Susan Kerr: Candidate profile
Name: Susan Kerr
Office sought: U-46 School Board
Family: Husband Bruce Peterson; children Kelly, Andrew, Kevin Peterson
Occupation: retired; formerly computer programmer/analyst
Education: B.A. Smith College; M.A. University of Chicago
Civic involvement: U-46 Citizens' Advisory Council (CAC) 1994-2015
Previous elected offices held: none
Incumbent? If yes, when were you first elected? Yes, 2015
What are the most important issues facing your district and how do you intend to address them?
New Funds: One of the most important issues is determining how best to apply the new funds that the district has received from the state through the new funding formula. I believe the funds should be used to improve student achievement and to reduce dependence on bonds for capital improvement.
Old or Under-utilized Facilities: At least four of our elementary schools were built in the 19th century and a few of our schools are less than 50% utilized. There are a number of ways to deal with this issue. As a board member I would consider cost savings, community impact, and public opinion before making a decision.
Career Pathways and Magnet Schools: As I board member I would expect there to be a variety of programs to meet the needs of all students, not just high-achieving ones. I have attended some of the listening sessions on career pathways and will continue to listen to the concerns and comments of parents and teachers.
School Safety: I support funding the SROs in our middle schools and high schools, and the district's cooperation with local law enforcement agencies. I also believe we need to take a proactive approach to violence and bullying so I support the district's introduction of social-emotional learning and its cooperation with community groups.
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?
In the past few years U-46 has done much to better prepare students for life after high school. I have supported the introduction of new AP courses and the Dual Credit program with ECC. I believe the district is considering expanding that program to 60 additional students (juniors) and I would support that. I have supported enhancement to our career and technical education programs which enable our students to receive professional certifications in various fields.
There are still students we need to reach. I am hopeful that the proposed career pathways will offer new opportunities and interests to high school students who too often seem disengaged.
I supported the hiring of middle school counselors this year, and will carefully evaluate the proposed middle school career survey classes when they come before the board. Any such classes must spark interest in future careers and fields of study.
I supported the introduction of all-day kindergarten and the new science and math curricula in the elementary schools. Elementary schools, however, face other challenges including a shortage of para-professionals (teachers' aides) and substitutes. Perhaps the biggest challenge is a generation of students who have grown up in a world of smart devices. Finding a way to engage these students whose attention spans and interests may be different from students of 20 years ago is a challenge that, quite frankly, I don't have an answer to. I believe that the district needs to see how other districts address this and listen to the ideas of our teachers.
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.
The biggest budget issue confronting Illinois school districts in the next four years is whether the state of Illinois can maintain funding (or increase funding, as it has promised) for the new Evidence Based Funding model. I believe the district must continue to work with our legislators on this.
Two other issues that could impact school district finances are the possibility of moving pension payments to local school districts and a property tax freeze (proposed in HB 317). If these were to occur U-46 would have to make adjustments to it budget as needed. I would prefer that any cuts be kept as far from the classroom as possible.
I have supported the abatement of property taxes that the district has done for the past few years and I will be voting for the abatement of $9.6 million in property taxes at our February 25th meeting. I will continue to support abating property taxes as long as the state reliably keeps up with its payments.
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 all of the above.
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?
We have settled contracts with a number of our employee groups in the past 18 months and are currently in talks the teachers and food service employees. Because of that, and because I am currently a board member, I cannot go into any more details.
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?
No, I do not support end-of-career salary boosts to increase pension benefits. Most people in the private sector no longer receive pensions and I do not think taxpayers should be asked to fund such pay increases.