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Article updated: 2/22/2013 6:28 PM

Bill Harrison: Candidate Profile

Wheeling District 21 School Board (4-year Terms)

Bill Harrison, running for Wheeling District 21 School Board (4-year Terms)

Bill Harrison, running for Wheeling District 21 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.

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BioKey IssuesQ&A

 

Bio

City: Buffalo Grove

Website: Candidate did not respond.

Office sought: Wheeling District 21 School Board (4-year Terms)

Age: 53

Family: Married to Deborah for 23 years. Two sons: Alex, 21 a senior in Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ben, 19 a sophomore in Music Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Occupation: Attorney

Education: B.A. in Economics/History University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 1981 J.D. DePaul University College of Law 1984 Illinois Association of School Boards Master Board Member Illinois Association of School Boards Leadership Academy Fellow

Civic involvement: Volunteer Chess Instructor Indian Trails Public Library

Elected offices held: Wheeling Community Consolidated School District 21 Board of Education 2001-present

Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No

Candidate's Key Issues

Key Issue 1

Through the hard work of the Board of Education and the Administration, School District 21 has maintained a balanced budget for the past 10 years. This was accomplished in the face of the difficult economic times we have gone through and a decrease in funding received from the state. Given that the State of Illinois remains in a difficult financial position and is likely to further decrease education funding and/or pass additional costs onto local school districts, we must maintain our focus on containing expenditures while still providing a quality, well rounded education to our students.

Key Issue 2

Under the direction of the previous Superintendent, the District began to take steps to improve communication with parents and the community. We must continue and expand upon that effort under our new Superintendent. Such an effort will result in more timely information reaching parents and a greater level of transparency and trust within the community. It will also allow District 21 to showcase its successes with the community at large.

Key Issue 3

We must continue to improve on educational outcomes for all students. We need to align our curriculum with the coming Common Core standards, we must continue to improve our bilingual program, we need to challenge all students to meet their highest potential and we need to continue to strengthen our use of technology, all to better prepare our students for high school and beyond.

Questions & Answers

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?

While it is difficult to make a specific comment or analysis on standards not yet fully released, it is useful to have a common set of standards when attempting to look at academic accountability on a national basis. I hope and expect that the standards will go beyond math and reading to also encompass science and social studies. It is in these areas that national standards have encountered difficulty in the past. The board of education has a significant role in curriculum standards. Not only must the board ensure the curriculum is aligned with both Common Core and additional state standards, but it can look to raise its goals above and beyond the minimum required. This would be important if the Common Core standards are not particularly strong. Until such time as we can fully review the Common Core standards it would not be relevant to make specific suggestions for changes in the curriculum. I would like to see us continue to strengthen our science offerings.

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?

While I believe that District 21 does a very good job in preparing its students, as evidenced by the fact that the two high schools our students graduate to are award winning schools, we can never be satisfied with the status quo. We can and must continually work to improve the educational outcomes for our students. We have instituted a program review cycle for the purpose of reviewing our programs to improve them educationally as well as financially. The district must continue to closely evaluate its curriculum to ensure optimal opportunity for success for its students.

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?

We have maintained a balanced budget for the past 10 years, but as a matter of policy have not built up large reserves. This leaves the district vulnerable to the economic downturn as well as decisions by the state to reduce funding and impose new unfunded mandates. We are currently projecting to maintain a balanced budget for the next three years. This estimate however is based on certain assumptions as to revenues and expenses. Should circumstances change, we would first look to the expenditure side to make up any shortfall. At the present time, there is no reason to consider an operating fund referendum to increase taxes.

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 current contract with our employee union, we were able to obtain a 1 year hard freeze (one of the first in the area) followed by raises in subsequent years based on a percentage of CPI increase. It was this contract that allowed us to extend the number of consecutive years that we have passed a balanced budget. The current contract extends through the 2013-14 school year. As we move toward that negotiation, I would propose to explore creating a two-tiered salary structure which would maintain the current method of compensating teachers already employed by the district while creating a structure for new hires which would reduce the number of salary lanes and lengthen the time that an employee may stay at a certain step. While this may not create immediate savings for the district, the long term benefit to the district and its property tax payers may be significant.

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?

Pension spiking is an issue for both administrators? and teachers? salaries, for the state budget and for its impact on school district bottom lines. A creation of the state legislature, it is one of the items that is likely to be significantly changed as the Illinois Legislature attempts to resolve the pension crisis. Whether we are speaking of an administrator or other employee, their compensation should reflect their contribution to the district and not their future pension benefits. Illinois and its school districts can no longer afford this benefit to public employees

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