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Article updated: 4/7/2011 6:12 AM

Palatine District 15 newcomers plan to make campaign rhetoric a reality

Newly elected Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board members Manjula Sriram, Scott Herr and Gerard Iannuzzelli say they plan to live up to their campaign pledges to rein in spending, but hope doing it transparently will ease concerns that they are anti-teacher.

Newly elected Palatine Township Elementary District 15 board members Manjula Sriram, Scott Herr and Gerard Iannuzzelli say they plan to live up to their campaign pledges to rein in spending, but hope doing it transparently will ease concerns that they are anti-teacher.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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The slate of challengers who swept out a trio of incumbents from the Palatine Township Elementary District 15 school board are out to show their hard line on ending deficit spending, reining in teacher pay and boosting educational results isn't just rhetoric.

But Scott Herr, Gerard Iannuzzelli and Manjula Sriram realize putting their platform into practice will prove a tall order.

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"It's certainly a huge task and will require significant effort by the board and administration," Herr said.

To start, the newcomers know they must overcome the perception that it's them vs. the teachers.

Incumbents Gerald Chapman, James Ekeberg and Dave Seiffert were seen by many as more teacher-friendly. Herr said Superintendent Scott Thompson forwarded him an e-mail from someone concerned the election could result in cutting program assistants, and he knows there are more people with similar worries.

To reverse that mentality, the members-elect say they plan on being much more open, transparent and responsive than their predecessors.

"The teachers don't want larger class size and program cuts any more than we do," Herr said.

Sriram, the energetic mom and curriculum-focused member of the slate, envisions holding round tables or office hours before board meetings so that the community can become more informed before a vote is taken. She also wants the board to debate more during meetings and respond to citizen comments when it can.

Iannuzzelli, the civic-minded member, added that the meetings need to remain positive and not be ruled with an iron fist.

That basic shift, they say, will help make tangible changes a reality.

The newcomers also hope they can use their position as the new board majority with member Tim Millar to make progress on their platform -- an advantage outgoing member Sue Quinn said can't be underestimated.

"It's been a situation where the minority wasn't able to effect a lot of change and we didn't get our input in," Quinn said. "But now, the minority isn't as far away ideologically as the majority."

Quinn also believes Herr, Iannuzzelli and Sriram will benefit from a mood conducive to bringing people to the bargaining table in good faith.

Though not the only cause, the challengers maintain the current teachers' contract is largely responsible for projected deficit spending. Salaries and benefits for all employees account for 83 percent of spending in District 15.

But walking the fine line between building a productive relationship with the unions and asking for concessions will be difficult.

Herr, the numbers guy, said the board has to engage in fact-based, clear communication and attempt to work collaboratively.

"The district, like everybody else, needs to live within its means," said Herr, adding that the time to act is now, before deficit spending increases beyond the current 3 percent.

Besides speaking with teachers about reopening their current contract, which expires Aug. 31, 2012, Herr drafted a plan to eliminate deficit spending. The plan includes forming a team of teachers, staff and community members to identify spending that doesn't involve the core mission of educating students.

He also wants the district to prepare a more complete capital projects plan that discloses whether postponing a project would significantly increase costs or result in safety issues. The roof at Sanborn School, for example, is listed as due for replacement, but still has five to 10 years of life on it, he said.

Chapman, the current board president and former superintendent of Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211, said it takes a while to get a base of knowledge and hopes the new members are willing to commit themselves to that.

He also said relationships go a long way to allowing agreements that suit both sides.

"There has to be a joint understanding about the tough financial circumstances and the role the union has in representing the best interest of its members," he said. "It remains to be seen how they'll do."

The new members will be sworn in at the Wednesday, April 27, board meeting.

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