The River Trails Elementary District 26 school board will look much different after the April 9 election, no matter which of the candidates are elected.
There are four seats up on the board this year, and no incumbent has decided to run again. Instead, voters in the Mount Prospect-based district will choose among five candidates all seeking their first terms on the board.
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The candidates -- Kathleen Beck, Scott Breiler, Rathna Koka, Dan Miller and Julia Nemcek -- recently talked to the Daily Herald about district finances and what inspired them to run.
Beck is a retiree who spent 29 years working for the district in a variety of roles, from bus driver to administrative assistant for the superintendent. She put her two children through the district and hopes to keep serving it as a school board member.
"This district and community have done so well by me," she said. "I'd like to keep giving back."
With regard to district finances, Beck said her priority would be seeking out new revenue sources.
"We have a district foundation that I think is underutilized," she said. "A group like that can raise quite a lot of money. We also need to reach out to the businesses at Randhurst and the Kensington Business Center, form better partnerships with them."
Beck believes the school reserves level, which is at about 60 percent of operating revenue, is too high. She would work to hold the line on property taxes for residents, but acknowledges that many financial challenges, including the unresolved issue of pension reform, are on the horizon.
"I think we might have already missed our chance to give current residents a deserved break," she said.
Breiler is an instructor with Mad Science of Northern Illinois, a group that brings science-education programs into schools. He has two children at Euclid Elementary School.
"I believe it's important for parents to be on the school board, because they tend to be the ones with firsthand knowledge of what's going on," Breiler said. "I'm excited about this opportunity."
Breiler believes the district has done a good job overall managing its finances, especially when taking into account the still-sluggish economy. He believes the most recent property tax levy -- a roughly 3-percent increase for existing property owners -- was reasonable, though he said close scrutiny of future costs is a priority, particularly with the state's financial picture so uncertain.
Breiler said he looks forward to exploring the district's financial process in greater detail.
"Just like anyone else, I don't want to see my taxes increase, but I think that up (until) this point, the district has provided an excellent education for the money."
Koka, a scientist, has one child in the school district. She said she was inspired to run for the school board in part by the good work she saw being done by the principal and teachers at Euclid Elementary School.
"I've been amazed by what I've seen, and I'd love to do what I can to be a part of it," she said.
Koka said the district's budget "appears healthy now," adding that long-term sustainability should be the key goal of its financial efforts. She said she's worried about the effect pension reform and other decisions at the state-level will have on the district. Because of that, she's not troubled by the district's reserve levels.
"It allows us to deal with budget shortfalls without compromising our students' education," she said. "Education has to be our ultimate focus."
Koka added that the district should intensify efforts to connect with tenants of the Kensington Business Center. Those companies could probe to be an invaluable financial resource, she said.
Miller works as a chief financial officer for a local business and has two children in the district. He said he thought his financial background would be an asset to District 26.
"I'm also the son of an English teacher, so I've long believe in public service and education," he said.
Miller believes the district has managed its finances prudently so far, and he supports the district's reserve levels. He doesn't object to modest tax increases, given the rising costs of personnel and health care. But he hopes that residents will have to bear less of the district's overall tax burden in the near future.
"Some things are happening at Randhurst, for instance, that should reduce residents' share," he said.
In the meantime, Miller said the board needs to be vigilant about finding new efficiencies, such as doing more group purchasing.
Nemcek, the library coordinator in Wheeling Elementary District 21, is a Mount Prospect native and an alumna of District 26 schools. She said when it came time to find a place to raise a family, District 26 is the first place she looked.
"I really love District 26," said Nemcek, who has two children in the district. "And I think it's important for parents with kids in the schools to be on the board."
Nemcek said the recent 3 percent tax levy amounts to a worthwhile investment in both the children of the district and the community as a whole.
"I don't like paying more in taxes -- nobody does," she said. "But when I looked at it, I realized that it ensures that our schools remain strong, which in turn benefits everyone who lives in the district."
Nemcek said ongoing economic challenges, while real, shouldn't keep the board from exploring new technologies where possible.
"We have to be realistic, because yes, there's a limit to the money we have," she said. "But I think keeping up with technology is absolutely vital to the continued success of our students."