can't spend money we don't have.
Kucik: My first year on the board was a learning experience and now I am into the flow. I am running again to have continuity, since I know what we've been doing with our programs and finances.
Last year we took a hard look at the budget and cut 39 positions. This year, we hope to lessen cuts by having teachers take on an additional period of teaching. The day may also extend from five to six periods and we would not cut necessary classes.
The classes we have decided to cut are low enrollment. We've also bumped the requirement from 15 to 18 enrolled students in order for a class to proceed. But to make sure students have enough time to work with their counselor and find another class if theirs is canceled, the cutoff day is now March 1.
We want what's best for the students. And we know any long-term teaching contract (ours are historically three years) must be well looked at. We have to reel in raise tracks that allow 6 percent increases. I don't want to negate years of service, but we can negotiate something on a smaller scale.
Lullo: I have four children who have gone through District 88 and this is a good opportunity to give back. I grew up in Addison and went to Addison Trail, so I know the community and the district, In addition, I work for a local municipality and understand the workings of a taxing body.
District 88 must look at the cuts it's making carefully, since you still have to deliver education regardless of the economy. We must explore difficult choices like whether there is a way to cut nonessential personnel.
I also think the teachers and unions understand that everybody in local governments are making cuts again, not just school boards. They are starting to think there are concessions that could be made. This is key since the taxpayer is strapped, especially with the state income tax increase.
Turk: District 88 must continue to thrive despite the mess in Springfield that has affected all schools. The state withholding funds has hurt. Reminding ourselves we are a "kids-first" board, any proposed cuts or reductions in programs or services must be examined diligently. It may also come down to finding additional revenue sources besides tax increases; we challenge and require our students to be creative and engage in critical thinking, therefore we must demonstrate the same effort.
Budget cuts are generally one-time "fixes." What do you do next year? I never saw any organization "cut" its way to success year-in and year-out. But I am not convinced a tax increase is now necessary.
I have also been a teacher and I have managed a department for a company with 11 different craft unions. Experience in these types of environments offer valuable insights. However, it comes down to trust and how well people can work together to achieve a common goal in the best interests of the students.
There are plenty of intelligent, reasonable people on all sides and with trust, good faith and open communication, a mutually acceptable agreement can be reached that is in the best interests of the students and the community.