Jeannette Ward: Candidate profile
Name: Jeanette Ward
City: West Chicago
Office sought: U-46 Board of Education member
Family: Married to Bill Ward for 23 years, with two children: Charlotte (age 14) and Cheyenne (age 12)
Occupation: Product Manager for an international chemical company
Civic involvement: In the past, I volunteered extensively in my daughter's U-46 elementary classrooms and this year I volunteered and trained with my U-46 middle-school daughter's cross-country team.
Previous elected offices held: U-46 Board of Education, Wayne Precinct 7 Committeeman
Incumbent? Yes. Last elected in April 2014
What are the most important issues facing your district and how do you intend to address them?
In my first term as board member I was involved in many positive changes. I worked to ensure board members had access to closed session recordings, resulting in a bill passed unanimously in the General Assembly. I consistently supported the first charter school, offering parents increased educational choice. I advocated for Increased transparency through the release of closed session minutes, and elevated dialogue regarding academic freedom and diversity of thought. I see many challenges remaining. Pathways must be implemented in a manner that prepares students for college or career after high school, while preserving a well-rounded general education option. Budgets and tax levies continue to increase regardless of declining enrollment and increased funding by the state, and this cannot continue. Curriculum resources purchased by taxpayers continue to restrict academic freedom, diversity of thought. This must change. Finally, privacy and safety for all students and teachers must be secured.
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?
Academic performance, particularly in math, is decreasing. The district needs to return to more traditional math instruction; the de facto national Common Core curriculum "Eureka Math" (or "Engage NY") is failing our students. It frustrates teachers, parents, and students alike. In particular, it demotivates talented math students by presenting math as English, with complicated paths for solving simple problems.
On a higher level, "Pathways," U-46's vision for preparing students for college OR career (to be fully implemented in 2022), is a good concept in that it prepares students for a career direction ("pathway") of their choice, to go into the workforce immediately, or to college. U-46 administration has also been responsive to my and other board members' insistence that a general education option also be available for students.
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.
U-46 is expected to receive $43 million in additional funding from the state this year based on the "Evidence Based Funding" model. I have repeatedly stated U-46 property taxes should be decreased correspondingly, and I have also voted no on every increasing budget and tax levy. The board majority, including one school board member running for re-election, voted yes. Administration, with agreement from the majority of the board, correspondingly expanded operations this year by adding 54 new positions. Meanwhile, enrollment continues to decline, and is projected to decline into the future. At the very least, U-46 should not have expanded operations. I voted no and, if re-elected, will continue to vote no on future tax levy and budget increases.
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? No to both questions.
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 believe pay increases for teachers, who are public sector union employees, like the private sector, should be tied to merit. Pay increases should be contingent on excellent performance, and not automatically granted, as they are currently (e.g., "step and lane"). Given that U-46 has added 54 new positions (which I did not support) there is no way costs will be reduced unless a significant change in direction is taken.
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?
I do not support pension spiking in any form and I voted against two employee contracts that included 6 percent pension spikes as provisions in the contracts. The board majority, including another board member seeking re-election, voted for them. The private sector does not enjoy this kind of perk. It is entirely unsustainable fiscally and is one of the reasons Illinois is in the financially disastrous situation it is.
At the state level, the Illinois budget was presented to voters as balanced, but a different, more truthful story was presented to bond investors. There is a "structural imbalance," which means deficit, in this year's state budget of at least $1.2 billion. There is $129 billion in unfunded pension liability. This imbalance at the state level cannot continue forever. Eventually there will be stark consequences. Local school boards cannot continue the practice of pension spiking.