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Office sought: Oakton Community College School Board (6-year Term)
Family: Husband - Howard Tennes, Attorney, married 26 years Son - Thomas Berry, Evanston resident, software engineer Daughter-in-law - Sandeep Berry, Evanston resident, information technology recruiter Daughter - Carly Tennes, high school student
Occupation: Director of Marketing and Communications, Village of Skokie Since 1998
Education: Bachelor of Arts - Columbia College, 1986 (with honors) Master of Public Administration, Roosevelt University, 2000 (with honors) Also attended Oakton Community College, 1982 to 1985 Graduate of Maine West High School
Civic involvement: Board/executive committee member - Skokie Festival of Cultures (since 2000) Board/executive committee member - Chicago's North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau (since 2002) Board member/secretary - Centre East Metropolitan Exposition Office & Authority Board (since 2004) Board/executive committee member - Independent Merchants of Downtown Skokie (since 2012) Member - Women's Board, Skokie Hospital (since 2011) Member - Skokie Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Task Force (since 2010) Committee member - Wednesdays on the Green, Skokie (since 2010) Committee member - Local Government Communicators Committee, Northwest Municipal Conference (1998 to present; chairman, 2000-2001) Captain - Women's tennis league, Tam Tennis, Niles (since 2012) Member, volunteer - Niles West Athletic Boosters (since 2010) Chairman/member - Zoning Board of Appeals, Park Ridge (1999 to 2010; chairman, 2001 to 2010) Co-President - PTO, Washington School, Park Ridge (2003-2004) Board member - Glenview Chamber of Commerce (1995-1998) Volunteer driver - Home Delivered Meals, Skokie (since 1998)
Elected offices held: Trustee, Oakton Community College 2007 to present
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
Providing the best possible education opportunities to all constituents, whether recent high school graduates, those already in the workforce who need additional job skills or re-training, or senior citizens seeking knowledge and enrichment.
Key Issue 2
Providing the best possible education opportunities to all constituents in a fiscally prudent, responsible manner that balances tuition and taxes and that optimizes outside revenues (grants, endowments, user fees). I am proud that Oakton Community College has the lowest tax levy rate of the five community colleges in the collar counties. In 2011, Oakton's tax levy rate per $100 of equalized assessed valuation (EAV) was 19.60 cents; the next closest community college of the five in the collar counties was 21.80 cents by the same index. In 2010, Oakton's tax levy rate per $100 EAV was 16 cents compared to 20 cents of the next closest community college in the collar county area. Protecting taxpayer interests is paramount; resources must be maximized to accomplish this while still providing excellent, progressive education opportunities for all constituents.
Key Issue 3
Maintaining affordable tuition and fees for all Oakton Community College students. Oakton's current tuition, inclusive of fees, is $98.35 per credit hour. This is the lowest rate of the five collar county community colleges; the hourly tuition rates at the other four schools range from $7.65 to $37.65 per credit hour higher than Oakton's. Since being elected to the Oakton Community College Board in 2007, I have championed passing through the lowest possible tuition increases. When tuition increases are unavoidable, they have been approved in two-year increments so that students can plan for the financial impact. The increases have always been considered in concert with representatives from the Student Government Association. Further, students are currently assessed a $2 per hour construction fee (included in the $98.35 fee cited above). When this fee was considered by the board, I suggested - and my fellow board members agreed - that the fee 'sunset' in 2016 at which time the board would need to reconsider and vote on whether the fee is still necessary given that the current $70 million capital project will have concluded.
With enrollment up at my many community colleges, it can be challenging to keep pace as far as available classroom/lab space, the number of qualified teachers and available course work options. How would you manage that?
Oakton Community College is currently undergoing a nearly $70 million capital improvement project that includes construction of a Science and Health Careers Instructional Building at the Des Plaines campus, remodeling existing lab and classroom space, technology improvements and more. The new building, and other improvements, are being implemented after careful study of career trends and increased demand for health care career training. The college has a talented, dedicated full-time faculty who continually seek professional training and best-practices in their respective areas of expertise. Oakton Community College also relies on many qualified, dedicated adjunct or part-time professors who provide the college with flexibility relative to course work and training program options.
In tough economic times, many students (and working professionals) turn to a community college for its educational value. How do you ensure that a person's financial sacrifice results in an educational benefit?
Oakton Community College continually strives to provide the best possible, most progressive education at an affordable tuition rate. There is a continual concentration on student success and expansion of programs to ensure success for Oakton students. For example, the college recently re-tooled its new student orientation program to make an all-day college success seminar a requisite for recent high school graduates enrolled at the college. In addition, the college routinely examines job and career training trends and adjusts schedules/programs accordingly so that students are able to achieve success in the classroom and, most importantly, in the workforce.
Is a tax rate increase needed and, if so, how do you justify it?
Oakton Community College has the lowest property tax rate of the five community colleges in the collar counties outside of Chicago. My fellow board members and I have worked hard to make the best use of resources and keep the tax rate low. The college receives millions of dollars in grants from outside sources each year, which supplement property tax revenues, student tuition and fees and uncertain state funds. Property tax increases are approved in as modest increments as possible to continue to provide the community with excellent education opportunities.
