Dist. 13 candidates debate finances
While four incumbents campaign to keep their seats on the Bloomingdale Elementary District 13 school board, a former park district commissioner hopes to unseat one of them on April 5.
Challenger Susan Lancaster, a bookkeeper, is running for the first time in hopes of bringing "a more technology-based curriculum" to District 13. She will face incumbents Donald Litchfield, a retired teacher and principal; Terry McKeown, a telecommunications manager; Tamara Peterson, a software professional; and Linda Wojcicki, a homemaker and insurance producer.
All the candidates say they are pleased with the district's financial health despite the slow economy.
They also all agree the board will face an important challenge in replacing several key administrators: the assistant superintendent for curriculum and special education director will retire at the end of the school year. In addition, six more administrators, including the superintendent, plan to retire within the next two years.
But they differ on precisely how they hope to keep District 13 performing well academically and fiscally.
Wojcicki emphasizes data-driven decisions. She said community and student surveys have previously been helpful and should continue when facing long-term challenges, whether it concerns test scores, curriculum development or hiring new staff.
"We must continue improving communication between staff, parents and the overall community to help with decision making," she said.
The effect of population shifts on the district budget are what concerns current board President Peterson. She said District 13 has seen declining enrollment over the past 12 years, allowing leaders to leave posts empty after teachers retire, shift teachers, and meet the needs of students while staying financially strong.
"The greater challenge for District 13 in the coming years will be reacting to student population growth as area housing trends begin to change," Peterson said. "Student numbers could potentially grow at a rate that exceeds our ability to increase funding. Therefore, it is important that we maintain or grow a healthy fund balance in order to avoid (this)."
She also strongly advocates the integration of technology in the classroom.
McKeown said a seamless transition is key in replacing administrators and, ultimately, keeping up test scores. Therefore, he wants to see the Continuity and Succession Plan created by the board through to fruition.
"We don't just want to replace administrators, we want to move forward," he said.
Litchfield said his first goal is ensuring District 13 focuses on educating "the whole student" and delivers effective teaching. He wants students well prepared for life outside the classroom.
"(We must) assure the curriculum provides for improved self-esteem and the building of students' self-confidence," he said. "Activities need to provide students with problem-solving strategies that teach better ways to make the important decisions in life."
But Lancaster said she can offer a fresh perspective not only by advocating for more technology, but by making sure changes in administration don't affect the classroom.
"I'm running because my children go to these schools," she said. "The district has been doing an excellent job with the budget, so my biggest concern is turnover. After that is declining enrollment and the shuffling of teachers."