Susan S. Cassa: Candidate profile
Name: Susan S. Cassa
Office sought: Community Unit School District 202 Board member-2 yr. term
Family: Husband- Tony; 2 adult daughters- Stephanie, Special Education teacher, and Christine, Healthcare Sales, 2 amazing grandsons
Occupation: Retired Commercial Banker
Education: B.S. in Finance, Northern Illinois University; MBA, DePaul University; Lisle Community High School 1971 graduate; Licensed Illinois Real Estate Broker
Civic involvement: Go Refund Me Campaign-grass roots organization to put Referendum on the April, 2019 ballot to reduce school related taxes
St. Joan of Arc Parish, Lisle.- Finance Council; St. Joan of Arc-Eucharistic Minister and Care Minister; former School Board member, St. Joan of Arc School, Lisle; former School Board member, Notre Dame High School for Girls, Chicago, IL
Previous elected offices held: None
Website: Coming soon
What are the most important issues facing your district and how do you intend to address them?
(1) The unnecessarily high tax burden on residents of District 202, and (2) test scores (per the Illinois Report Card) which significantly declined from 2015-2018, and which continue to compare unfavorably to surrounding districts.
Given the cash reserves at Lisle CUSD 202, relief for taxpayers can be considered annually without impairing delivery of academic, athletic or social programs and the associated teaching staff.
The School District should be measured by success in doing its primary job-educating students as preparation for adulthood. School achievement scores are also key to the home buying decision, so the School Board's failure to drive student performance at the level of other school districts adjacent to Lisle impacts home values. I believe the answer is rooted in School Board leadership. A small district like ours should be maximally nimble, addressing needed change quickly with clear communication and a high degree of cohesion. To create better consistency/connectivity, I would propose adding a Curriculum Director at the District level.
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?
Based on Illinois Report Card results, CUSD 202 has room for improvement across the Board, both the general population and the oft-cited lower income population. I think our goals need to be more aspirational, perhaps including more counseling staff dedicated to career guidance, including but not limited to college admission. Pursuing excellence at every level of education ought to be the focus.
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.
Using my financial expertise to review CUSD 202's financials over the last 15 months, it's clear that the tax levy reduction referendum on the April ballot should not impact teachers, student activities or services. 202's cash surplus will continue to significantly exceed adequacy targets even after the Referendum is successful (surplus about $35 million). The excess amassed has been a strategy by the Board to avoid referendum for any purpose, including a new school. This systemic disregard and lack of respect for taxpayers is a key issue driving my candidacy. Contrary to the talking points of the current 202 School Board, I see NO expense reductions necessary; I see opportunity for enhancements to curriculum and staff. Deployment of assets, financial and other, should be reviewed on an ongoing basis. As part of a newly constituted School Board, I plan to review opportunities to redeploy resources from low value activities to higher value initiatives.
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
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?
Not being an incumbent, I'm not privy to details of the teachers' contract. I would support appropriate increases in salary and sharing of benefit costs, ie those that keep 202 competitive. Compensation and all other decisions derive from my belief that teachers are the key to success for our students. That said, I am not a fan of pension top-up schemes that are not tied to performance and that increase the ongoing burden on taxpayers.
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 would not support any boost that is not part of the current Board-approved contract, which is a well-negotiated document. That said, I would support financial incentives in a Superintendent's contract and possibly that of other Administrators (School principals) with clear metrics for improvement of student performance. If the agreed terms of achieving incentives includes pension consideration, that would be clearly documented.