Erin Westphal: Candidate profile
Name: Erin Westphal
Office sought: District 127 School Board
Occupation: Political and pharmaceutical consultant
Education: B.A. in Chemistry, Lawrence University
Civic involvement: Volunteer for Save Abandoned Babies (Safe Haven Law)
Previous elected offices held: n/a
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?
Unfortunately, the most important issue facing Grayslake is the tax rate. Homeowners are paying more than neighboring districts in property taxes, and while our schools do a fantastic job, our tax rate indicates that we should be competitive with the top-tier districts like Stevenson or Deerfield. I'd like to explore ways of getting us to that top echelon, because that would give students a competitive advantage in college applications, attract high quality teachers, and give homeowners the return on investment they deserve.
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 have been impressed by the students in the district. The school is doing so much more than educating about math and English; the students I meet are polite and mature, making our community a better place to live. However, I think we can become a top district in the county and state. As a figure skating instructor and a chemistry tutor, I have learned one truth: every person learns differently. When teachers have 100-plus students every semester, it's hard for them to give students the individual attention they need, and I've known many people who fell through the cracks. If we can find a way to reach every student, we could be the gold standard that other districts would want to emulate.
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.
We are about to pay off bonds, so the board will have to make the decision to either borrow again or provide cost savings to the taxpayers. I believe the district should do everything possible to avoid borrowing again, seeking and implementing innovative solutions so we can avoid making cuts or eliminating programs. As for tax increases, I believe it is important to get approval from the voters through referendums. If we have a good reason to increase taxes, for example, to fund an expanded special education program, it should be easy to make our case to the voters and get a referendum passed.
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. My father was on the Prairie Grove (District 46) school board in the 1980s.
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 think a school board has to maintain an equilibrium between three parties -- students, teachers, and taxpayers. I believe a district should look for ways to recruit and keep high quality teachers, improve education of students, but also give taxpayers a positive return on their investments. I would come to the negotiation table willing to look at innovative ways of keeping teachers and staff focused on educating students while keeping budgets reasonable.
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?
Absolutely not. The state has put TRS in a bind, heading towards a cliff of financial insolvency, and we all have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that the staff and teachers, many of whom do not have access to Social Security, have their pensions. However, when we talk about superintendents and administrators, their pensions are already 5 or 6 times the average Social Security payment. If we have the resources to bump their payment to boost their pensions, that money should instead be used to ensure that the middle class staff and teachers will get their modest pensions.