Emmons District 33 candidates differ on teacher, technology spending

Maintaining Emmons Elementary District 33’s quality education while providing students the proper technology and fairly paying teachers are chief among the five Emmons school board candidates’ concerns.

But they don’t all agree on what exactly the proper technology is or what constitutes paying teachers fairly.

Laurie Christophersen, Bruce Gottermeyer, LeaAnn Kercheval, Paula Norkus and Benny Yee are vying for four 4-year seats on the board of the single-school, Antioch-area district with about 325 students. Christophersen is seeking her second term on the board, and Gottermeyer is seeking election after he was appointed to the board in late 2011.

The school district just completed negotiations with the teachers union over the teachers’ next three-year contract. Christophersen said the talks went well and teachers are expected to vote to approve the contract next week.

The teachers are at the lower end of the pay scale in Lake County while they are some of the best teachers, said Christophersen, a retired medical practice administrator. Unable to give contract details before the teachers and school board approved it, she said the district was able to help with teachers’ pay a little bit.

“We won’t be rising to the top of the scale, I can tell you that,” she said. “We have a fiscal responsibility. ... We were able to make some progress.”

Gottermeyer, a business banker, said he thinks the teachers are doing a good job and hadn’t anticipated problems coming to terms with them.

“I think they’re realistic,” he said about the teachers. “They know the economics of the area, and I don’t see any unreasonable demand.”

The average Emmons teacher’s salary was $47,624, according to the 2012 state report card for the district.

Yee, a Lake Zurich firefighter and paramedic, said he would like to bring Emmons’ teachers salaries up to those of other Lake County teachers.

“The teachers are what it’s all about,” he said. “They can bring a positive or negative aspect to the school. If they’re compensated properly, they can bring a positive vibe to the students.”

Norkus, a health and group benefits consultant, said she believes Emmons teachers are “grossly underpaid,” but if their salaries were to be brought up to market value, she wouldn’t give raises universally afterward. She prefers how raises are given in the corporate world, through individual evaluations.

“If there is a teacher who is not engaged, they should not be equally rewarded,” she said.

Kercheval, a former paraprofessional with the Emmons district, also believes teachers’ raises should be based on performance — students’ scores, in particular.

And Kercheval would rather make sure the technology is upgraded at the school. She said she’d like to see students get iPads, and the computers in the school updated.

“What’s more important, the teachers or the kids?” she said.

Gottermeyer said giving all students iPads is less important than providing more and better computers in the school itself.

“Is it vital that they all have iPads? I’m not so sure about that,” he said. “ ... That’s probably on the wish list, but I don’t see that happening immediately.”

Norkus said the district has to take care of the teachers before spending more on computers. “If you have no teachers to come to work, then you have no one to use the computers,” she said.

Christophersen said the district has boosted the school’s technology in the past couple of years, with teachers using whiteboards and Wi-Fi available throughout the school. She said wireless access to the Internet is more important than students all getting iPads.

“When you’re wireless, you can do a lot with less equipment,” she said.

Yee said he would like the district to pursue grants and fundraising to boost the district’s technology. “That is the way of our future, I think.”

Among the top campaign issues the candidates listed in Daily Herald questionnaires, both Yee and Gottermeyer noted keeping the Emmons district independent from Antioch or any other school district.

“I’d like our schools to remain separate, as our class sizes are ideal,” Yee said.

The district’s average class size was reported as little as 13 for first-graders and as high as 23 for third-graders in the 2012 state report card.

Gottermeyer said the district can and should maintain such low class sizes — and that means the state shouldn’t shift pension or other costs to the school district.

If it did, that would leave the district no choice but to lose teaching positions and increase class sizes, he said. “I just can’t see overburdening the community with property taxes,” he said.

Christophersen said there’s no reason to consolidate Emmons with any other school district.

“We’re responsible,” she said. “We’ve been able to keep the district fiscally sound and still provide our children with a high-quality education. ... We’re an example.”

Norkus said the small class sizes explain Emmons students’ good performance. “I firmly believe it’s due to the student-teacher ratio,” she said. “ ... I wanted to make sure my son went to Emmons.”

Kercheval listed among her top issues improving communication between the school board and the parents. “People complain at meetings, and the board does nothing,” she said.

For District 33 school board

Benny Yee
Paula Norkus
Bruce Gottermeyer
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