Mark J. Cramer: Candidate profile
Name: Mark J. Cramer
City: Hoffman Estates
Office sought: Member of the Board of Education Township High School District 211
Family: Married 48 years. 3 adult children, 5 grandchildren
Occupation: 21 Year Active Duty Navy Officer and Aviator retiring with the grade of Commander. After retiring from the Navy, my second career included positions in both the private sector and the nonprofit sector. I held project management and information technology positions for two Fortune 500 companies, and I worked as a fundraiser for agencies providing critical social services: homeless shelters, child protection, and adult residential and developmentally disabled services.
Education: Bachelor of Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in Psychology/Math. I am a graduate of Conant High School.
Civic involvement: In addition to the work noted above with social service agencies, I've also helped fellow community members seeking to become public servants.
Previous elected offices held: Palatine/Schaumburg Township School Trustee 1995-1997
Incumbent? If yes, when were you first elected? No, I am a Challenger.
What are the most important issues facing your district and how do you intend to address them?
We need to improve on the following: ensuring all stakeholders are fairly heard by the board, board transparency, and board communication with the community. Parents are left out when decisions are made affecting their children, and that needs to change. Property taxes are very high, and all voices must be given a proper hearing, including struggling families and seniors who are part of our community. A flat tax levy is necessary. We cannot keep unnecessarily raising taxes on our fellow community members. It's not right.
Town hall meetings, conducted monthly, on a Saturday morning during the school year, can go a long way in improving the above, and in compliance with Open Meetings rules. Any Board member conducting the town hall must be clear that the answers provided and comments they make are their own and do not reflect the Board as a whole. These meetings would be limited in scope to only one or two issues, pre-published before the meeting in an announcement from D211 and a Press release. I see no reason why the Unions should not participate as a panel member, nor a D211 Administrator.
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?
D211 "Student Readiness" for the next level, according to the Illinois Board of Education has been holding at about 50% district wide: English Language Arts (ELA) proficiency 49% and Math (M) proficiency 54%; 36% of the students are Low Income (LI); 94% Graduate (G) of the 11,841 Students(#).
There is a wide variance among the five D211 schools respectively:
ELA M LI G #
Fremd- 69%, 71%, 15%, 98%, 2,594
Conant- 51%, 59%, 27%, 97%, 2,349
Schaumburg- 49%, 58%, 32%, 95%, 2,116
HoffmanEstates- 39%, 41%, 50%, 93%, 1,907
Palatine- 37%, 41%; 55%, 92%, 2,116
Realistically for a very high number of students, college is not accessible. Academic programs are needed beyond traditional college prep. D211 recognizes this and is on the way to fully implementing a broad "Career Paths" initiative. I would like to see all 16 programs implemented ASAP, recognizing that detailed planning and implementation are a large effort.
Similarly, D211 has about 35 "in-house" dual credit courses and 25 dual credit courses taught at college campuses, most aligned with post high school careers. I would like to see the number of these increased ASAP, recognizing that doing so requires coordination with Community Colleges, secondary education certification, master's degrees, and different union contracts.
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.
Since the district is already very well-resourced, the only real issue is fairness for all members of our community at every income level. A fair and proportional tax levy would be more appropriate, rather than taxing more than is necessary. Currently, there are six of the seven board members who have voted for increases in our property tax levy each and every year to the PTELL limit. In addition, from 2015 through 2018, the number of students in D211 has decreased from 12,183 to 11,841 (a decrease of 342 students is equivalent to loosing an entire K-6 school). At the same time, the D211 total spent per student increased from $17,383 to $18,721. D211 has kept reserves as high as 50%. D211 sold vacant land acquired decades ago for an additional school if necessary for ~$20,000,000 and will have that cash on hand. D211 "prepaid" IMRF $10,000,000. Levies are passed by the Board without a Board-approved five-year revenue and spending plan. In this environment, our district certainly does not need to increase the levy to PTELL limits. We need a flat levy. It's the right thing to do for our community.
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?
The most recent, and as this answer is written, the teachers' contract, was signed barely a few days ago and seemingly unwillingly by the Union president. The contract with the D211 teachers union is an example of how NOT to conduct union relations and contract negotiations. Historically, contract talks begin about a year before the expiration and usually start slow. It is way too late for new issues to arise or old issues to fester. Rhetoric and accusations and counter accusations are destructive. I would like to see a formal quarterly review of each contract to discuss successes, concerns, needed adjustments, etc. Participants in the review would include a Board Member, the Superintendent, and a Union representative. Additionally, I would like to see a Union representative participate as a standing member of the Budget and Finance committee. There should not be any surprises.
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?
Superintendents are evaluated annually, and must be assessed per long term and annual goals and objectives agreed to by the Superintendent and the Board. Increases in annual compensation must be measured against performance with respect to these standards; an unsubstantiated pay increase as a "reward" or "retirement incentive" when nearing retirement is not warranted.