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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: Village of Lakewood
Office sought: Mchenry Commmunity College School Board (6-year Terms)
Family: Married 27 years, wife Erin, four children, Brittani, Morgan, Rachel and Keith.
Occupation: President of Plexus Financial Services, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisory Firm that specializes in the fiduciary oversight of Corporate Retirement Plans.
Education: BA, Management, North Central College, Naperville, IL. MBA, Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University in Chicago.
Civic involvement: Candidate did not respond.
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
Restoring Public Trust I have always been a passionate supporter of the vital role of the community college, having personally gone down an educational path that included attending community college before I went on to ultimately earn an MBA from DePaul University. I firmly believe that community colleges are the future of the national, state and local economies. They provide a quality education at an affordable price to both traditional students, as well as to those who seek to upgrade or reengineer their skills in order to remain competitive. As I enter the fourth year of my volunteer service to the college on the foundation board, I recognize that there is an opportunity to improve the public perception of MCC by restoring public trust. Establishing and maintaining trust requires an understanding that McHenry County College serves an extensive list of stakeholders with interests as diverse as the county itself, from students to faculty, administration and taxpayers. I will actively seek input to understand the needs and perspectives of all stakeholders and demand full transparency as the Board discusses and debates ways to address these needs. I will show respect for public input and feedback as I consider every Board decision. I envision McHenry County College, as an institution, becoming viewed as the cornerstone of our community and I look forward to taking actions that restore public trust and reshape the positive image of the college across the region.
Key Issue 2
Legislative Advocacy and Intelligent Policy Development I look forward to playing an active leadership role as a steward of the institution through participation in legislative advocacy and intelligent policy development for McHenry County College. Identifying opportunities to actively represent the college at the national, state, and local levels will be a top priority during my service as a trustee. The five strategic areas where I will focus my on-going commitment include: recognition and advocacy for McHenry County College; student access, learning, and success; McHenry County College leadership development, economic and workforce development, and global and intercultural education. As a 25-year resident of McHenry County and President of the college foundation, I have developed personal and professional relationships within a variety of organizations that provide a venue for legislative advocacy, including: the Illinois Community College Trustees Association and members of the Illinois General Assembly, the American Association of Community Colleges, the McHenry County Council of Governments, the McHenry County Economic Development Corporation, and a collaborative effort between the Board of Trustees and the Friends of MCC Foundation Board. I look forward to leveraging these relationships to help inform intelligent policy decisions and secure resources that will benefit McHenry County College.
Key Issue 3
Private Funding for Capital Expansion There has been a controversial effort underway, initiated by a Board of Trustees? supported feasibility study, to determine the viability of an aggressive expansion plan with corresponding financing scenarios. Projections are as high as $42 million. One of the proposed funding options, which appears to be driven by a desire to circumvent the requirement to go to referendum, would involve Alternative Revenue Bonds. In fact, Alternative Revenue Bonds do not eliminate the exposure to financial risk for the taxpayers, and I would not support such a financing option. The issuance of debt certificates has also been discussed, and again I would not support such a direction without public input, since the funding would be derived from the college's operating budget, which is subsidized primarily through local tax dollars. I would support a referendum for any and all initiatives of this magnitude which directly or indirectly require public funding. If any feasibility study establishes a value proposition that proves to be in the public's best interest, I believe it should prove to be compelling enough to capture the necessary taxpayer support to move forward. I have heard comments from some of the leadership that infers that the current board would not move forward with an Alternative Revenue Bond approach if they weren't totally assured that there would be a revenue stream generated from the proposed capital project that would insulate the taxpayers from financial risk. I would contend that nobody has a crystal ball, and moving forward with these assurances would be a breach of fiduciary duty and obligation to the taxpayers of McHenry County. As the feasibility study will likely conclude, there are a number of industries experiencing or projecting talent shortages that would benefit from the expansion of educational services in these industries. Based on my 4 years of experience on the college foundation board, and extensive experience in sales, finance and fund raising, I am confident that private funding opportunities exist for any expansion that is supported by economic need.
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?
