Carissa Casbon: Candidate profile
Name: Carissa Casbon
City: Unincorporated Lake Villa
Office sought: Member, Millburn District #24 Board of Education
Family: Larry LaTourette (spouse), Samuel LaTourette (Age 14), Lillian LaTourette (Age 8).
Occupation: Music teacher/small business owner (I run a small business teaching private music lessons to students).
Education: Bachelor's degree, Northwestern University; Master's degree, Indiana University.
Civic involvement: 2015-present, Member, Millburn District #24 Board of Education; 2016-present, board president. 2015 and 2016, Delegate, Illinois Association of School Boards Delegate Assembly. 2018-present, Illinois Association of School Boards Master Board Member. 2012-2017 Committee Chair, Millburn District #24 PTO. 2009-2012, Volunteer, Millburn PTO.
Previous elected offices held: None.
Incumbent? Yes. If yes, when were you first elected? 2015
What are the most important issues facing your district and how do you intend to address them?
Due to our narrow property tax base and the state's chronic underfunding of schools (until the school funding bill passed in 2016), Millburn has struggled to adequately fund our schools while providing a top-tier education. Millburn was one of the communities hardest hit by the Great Recession. As a result, we incurred significant debt, and our property taxes became disproportionately high. However, in the past five years, Millburn has moved from a having negative $5.6 million fund balance to having a positive fund balance. The school board issued a partial property tax abatement for FY 2019-2020. After 10 years of being on the state's Financial Watch list, we're on track to be removed in 2019. This is due to disciplined, innovative financial practices, the generosity of the Millburn staff and community, and the passing of the school funding bill in 2016. To stay on track, the district must keep to these practices and continue to seek ways to reduce costs without compromising quality of education. Examples of revenue sources the district is currently investigating include: leasing unused building space to tenants who provide educational services to the community, adding solar panels to reduce energy costs, and various grants.
* 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?
I am satisfied our district is adequately preparing our students for the next stage in their lives, even as we continue to search for ways to improve. At the behest of the board, the administration has conducted research on this front. Millburn students are consistently among the highest performing in our three feeder high schools, and are disproportionately highly represented in honors and AP courses. Recently, our administration learned that 90%+ of our students go on to a postsecondary education after high school. In the past three years, Millburn has underscored our commitment to continued academic excellence by lowering average class size by 30%, improving every aspect of our curriculum, adding full-day kindergarten, adding foreign language, expanding electives for middle school, increasing student access to technology through the 1:1 iPad program and augmenting our fine arts programs. Examples of improvements the district is pursuing now include: Updating our elementary English Language Arts curriculum, creating STEM Labs to better fulfill the engineering component of the state's Next Generation Science Standards, greater curricular technology integration, and diversity and inclusion initiatives.
* 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? Be specific.
Millburn must always be resourceful in funding our schools. According to the state's school funding formula, Millburn is currently only funded at 82% of what has been defined as "adequate." Because Millburn is so reliant on state funding, and the state has had (until the funding formula passed in 2016) a history of chronically underfunding public schools, our district must always budget conservatively and communicate with our legislators about, both the need to fully fund the formula, and the effect any unfunded legislative mandates might have on our district. Post-financial-crisis Millburn is a pretty lean organization, but we are experiencing declining enrollment. After the "hold harmless" clause (a part of the school funding bill that keeps funding for districts steady, regardless of enrollment) expires in a couple of years, we will have to evaluate whether cuts are necessary. The Millburn board is committed to the sound financial practices that have put us on our current path of financial solvency. I don't support a tax increase. Our property taxes are too high. I'm in favor of looking for ways we can continue to abate taxes to bring them in line with our neighboring communities without compromising our academic excellence.
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?
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?
I represented the board during contract negotiations for certified and noncertified staff. For years, Millburn's teachers and some noncertified staff were underpaid because of our precarious financial position. Since both the district's finances and state funding have stabilized, we were afforded the opportunity to raise teacher and staff salaries to be on par with our neighboring districts. Through our financial crisis, thankfully, our teacher retention rates stayed high, even as teachers sacrificed by taking on larger class sizes. As our financial footing stabilizes, retaining staff is a strategic academic imperative. Research shows a direct line between student achievement and staff continuity. Because Millburn is always on a budgeting tightrope, our staff understands they won't get rich, but they should be able to expect fairness. It is incumbent upon a school board to build trust with the staff though communication and good faith practices. We're on the same team. We can only accomplish our district's goals together: board, administration, teachers, staff, community. The board must balance all interests in order to be as fair as possible to all parties while staying within budget. We are fortunate our district's sound financial practices have put us in the position for long-term, holistic planning.
* 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?
Millburn does not have a history of abusing the pension benefits system. However, the legislation passed by the state legislature in spring of 2018 has made that impossible; for every dollar any district raises pay over 3% in the 4 years before retirement, the district pays a heavy penalty to the state. Even if the district were inclined to incur such penalties on behalf of an administrator (which we would not be), we couldn't afford it.