Traci O'Neal Ellis: Candidate Profile
Elgin Area Unit D46
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: Elgin Area Unit D46
Family: Married to Rick 2 Sons, ages 20 and 17
Occupation: Attorney & Business Owner
Education: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Florida A&M University, 1986
Juris Doctorate, The Ohio State University, College of Law, 1990
Civic involvement: Graduate, Elgin Leadership Academy
Past member, United Way Allocation Panel
Past member, Community Crisis Center of Elgin Board of Directors
Past member, Hannah's Hope Board of Directors
Past member, Riverwoods Christian Center Board of Directors
Active member of Second Baptist Church of Elgin
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
A maniacal focus on academic success for all children.
Key Issue 2
Courageous fiscal management in the midst of a budget crisis and a broken education funding policy.
Key Issue 3
Engaging key stakeholders to 1) collectively lock arms and close ranks around our kids to ensure that in this school district community, our kids' education is our priority and that what's good for them, is what's best for us; and 2) change the perception of the District by actively promoting the great things happening in this District. Some school districts and schools are perceived as good only because they say they're good. But we actually are good, and we need to let the world know that.
What prompted you to run for U-46 school board? If you're a newcomer, how will you make a difference? If you're an incumbent, how have you made a difference?
I have a deep love & passion for U-46. I'm a product of this school district and both of my parents were long-time educators in the district. Further, I currently have a child in this school district, so I have a long history and connection with the district. What better way to give back than to serve in the place that is largely responsible for who I am today?
If elected, I will work hard to ensure that the voices of all key stakeholders are heard so that we, the board, have a balanced perspective in our decision-making. Additionally, I bring a fresh perspective to the tough issues that the board must deal with everyday.
With many area high school graduates having to take remedial classes before they can take college-level coursework, what can U-46 do to better prepare students for college?
Any discussion about college and workplace readiness cannot begin with high school students and cannot end with the school district alone. We have to engage all key stakeholders to create any meaningful change. Having said that, I fully support the benchmarks in the District's Destination 2015 Improvement Plan which starts with metrics for first graders and works its way up through twelfth graders.
Are you committed to eliminating U-46's operating deficit? The administration has set a goal of erasing it by the 2014-15 school year. Is that too aggressive or not enough? What areas would you target for reduction? Is anything off limits?
I fully support the elimination of the operating deficit by 2015, while recognizing that accomplishing that goal will be affected by future known and unknown factors. The sad fact is that several groups control school funding, most notably the state legislature. My intention is to closely monitor the financial picture with that goal in mind and to continue the board's efforts to engage our legislators around education policy and funding.
At this point, I don't have any pre-conceived notions about personnel and/or program reduction. I need to hear from the key stakeholders. What I do know is that reductions must be considered in the context of what's best for the students and therefore, we cannot indulge any ""sacred cows"".
With all union contracts up this year, how should the district approach negotiations? In light of the continuing deficit and state funding issues, do you support a salary freeze? If not, do you support contracts that tie increases to inflation?
The best negotiations always happen in an environment of mutual respect for each side's perspective and opinions, seeking alternative and creative possible solutions rather than taking intractable positions, and open and honest communication. However, it's premature for me to settle on a firm position on issues which haven't yet been framed, but I recognize that there are difficult decisions that have to be made by both parties. What's key is that I have a healthy respect for the union and the value it brings to the table, and I have the experience and temperament to build relationships, deal fairly and objectively, and make sound decisions on these tough issues.
While the district has not yet had to borrow to meet payroll, it has struggled with cash flow in recent months. What should the district do to manage cash flow so it will not have to rely on tax anticipation warrants? Should it restructure existing debt?
A mentor once told me that you cannot repeatedly ""save"" your way out of a deficit, meaning that you can only cut expenses so far. Eventually, you have to increase revenues. But, since the board doesn't control the timing of revenue from the state, this is where we need the community to get engaged around the district and be invested in finding alternative, creative solutions. The board has proactively made many reductions in personnel and programs, due to the unpredictable receipt of state funds. Until we can identify alternative sources of revenue, tax anticipation warrants appear to be a viable option. And at some point, debt restructuring may have to be considered, but I'm not fully knowledgeable yet about the current debt structure to know with certainty whether this is a desirable option.