McHenry County College had the highest rate of growth in student head count and full time equivalent enrollment in the last 5 years of all community colleges in Illinois. Demographics, economic cycles and technology innovation all play significant roles in short and long term growth, as well as dramatic shifts in demand for such growth. I believe flexibility and mobility must be embedded in the college's strategic response to this never-ending challenge. As the current President of the college foundation board, I have had the privilege of viewing, first hand, the positive ways that the college is addressing these changing needs. Flexible options, such as later classes, weekend class offerings, online programs, combination programs that include both online and classroom teaching, dual-credit programs and leveraging existing buildings throughout the county for satellite location offerings, are all prudent practices that I fully support. In addition, albeit in its infancy stages, I believe public/private partnerships are imperative to McHenry County College's ability to meet the workforce demands of tomorrow. There are more than 140,000 unfilled jobs in Illinois, and the college serves as a major resource in the development of programs that bridge the gap between workforce needs across the state (and most notably throughout McHenry County) and an educated and skilled workforce that meets those needs. My definition of a business partnership begins with a foundation that involves a shared financial investment, and if the college is going to continue to be the incubator for that workforce development, private enterprise needs to make significant investments in those critical resources. I look forward to leveraging my extensive experience in sales and fund raising to effectively contribute to the college's effort in developing these partnerships and securing these investments.
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?
Many economic predictions are pessimistic. Some reports that pertain to Illinois? economy specifically contend that for every 100 jobs of the future, 24 are at risk of going unfilled due to a lack of skilled employees. If we can't find solutions that close this projected gap, our state is at risk of falling victim to quality employers relocating to areas with talent pools that enable them to remain competitive. McHenry County College is positioned to contribute to the bridging of this skills gap now and in the future. The college must continue to ensure that the focus is on completion rates and the continuous improvement of this critical metric. If a student walks through the doors of McHenry County College, the probability that he or she will walk out with a degree or career certificate needs to continue to increase. Strategic initiatives we undertake should center on the continuous improvement of completion rates as well as the connection rates of students to the workforce. Improving college and career readiness begins with the institution's leadership promoting collaboration, and I look forward to contributing to and supporting collaboration between high school and college faculty, as well as collaboration between the college and employers. We need to continue to support work McHenry County College has underway to promote dual credit and improve transferability. Students can save time and money by enrolling in freshman level classes at the college while still in high school, and the college needs to continue to collaborate with public and private four-year institutions to ensure that dual credit courses are accepted as college level credits and applied toward bachelor's degree requirements. Finally, it will be important to create new advisory boards and career programs with input and buy-in from local employers to ensure students pursue and subsequently earn degrees and certificates that will lead to good-paying jobs.
Is a tax rate increase needed and, if so, how do you justify it?
As a public community college, McHenry County College is funded by a combination of local property taxes, tuition, fees, and a declining level of state assistance. I am mindful of the financial realities of our state, as well as the risk of more financial burden being shifted to the college. That being said, I fundamentally believe that the trend toward increasing taxes, coupled with decreases in services, often to support underfunded pension systems or pay increases that exceed the CPI, is simply unsustainable. Operating under the premise that going to the taxpayers for tax increases is acceptable as alast resort? is not an acceptable approach or philosophy. If we don't find alternative solutions for adequate funding, if we can't achieve improvements in operational efficiencies that lead to cost savings, the institution will eventually collapse. As the current President of the Friends of McHenry County College Foundation Board of Directors, and past Treasurer and Finance Committee Chairman, I have been privileged to meet and collaborate with many extraordinary people involved with the Foundation itself, as well as throughout McHenry County, whose generosity of time and talents is very humbling. Hundreds of individuals, businesses, organizations and foundations have given gifts to the foundation. The foundation exists to build community and financial support for the college and provide opportunities for deserving students. I believe that improving the collaboration between the college and the foundation board can lead to efficiencies in financial planning and its alignment with strategic initiatives. It will be imperative that we continue to seek innovative ways to leverage existing resources to improve performance. The Illinois Board of Higher Education is working on a fair and equitable system to allocate a portion of state resources to higher education institutions based on student success. Measures proposed include, but are not limited to, degree and certificate completion rates, transfers to four year institutions, and remedial and adult education advancement. I believe enhancing and maintaining the alignment of the college's focus with the state's uniform ways to measure success will prove invaluable to the college's financial well being. Sharing our continuously improving results with the public will contribute to the resurgence of confidence in the institution, and lead to increases in private funding and resources to support the inevitable growth needs.
