Rita Balgeman: Candidate profile
Name: Rita Balgeman
City: West Chicago
Office sought: School Board Member for District 33
Family: I am married, with four small children, aged 2-9. My oldest sons attend Wegner Elementary.
Occupation: Market Research
Education: B.A. in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from Valparaiso University, M.A. in Social Sciences from University of Chicago
Civic involvement: I am actively involved as a volunteer for the PTO and as a Den Leader in Cub Scouts
Previous elected offices held: No
Incumbent? If yes, when were you first elected? No
What are the most important issues facing your district and how do you intend to address them?
One issue facing our district is a lack of engagement and trust between the school board, administration, and families. Families feel like their concerns are not heard by the school board. As a current parent in the district who is active in our community, I am engaging with parents on discussions of what is needed in our district. I will be available to talk with any families who have concerns or opinions, and I will promise to work on behalf of families to ensure that their voices are heard so all of our students can be successful.
We need to focus on student achievement. We consistently underperform the state average on mandated tests and most students are considered not proficient in math (83%) and Language Arts (85%). I want to ensure that we have clear action plans in place to grow student achievement and are providing differentiated education to meet each child's individual needs. We need to ensure that students are not passed along from grade to grade but are given the help they need to succeed.
We need to provide a safe and productive learning environment for our children. We have aging buildings, with leaky roofs, windows that won't open, etc. I want to ensure that there is a master plan for infrastructure improvements, with a funding plan in place. Our district has made recent investments in infrastructure. But we need to ensure students have a basic environment that is comfortable for learning.
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 believe that there is more that we can do to set up our children for lifelong success. At the most basic level, we need to increase student achievement in both math and language arts, as I've previously noted. Beyond that, our children need to learn essential skills that will be relevant in any career in the future, such as thinking critically, being creative, working collaboratively, and communicating effectively. I believe we need to ensure all of our students have STEAM learning opportunities and learn how to use technology wisely and safely. I believe we should expand the dual language program to ensure that more of our students have the opportunity to be bi-lingual.
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.
West Chicago District 33 is in a difficult position. Our fiscal health is strong, with a balanced budget. But our property value per student is low which causes us to have one of the highest educational tax rates in the county. At the same time, we are operating with funding well below what Illinois has calculated to be adequate to educate each child; we are actually the lowest in DuPage County, with only 55% adequacy, one of only four districts in the county rated "Tier 1" by the state. While this means that we can receive more funding from the state, due to the new evidence-based funding formula, we will still be operating at a disadvantage compared to other districts. Being able to meet our students' needs while not increasing the tax burden will require very careful financial decision-making. I don't believe cuts are currently necessary in our programming. I do not think tax increases are necessary.
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?
I am not currently employed nor retired from any school district. I was a teacher, many years ago, in Community High School District 99. No member of my family is currently employed by West Chicago Elementary School District 33.
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 that it is essential that we attract and retain high quality teachers and staff. It is an unfortunate reality that our district won't be able to pay them as much as other neighboring districts, just due to our financial realities. However, we should be fair and ensure that we have salaries and benefits that are consistent with the market. We need to ensure that our salary schedules value retention of both teachers and staff, not merely attracting new hires. Beyond this, we need to provide an empowering and supportive work environment for both teachers and staff, ensuring they have the resources they need to succeed and they see the difference they can make in the lives of students. In contract negotiations, I think we all need to work together to make the best decisions possible for all involved.
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?
Our district does not have a superintendent nearing retirement. Our district fairly compensates our administrators, with pay commensurate with their experience and performance. I do not think our administrators should receive substantial increases in pay to boost subsequent pension benefits.