Brenda Vishanoff: Candidate Profile
West Chicago District 33 School Board (4-year Terms)
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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: West Chicago
Office sought: West Chicago District 33 School Board (4-year Terms)
Family: Husband Bob and 3 children in d33 schools: Rebekah, Josh and Benjamin.
Education: BM Johns Hopkins University, MM from Northwestern University and Aurora University, currently in a doctoral program at NIU
Civic involvement: District 33 school board and various committees, PTO involvement, supporter of various West Chicago initiatives
Elected offices held: District 33 school board since 2008
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: no
Key Issue 1
Ensuring that all d33 students are learning at high levels
I am proud of the student learning growth that d33 children have experienced and the unique programs and successes that District 33 has celebrated, especially over the past few years. Students who are struggling need to be given extra time and support. We also need to find ways to challenge our top learners. District 33 recently began a partnership with ECRA, a firm that will help the district study data from various assessments, evaluate programs, and improve instruction throughout the school year. This should guide our decisions as a district.
Key Issue 2
Fiscal responsibility in difficult economic times
I believe there are significant challenges facing the district in funding sources and I would like to continue to find solutions for these challenges that do not increase taxes and that have the least negative impact on student learning. During my school board term, I would like to see continued fiscal responsibility. This means educating the public on school funding and our current financial status and then gathering input for future decision making. It is important that we live within our means while rewarding our employees as generously as possible.
Key Issue 3
Strong relationships among staff and community
Among the school board's most important roles are the employment of the superintendent and the creation of policies and procedures that ensure accountability in the spending of tax dollars. Healthy relationships among school board members, school administration, and school staff are also crucial to achieving the best educational conditions for students to learn. This also includes respectfully listening to stakeholders, concerned public, and each other in decision making. I am committed to contributing meaningfully to team leadership and development as I serve on the d33 school board.
What do you think about the shift to the common core standards? How big a role do you think the board of education should play in setting the curriculum for students and what ideas do you have for changes to the current curriculum?
Beyond question, there is a growing centralization of US public school education. Common Core curriculum standards are one example of this movement. The benefits of Common Core standards are several-fold. One, students living in most states in the US will learn the same concepts at any given grade level. This will ensure students have more equitable learning conditions and possibilities. Two, funding sources are increasingly tied to the district's adoption of common core curriculum. So, aligning curriculum to common core is also fiscally responsible.
The local board of education should set policy that ensures students are taught curriculum aligned to common core. School districts have great latitude in how the learning components of common core are delivered. Instead of using just one text book, teachers can now pull from many resources while teaching the common core components in the classroom. These resources can include traditional textbooks, online learning tools, and class activities that engage students and allow them to learn in different ways. This is a very challenging shift for many teachers but with support from administration, boards of education and, most importantly, other teachers, this will result in improved instruction and higher levels of learning.
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 33 is preparing students for academic success in high school. Students are also being given ways to contribute to their community and develop personal talents in such areas as art, music, athletics and government. Unfortunately, under the current No Child Left Behind legislation, most schools in the US are considered failing schools. However, many students in d33 are learning at high levels. Those students who struggle are being given extra support so learning is achieved. The district also continues to dialogue regularly with the Community High School d94 to ensure students are prepared for high school.
75.9% of District 33 students are low income and 53.1% are limited-English proficient. Those percentages are well above the state averages and well above most other collar county schools. Yet, d33 students show continued growth in academic success. District 33 recently began a partnership with ECRA, a firm that will help the district study data from various assessments, evaluate programs, and improve instruction throughout the school year.
What budget issues will your district have to confront and what measures do you support to address them? If you believe cuts are necessary, what programs and expenses should be reduced or eliminated? On the income side, do you support any tax increases?
At our December 2012 town hall meeting with the community, we shared that state funding for many grants and special programs are being reduced or eliminated. The state continues to fall behind in scheduled payments and has begun to omit payments. Cash flow is tight and uncertain. State reimbursements for transportation dropped from 80% to 20% this past year. Pension reform is eminent but still unknown. The impact of the federal sequestration in our district could be significant.
District 33 is among the poorest of elementary school districts in DuPage County. We already have one of the highest property taxes in DuPage County for education. Yet, there is no community that I would rather live in. Our community works together in incredible ways and children are the beneficiaries of our community teamwork.
It would not be prudent to ask our community for an education fund increase at this time. Raising taxes is not an option. So, in light of this fiscal reality, we must ensure continued strong leadership of our unique district. I would resist using additional fund balance to compensate for state budget shortfalls since doing so could jeopardize our financial rating as a district and put us below the desired 25% fund balance. We must remain fiscally responsible in every area of spending. If we do so, we can continue to keep the financial realities from impacting student learning as much as is possible.
I would resist cuts in programming or other financial decisions that would directly impact the classroom and/ or negatively impact student learning. Given the state's budget health and the economic challenges beginning in 2008, district 33 had to make major budget cuts. In addition to department budget reductions, some staff was also reduced. I agreed with this decision because of the financial realities we were facing. However, I hope we can reinstate many of these reduced programs in the near future.
As contract talks come up with various school employee groups, do you believe the district should ask for concessions from its employees, expect employee costs to stay about the same as they are now or provide increases in pay or benefits?
In our most recent contract settlement, both the board and teachers made concessions in order to pass a budget that was fiscally responsible. Because of the financial condition of the state of Illinois and the escalating federal funding issues, districts must openly share the financial condition of the school district with employees and together work to find ways to live within our means. It is important to keep district salaries as competitive as possible to attract and keep highly qualified teachers. We need to continue to work to find ways to reward d33 staff for their successful and tireless work on our students behalf, ensuring student learning in very challenging times.
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?
The practice of substantially increasing an administrator or teacher's salary right before retirement has been a long standing tradition in Illinois. However, the time has come to reform this practice and sunset these programs. The state budget is already in crisis and the Illinois pension system is broken. Traditions such as the pre-retirement boosts will only continue to compound our state budget problems.
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