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?
McHenry County College is no exception when it comes to the many resources it extends to the diverse population of McHenry County. In the past 5 years, more than half of the students at MCC enrolled in developmental math. To reduce this need for remedial classes, MCC is developing a summer bridge program where high school and college faculty teach side by side to better align their coursework and ease the transition to college. MCC has also increased dual credit programs and developed new a curriculum with a focus on manufacturing, most notably surrounding robotics technology. To compliment these critical initiatives, I would like to see McHenry County College become involved in a program Waubonsee Community College piloted, known as the Voluntary Framework of Accountability for the American Association of Community Colleges. This pilot developed measures that for the first time will allow colleges to compare their data with peers and more accurately gauge employment information. Waubonsee's data collection included the promotion of proficiency credit; identification of current and former students that require only a course or two for degree/certificate completion; the search for specific certifications that enhance the employability of baccalaureate and master's degree holders; and the consideration of college systems and processes that inadvertently obstruct student's ability to pursue degree/certificates to completion.
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.
I genuinely believe that McHenry County College, as an institution, should be the pride of McHenry County, and I look forward to contributing to the reshaping of a positive image of the college within the community. I believe that I can play an active role as a steward of the institution through participation in legislative advocacy for MCC, intelligent policy development and being a prudent fiduciary in the oversight of the college budget, and would consider it a privilege to serve the community and this college that I am so passionate about in that capacity. I believe I am the only candidate that can bring both experience and a fresh perspective to the College Board of Trustees. I am entering my fourth year of volunteer service on the Friends of McHenry County College Foundation Board of Directors. I currently serve as the President and Executive Committee Chairman, following 2 years as the Treasurer and Finance Committee Chairman. This service has provided me with practical experience and expertise regarding the College's assets and needs. As a newcomer to the Board of Trustees, I would also bring a fresh perspective, particularly as it relates to capital needs assessment and the opportunity to refocus any efforts at expansion on private fund raising rather than taxpayer funding. Professionally, I am the President of Plexus Financial Services, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisory Firm that specializes in the fiduciary oversight of Corporate Retirement Plans. I hold designations as an AIF (Accredited Investment Fiduciary), and an AIFA (Accredited Investment Fiduciary Analyst). We have become one of the first investment advisor firms in the country (there are less than 100) to successfully complete the Centre for Fiduciary Excellence (CEFEX) independent global assessment and certification process. CEFEX promotes fiduciary best practices in the investment services industry. The independent assessment is based on the international standard, ISO 19011, and independently assesses adherence to the prudent practices related to the Global Fiduciary standards of care and the trustworthiness of investment fiduciaries. Other candidates may promise to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money, but I have the credentials and professional experience to support my qualifications in the area of financial management. I have always been a passionate supporter of the vital role of the community college. I genuinely believe that MCC, as an institution, should be the crown jewel of McHenry County, providing a quality education at an affordable price to both traditional students, as well as to those who seek to upgrade their skills in order to remain competitive in an ever-changing economic landscape. I began my own education at a community college before going on to earn a BA in Management from North Central College in Naperville, and an MBA from the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University in Chicago. While some may claim to be passionate about MCC, I have demonstrated my passion for the institution through my service on the Foundation Board and active participation in numerous fund raising activities that support MCC and its students. My wife, Erin, and I have been residents of McHenry County for over 25 years, having raised our four children here in the area. We have demonstrated our commitment to the community throughout the years through various leadership roles. In addition to my role as the Friends of MCC Foundation Board President, I also currently serve on the Citizen's Panel for the First Offender's Program in McHenry County, having been appointed by the McHenry County State's Attorney's Office when the program originated in 2010. The Citizen's Panel provides a second chance to first-time offenders who have been charged with non-violent felonies. In this role, I have witnessed that a lack of higher education is a common theme in the cases we have reviewed, reinforcing my already strong commitment to providing affordable educational opportunities to those in need throughout our community. I believe that the Board of Trustees has a responsibility to solicit and act on the input received by residents of McHenry County. This important role as an active listener begins now. I would look forward to hearing from you, you can share your thoughts, questions and ideas with me through email at MikeSmithMCCTrustee@gmail.com.