Matt Lyons: Candidate Profile
Palatine District 15 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.
Office sought: Palatine District 15 School Board (4-year Terms)
Family: My wife, Chanda, and I have been married for 14 years. We have two daughters who happily attend kindergarten and 2nd grade in District 15.
Occupation: I am the Chief Information Officer at Geneva Trading, a mid-sized trading firm based in downtown Chicago.
Education: Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics, Purdue University, 1997 Master of Science in Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington, 2002
Civic involvement: Host family with Safe Families for Children
Elected offices held: Candidate did not respond.
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
Children First The board is called upon to make a wide variety of decisions, and it is important that the impact to our kids is always considered when making policy and resource decisions. Whenever making a decision as a board member I want to ask myself,How will this impact the safety, education, and well-being of our children??
Key Issue 2
Improved Communication and Collaboration We should build on progress made over the last two years in being transparent and open to input from the community, administration, and district employees. Although the board is limited by law in what its members can say publicly, I believe there is room for additional, proactive communication from the board and the administration.
Key Issue 3
Budget within Our Means We don't have infinite resources available to spend, so we need to be good stewards of the money provided by the taxpayers. This requires that we regularly consider what expenditures are really needs (?must haves?) versus wants (?nice to haves?).
In recent years, Dist. 15 has had contentious relationships between the board and teachers, teachers and the administration, and on the board itself. What is the root cause of this, what problems has it caused, and what must be done to improve it?
I believe contention has been high at times for various reasons, including differing philosophies in how the district should be run, difficult economic circumstances, competing priorities, and communication problems. These challenges might have been overcome more easily had there been greater trust between all the groups. In the last year or two, I believe that cooperation and collaboration has been improving within the district, and it still can be improved further. There is a certain amount of contention that is hard to eliminate completely because of the nature of relationships mentioned here. For example, when employment contracts are being negotiated, each side is going to have different priorities that might be mutually exclusive. However, there are several things that can be done to improve trust and collaboration within and between the various groups: 1) Shared acknowledgement of common beliefs Although there will be differences of opinion each group isn't diametrically opposed regarding all topics. For example, the ultimate focus of the school district is to help our children learn and grow into productive members of society. 2) Real effort toward transparency and communication When people feel like they are being deceived or ignored, it's hard to build meaningful trust and good spirit. 3) Understanding of differences and motivations We shouldn't try to hide from our differences, but instead we should recognize them and find a way to work together. Also, we need to understand the motivations driving each other to help recognize why we do what we do.
Should District 15 continue to hold onto the 40 acres in Inverness that was originally intended for a new middle school, or look to sell it?
There are two main, potential benefits I see from selling the property. First, selling the property would provide a one-time source of millions of dollars of revenue. Second, depending on its use, it could also provide tax revenues on an ongoing basis. Although it seems unlikely that a new school will need to be built on the west side of the district in the foreseeable future, there has been no expressed need for a one-time influx of cash in the short term. In addition, there is no clear buyer for the land who would use it for a taxable purpose. Thus, I would suggest we continue to hold onto the property until one of the following occurs: 1) We recognize a need to use the land for some significant purpose within the district. 2) We recognize a need for a one-time influx of revenue on the scale of millions of dollars. 3) A buyer approaches us with an attractive offer that provides a unique opportunity to the district and community.
How do you think District 15 has handled budgetary pressures in recent years? Amid the uncertainties of outside funding sources, are there ways the district could be more in control of its own destiny?
Although poor financial decisions were made that caused deficit spending several years ago, the teachers union, current board, and current administration have worked together over the past year ultimately leading to a new contract that should eliminate structural deficits. All involved should be commended for coming together and getting District 15 back on solid financial ground. Controlling our own financial destiny means controlling our revenues and expenditures as much as possible. About 80% of District 15's revenues come from local sources, meaning that we already rely less on the state and federal government than a majority of Illinois school districts. Increasing that percentage would likely mean either increasing property taxes or decreasing state and federal revenues, and neither option makes sense. On the expenditure side, we need to continue budgeting expenses within our means, differentiating between needs and wants. If more unfunded mandates are placed on the district, we should focus on finding ways to offset those new expenses without raising local taxes further to cover them.
How would you define the ideal working relationship between a school board and its administrators and teachers? To what degree does your school district represent this relationship now?
I believe the school board has to make hard decisions that balance the needs of students and their families, taxpayers, and employees of the district when setting policies and strategy with the administration. No single stakeholder should take absolute priority over the other two, nor should any single stakeholder be unduly sacrificed at the expense of the other two. I believe students deserve a chance to learn, grow, and succeed in an environment that excites and challenges them every day. I believe taxpayers need an advocate to help ease the burden of taxes currently being levied. I believe school district employees deserve respect and a healthy work environment that allow them to teach and care for our children. District administrators need to be empowered to organize activities between schools and manage district-wide needs. They should coordinate with the board to set the tone for how this will get done. Also, they should engage regularly with principals and teachers to measure and review how well the district's goals are being achieved. They should hold schools accountable for meeting the needs of their students and provide assistance as needed. Teachers are at the forefront of our mission of producing world-class learners. They should regularly provide progress updates to their principals, the district office, and parents. In addition, they should be encouraged to give feedback to principals and district administrators regarding things that aren't working well and how improvements could be made. I believe district employees want to be heard, understood, and appreciated. While I have not worked in the education field personally, both my wife and my sister spent years teaching in schools in Indiana and Washington state. I believe teachers and other district employees deserve credit for the time and effort they put into caring for our children. The biggest thing I see lacking in the relationships between the board, administration, teachers, and community right now is trust. If people don't believe that others will keep their interests in mind, they are less likely to cooperate and share information freely. I believe building trust will require communicating proactively, listening actively to feedback and concerns, being honest and transparent when making decisions, and really taking feedback into account when making decisions.
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?
The board of education should review the expected impact and appropriateness of curriculum changes proposed by the administration and teachers. In addition, the board should review actual impact once curriculum changes have been rolled out. Board members shouldn't be proposing new curriculum changes unilaterally, though. Common Core is being adopted by the state, so there is not much control at the district level regarding whether we go ahead with it or not. However, the board should pay attention to how curriculum changes such as Common Core are phased in and ensure the teachers are prepared to implement them. Common Core standards as a whole should raise the bar for student achievement. District 15 already holds high academic standards, so it might be less impactful for our district than some others. Regardless, I support updating our standards over time to raise the bar in academics, especially in subjects that are becoming more important in our world, such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
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