Community colleges provide many services to a diverse population. Is there a service your college should be providing that it is not, or reaching a segment of the population that it is not?
Oakton Community College reaches out to all segments of the population: recent high school graduates, established workers who need re-training or additional job skills, senior citizens seeking enrichment through emeritus classes, children through on-campus learning programs and families through various non-credit courses and cultural offerings. The college also offers English as a second language courses at dozens of community centers throughout the district. These classes, and those to provide job skills training enhancements must remain at the forefront of Oakton's service to the district.
If you are a newcomer, what prompted you to run for the community college board? If you're an incumbent, list your accomplishments or key initiatives in which you played a leadership role.
1. During my tenure on Oakton's board, I have worked hard to keep property tax and tuition increases as low as possible. I provided leadership in approving tuition increases in two-year increments to allow students the chance to budget and plan for necessary cost adjustments. 2. I have championed increased public/private partnerships, such as the NE3I - the Nanotechnology Employment, Education and Economic Development Initiative that makes nanotechnology education and job training accessible for high school and college students in Oakton's District. Headquartered at the Illinois Science + Technology Park in Skokie (former GD Searle campus), NE3I was created in 2012 as a partnership between Oakton Community College; Forest City Enterprises; NanoInk, Inc., the Village of Skokie and NSERVE, a consortium of nine local high schools. The partners share a common goal of training 125 to 300 local students each year to address an increasing and substantiated need for a workforce that is trained in nanotechnology. With increased trained workers, it is expected that additional nanotechnology firms will locate at the Illinois Science + Technology Park and elsewhere in northern Illinois. The initiative has received an impressive amount of public and private funds: $250,000 in funds from the Village of Skokie as the initiative fosters vocational training and promotes economic development at the Illinois Science +Technology Park; $10,000 from the Dr. Scholl Foundation and $250,000 in funds from The Chicago Community Trust. 3. During my tenure as Chairman of the Board from April 2011 through March 2012, I recommended and the board unanimously approved a local purchasing resolution. I believe it is imperative that, whenever possible, Oakton Community College procure goods and services from businesses within Oakton's district. Local procurement is often not possible, as vendors for various commodities used by the district - such as copier paper - are not located in district or, when local vendors exist, they are not the lowest bidder. While I do not advocate local purchasing at a premium cost, I believe it is the college's obligation to spend funds locally on discretionary purchases, the costs for which are often passed through to participants, as in the case of various banquets and social functions hosted by the college. I will continue to champion local procurement, in a fiscally responsible manner, if I am elected to a second term. 4. During my tenure as Board Chairman from April 2011 through March 2012, the board approved a master plan for a nearly $70 capital improvement project that is necessary to continue providing increased and top-quality instruction in health care sciences. I am particularly proud that $20 million of the project funding is being provided by the college's reserve funds, with sufficient reserves remaining to maintain Oakton Community College's AAA bond rating. Another $5.5 million in project funds are being sourced through state, federal and private grants, including from the Oakton Community College Educational Foundation. A total $3 million in funds are coming from student reserves and fees, and I championed a five-year 'sunset' clause on the $2 per credit hour construction fee students began paying in summer 2011. Finally, some $40 million of the project funds are in the form of general obligation bonds that were purchased at an optimal market rate. The project is currently on schedule and nearly one percent under budget. Classes int he new Science and Health Careers Instructional Building are anticipated to begin during the summer 2014 term. 5. I am pleased with the progress Oakton Community College is making relative to recruiting and retaining employees from diverse populations. For example, African Americans comprise 4.7 percent of the district's population (2010 census), 6 percent of the Oakton student body are African American, and 8.5 percent of the college's workforce are African American. There is more work to do, however, in ensuring that Hispanics, Asians and multi-race individuals are appropriately represented in the college's workforce. Overall percentage of employees from underrepresented groups has increased from 17.7 % in 2002 to 21.98% in 2012. The college's Affirmative Action Program and goals will continue to be pursued in an effort to increase the diversity of Oakton's workforce to reflect the diversity of Oakton's district. 6. As the Board liaison to the Oakton Community College Educational Foundation, I am proud to be involved with the Foundations fundraising efforts that will not only make a significant contribution to the current capital improvement project, but more importantly, provide in excess of $600,000 annually in student scholarships. 7. I am proud of the continued, numerous and varied national recognition afforded Oakton Community College. In 2011/2012, Oakton was named a "Military Friendly School" in G.I. Jobs Magazine, achieved national re-accreditation for the college's nursing program, received a National Science Foundation grant for the STEM program, received a National Space Foundation grant for a NASA technology competition and more. In 2010/2011, Oakton received a Conservation and Native Landscaping Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an Equity Award from the Illinois Community College Trustees Association in recognition of Oakton's progress in workforce diversity, and more. Oakton Community has a proud record of serving the community with excellence for more than 40 years, and I hope to continue to provide leadership on the Board of Trustees and uphold Oakton's tradition of excellence in education.