Gary Tonn: Candidate Profile
Wheaton Warrenville District 200 School Board
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.
Family: Married with one son who attended District 200 K-12.
Occupation: Special Education Teacher Assistant
Education: B.S. Engineering, Univ. Of Illinois MBA, Northwestern Univ.
Civic involvement: Member of College Church in Wheaton. Participate in Chancel Choir.Volunteer for Stars Disability Ministry. Past volunteer at Carol Stream Outreach Community Center. Past volunteer coach for various Wheaton Park District sport programs.
Elected offices held: Candidate did not respond.
How satisfied are you that your school district is adequately preparing students for the next stage in their lives, whether it be from elementary into high school or high school into college or full-time employment? What changes, if any, do you think need to be made?
Elementary and middle school levels are critical to the education process but high school achievement indicates the level of academic progress as a student is leaving the district to college or career. Our two high schools are still listed as some of the higher achieving high schools in the state; however, there are some trends that are concerning. At a recent board meeting I commented that Wheaton Warrenville South (half our district) is the only high school among the benchmarked districts (11 schools) with declining ACT composite scores each year since 2010. In addition, the combined average composite score of both our high schools has decreased since 2010 in contrast to the benchmarked high schools which slightly increased. Therefore, some of our students are not doing as well as others in their final years. I believe this trend indicates that we need to do a better job of goal setting and tracking by student and subject sub-groups to target specific areas where we can improve. My experience working with students and teachers in our district leads me to believe that we do a very good job with high achieving students and our most vulnerable with physical or learning disabilities. However, I think our district and education overall could do a better job identifying some students that may get lost in the middle. We need to develop better and more creative ways to accomplish this.
What budgetary issues will your district have to confront during the next four years and what measures do you support to address them? If you believe cuts are necessary, be specific about programs and expenses that should be considered for reduction or elimination. On the income side, do you support any tax increases for local schools? Again, be specific.
Illinois and federal budgets are in poor condition with large deficits that will have to be addressed. This could place an even greater pressure on local school funding and our property taxes in the next four years. In Illinois, it is yet unclear if the new political structure will help or hurt but I will remain optimistic. In addition, there are state initiatives like SB 16 that threaten redistribution of state funds which could significantly affect school districts like ours and we should continue to protest against them. District 200 is a large district with a $185 million budget. I earned my MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Business and also have relevant private sector experience to ensure that our financial management maximizes and properly allocates existing resources. Outside tuition had a significant impact on our district expenses last budget year. I suggest that we investigate where and how that money was spent in an effort to justify those expenses moving forward. This would include a study of our district's use of TCD (Technology Center of DuPage). Total tax bills are already high. I would only support a tax increase if we could satisfy everyone that the district is being operated as efficiently and cost effectively as possible. I do not think the community is there yet. However, we need to provide a safe and effective learning environment for all of our students.
Are you currently employed by or retired from a school district, if so, which one? Is any member of your direct family - spouse, child or child-in-law - employed by the school district where you are seeking a school board seat?
My wife and I currently work in District 200 as Special Education Teaching Assistants. If elected I will have to resign before I take office. It would be the end of 8 years working with and learning from District 200 teachers and students gaining first hand knowledge of district structure, operations, curriculum, and various program implementations. My wife has volunteered to resign at the end of this school year, if I am elected, to eliminate any perception of conflict of interest within our household. My daughter-in-law currently works in the district as a Speech and Language Pathologist. If I am elected I will work with the administration and set forth publicly a process to recuse myself where necessary to avoid any conflict of interest; this is necessary for openness and trust but has not been done by other board members with conflicts of interest in the past.
As contract talks come up with various school employee groups -- teachers, support staff, etc. -- what posture should the school board take? Do you believe the district should ask for concessions from its employees, expect employee costs to stay about the same as they are now or provide increases in pay or benefits?
The board should take the position that employees, whether they are administrators, teachers, or other staff, should be fairly compensated in both salary and benefits. The district administration, board, and employee groups should be dealing with the same data to make sound and reasonable decisions. Contracts should be fair and consistent between employee groups within the district and fair and consistent versus other properly benchmarked districts. Since approximately 80% of district expense is people cost, compensation has a significant affect on the budget.
If your district had a superintendent or other administrator nearing retirement, would you support a substantial increase in his or her pay to help boost pension benefits? Why or why not?
When our teachers have contractually given up such "pension bumps" how can we justify these large compounded raises to superintendents and administrators? Other districts have also dropped these "pension raises" which not only inflate pensions but can cause districts to pay state penalties. Again, the issue is fairness and consistency within the district and between districts. I also disagreed with the board renegotiating the previous superintendent's contract by forgiving the $40,000 penalty that was contractually required by Dr. Harris for early termination of his contract. It is not just the magnitude of the $40,000 (superintendent search and recruitment requires some expense) but that fact that it unnecessarily alienated many in the community along with teachers and other staff. Jim Gambaiani and Jim Mathieson are the only two board members that voted against this $40,000 giveaway.
What other issues, if any, are important to you as a candidate for this office?
There are many financial and academic issues that I see District 200 facing that are listed on my website. But I feel a more general issue needs addressing for the district to move forward. Relatively recent concerns with Old/New Hubble, Superintendent Catalani's contract (we are still paying for his insurance), Superintendent Drury's dismissal, Dr. Harris's contract penalty, the Jefferson Referendum, and teachers experience with technology and Synergy, have weakened the level of trust between the district, board, and community. I would like to help restore that trust between all parties.
Please name one current leader who most inspires you.
What's the biggest lesson you learned at home growing up?
Success comes from hard work.
If life gave you one do-over, what would you spend it on?
Live and work somewhere in the Caribbean for a few years.
What was your favorite subject in school and how did it help you in later life?
Math because it was a great foundation for business decisions based on facts.
If you could give your children only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Love what you do and don't be afraid to make required changes.