Robert Roop: Candidate Profile
Grayslake District 46 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: Grayslake District 46 School Board (4-year Terms)
Family: Married with two children
Occupation: Sales Engineer
Education: Bachelor of Science in Economics, Radford University, 1993 Masters of Business Administration, University of Miami, 2003
Civic involvement: Exchange Club of Grayslake D46 Education Foundation
Elected offices held: None
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: No
Key Issue 1
The school district faces a number of difficult challenges that cannot be solved if the board does not collaborate and cooperate to solve them. The board is going to have to make many hard and uncomfortable decisions over the next few years that will take energy, intelligence and creativeness. Poor quality decisions will negatively impact the education we provide our children as well as financial health and reputation of the district. We have to dedicate the best of our abilities to solving the problems facing our schools put, aside personal differences and be prepared to look beyond our opinions and ideologies.
Key Issue 2
The financial health of the district is my second priority. Over the past few years declining contributions from the state have seriously impacted the district's financial condition. Falling property values and the suspension of new commercial development in the Round Lake area have also impacted tax revenues. The district plans to spend about $40 million dollars during the current fiscal year which is about $1.2 million more than it will receive from local property taxes, state and federal governments. I fully expect the deficit to be worse than current projections because of additional shortfalls in state funding, the impact of new labor contracts, and inflation on the cost healthcare and transportation. In the last two years the board and administration have looked closely at discretionary spending and reduced the budget by several million dollars. The economy has begun to recover but many local families are continuing to struggle. As a result the board will have to ask the administration to sharpen their pencils again and will have to look at all spending including wages, benefits, transportation as well as operations and maintenance.
Key Issue 3
My third priority will be to address district transparency and strategic planning. I believe that CCSD 46 and the contributing communities of Third Lake, Round Lake, Round Lake Beach, Hainesville and Grayslake are a great place to live and raise a family. Quality schools are an important part of a strong community and the board must do more to insure that teachers, teaching assistants and support staff are appreciated for the invaluable service they provide to our children. In recent years members of the community have expressed concerns about the board's transparency. For example, budget and levy reviews seem to be scheduled at the last minute with a minimal amount of public notification. These meetings are legally required and have to take place at the same time every year. There is no reason that the board cannot schedule these meetings months in advance. In a similar vein, the format that information is presented to the public makes it very difficult to understand. For example, the school's budget is published every fall but the format makes it impossible to understand. I do not believe that this is intentional but the result is an uninformed public that cannot discuss the issues based on facts and data. Related to my concerns about transparency is what I perceive as a lack of strategic vision and planning. For example, the failure of some of our students to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as mandated by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) will have increasing prescriptive and punitive impacts on our district. It is my understanding that next year the parents of Avon students must be given the choice to send their children to other schools in the district. This will impact the district's transportation costs and may disrupt school staffing models and student-teacher ratios. This will have immediate financial repercussions in the 2013-2014 school year and has not been substantially acknowledged or discussed. Over the next few years the advancing bar of AYP and NCLB mandated actions will continue to impact the district's finances if corrective actions are not taken and district performance is not improved.
It's no secret there's been a lot of rancor among board members on District 46. What do you think needs to be done to foster more collaboration among the members?
Changing the nature of the board is my number one campaign issue. My motivation to form a slate with Jill Alfrejd, Steve Strack and Jim Weidman is to seat four new members that share a common view that our schools deserve better leadership. We want to change the combative nature of recent board meetings and put an end to the rancor and personal attacks. There are no incumbents running for re-election and we will have a unique opportunity when elected to change the demeanor and culture of the board.
How satisfied are you that your district is adequately preparing students for the next stage in their lives, whether it be high school, college or full-time employment? What changes, if any, do you think need to be made?
The students in CCSD 46 perform better than average on standardized tests and our top students are on par with the best students anywhere. However, we live in a diverse district and English Language Learners and Economically Disadvantaged students are struggling. These results are seen in AYP results for NCLB at Avon, Frederick and the Middle School. On the whole I believe that CCSD 46 is doing a good job of preparing students for high school and college but there are always opportunities to improve. However, stories of colleges and universities sending incoming freshman through remedial courses are well documented. Throughout the recent recession and recovery there has been a skills gap between the unemployed and the opportunities available in the job market that has been a drag on the economy. Some fields like computer numerical control (CNC) have seen persistent shortages of skilled employees. As a member of the school board I recognize my responsibility to insure that all of our students leave our schools prepared their next steps and future lives. Our children face a challenging and uncertain future and we cannot allow the financial difficulties of our school district to impact the quality of their education.
Many school boards are perceived to do whatever the superintendent recommends. Do you think this is a good way to operate? Please explain.
As Will Rogers saidschools ain't what they used to be and never was?. Public education today is complex and requires professionalism, specialization and experience. School boards might be unprepared for this complexity and could possibly over rely on the recommendations of the administration. However, the school board's function is not to micro-manage but to provide clear objectives and oversight for the district. There are recent examples of school boards in the area not providing adequate oversight or making an effort to understand what the administration was planning and doing. I have experience successfully managing organizations much larger than our school district and have developed skills for planning, budget and delivery. I am confident that I have the skills and intellectual capability to work with the board and to successfully oversee the school district.
District 46 is in a big financial bind with a more than $1.5 million deficit. What cuts do you think are necessary and what do you propose to prevent this situation from arising again?
For the current year the district's budget is approximately $40 million dollars. Per my analysis the district spends roughly 60% on wages and benefits; 12% on debt service; 6% on transportation, 3% on Special Ed and 7% on Operations and Maintenance. Taken together this is 88% of the budget. Most of the remaining 12% consists of grants that do not allow discretionary spending. We saw how little short term flexibility there is in the budget when the board spent several meetings and hours discussing a list of discretionary expenditures that were in the neighborhood of $2000 each. The rising costs of health insurance, transportation and wages coupled with shortfalls in state and federal and flat revenues from property taxes have created a mathematical certainty that even if the district levied the maximum amount the district will continue to face financial challenges. The board must insure that the community continues to receive a good return on its tax payments. Our students have above average test results yet we spend an average amount per student and pay our teachers average salaries. If the board fails we will undoubtedly end up in a high taxation district with a poor reputation for education and that will greatly harm both our children and property values. Meadowview was recently named to the State Academic Honor Roll. This is a remarkable achievement for the principal, teachers, staff and students. Why has Meadowview been able to accomplish so much with the same challenges and resources? Can we replicate what made Meadowview so successful across the district and perhaps save some money at the same time? We need to answer these questions.
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?
There was a recent article in The Atlantic magazine about the changes inherent in the common core standards that described them as beingmeant to reverse a pedagogical pendulum that has swung too far, favoring self-?expression and emotion over lucid communication?. We live in a community that depends on a highly educated and mobile workforce as result of large employers in the area like Abbott, Baxter and Motorola (Google). Common core standards can help to insure that students transferring in and out of district will not experience significant learning interruptions and make our community a more desirable place to live. There may also be opportunities to pool purchasing, training and administrative responsibilities for the new curriculum with neighboring districts. Certainly this collaboration should be easier now than before and afford the district some advantages. The common core sets a minimum standard and the district will have to make decisions on how to implement the standards by choosing and purchasing textbooks and learning materials. There are still plenty of important decisions that will be left to the local district.
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