Barbara Somogyi: Candidate profile
Name: Barbara J. Somogyi
City: Elk Grove Village
Office sought: Board of Education Member, CCSD59
Family: Husband: Vernon; Daughters: Corine, Pamela; Son: Leonard
Education: Wright Junior College
Civic involvement: Alexian Village Senior Center Volunteer 2005-2010; Elk Grove Village Political Action Group 2009; Elk Grove Village School Activities Committee 50th Anniversary; Elk Grove Village Summer Teen Activities Committee 1994; Telephone Pioneers of America Partner Representative 1987-91; Elk Grove Consumers Organization Co-Founder/Officer 1975-92; Elk Grove Village Community Service Board 1976-77.
Previous elected offices held: None.
Incumbent? If yes, when were you first elected? 1975-1978, November 1981 to Present
What are the most important issues facing your district and how do you intend to address them?
Although District 59 continues to be excellent, there is a difference of opinion on the District's future direction. This is caused by the District lacking in ways to incorporate stakeholders' input into decisions. An occasional survey does serve a purpose, but does not include a deeper assessment of identified issues. The process of Community Engagement is one that the Board of Education has noted, studied, but has not fully embraced. I will continue to listen and work to achieve a respectful, responsive and responsible Board and Administration for all stakeholders. Social media that expands into the community challenges communications. Even though most social media is positive, the exchanges that are false or negative do have impact. The District has set up a Community Comments/Questions section on the District's website. However, being a responsible Board of Education is essential, and should be central to the oversight role. Being that catalyst, District 59 should be achieving the respect and recognition that it deserves for all the great things happening in the schools. Some students not tagged for special services need occasional support. Coaching staff and professional development opportunities for teachers need to be provided swiftly where and when needed.
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?
According to the high schools' reports, District 59 students are well prepared for their high school classes. Standardize tests are an area of dispute. Even though one score is not the indication of students' true potential, the tests should be reviewed to see areas of the curriculum that might need support. District 59 parents and residents have brought to the attention of the Administration several areas of the curriculum that they feel have perceived lapses. Those areas are being addressed along with the establishment of the new Curriculum Committee. This committee is an avenue for open discussion, discovery, and communication. I look forward to the committee's report, and how that committee can be a guide for ways to bring other issues to the surface. I believe every student can learn. It is the job of the Board of Education to approve educational programs that insure teachers are supported, well prepared, given direction, and have the necessary resources to meet students' needs in a safe and nurturing school environment. My continuing commitment has been to give students the necessary basic and empowering skills necessary to prepare them to succeed on their journey of becoming independent adults and productive citizens.
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.
District 59 will soon have a balanced budget. Over years, hefty fund balances accumulated allowing schools to be renovated without much impact on property taxes. When renovations were completed, the Board directed the Administration to pare down some reserves, causing intentional deficit spending. The fact was the district kept District 59 taxpayers' rates lower than neighboring communities while still maintaining sound financial integrity. I do take seriously the responsibility to safeguard that every dollar spent is "well spent" adhering to efficient and effective use of resources. I do not foresee any cuts to the programming unless the programs are deemed obsolete. However, regularly the District can impartially look at programs and services that are not achieving the expected results. The services and educational program that District 59 provides and is expected are well beyond those legally required by law. Yet, the public expects more services at lower costs to meet the growing needs of today's students. Unless the school district does better at educating the public about the real costs of programs, legal requirements, district commitments, and needs' of the students and teachers; budgetary issues will continually be debated. I do not see tax increases in the foreseeable future.
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 have never been employed by District 59 or any school district. School Board Members are not compensated for their time, receiving no salary or monthly stipends. Per Board Policy there are regulations about expenses that can be submitted for reimbursements that are followed. I have a daughter that has been teaching in the District 59 over 25 years, and a son-in-law who became a custodian several years ago. Both received their employment without my influence since board members are not involved with the specifics of hiring carried out through the Human Resources Department. I would abstain and would not participate in any actions that have to do with their employment. At family gatherings, discussions about politics and religion are "off limit" topics as well as conversation about School District 59. The Board of Education is only responsible for directly hiring the Superintendent, and is not involved in other employment decisions. The Board of Education legally has to approve all employment contracts, lane changes, retirements and resignations submitted at a regular board meeting by the Administration. The Administration only asks the Board for input in employment issues when there are unusual circumstances.
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 Board of Education has two members assigned to the present DEA negotiations. Those board members keep the Board informed about the of substance discussed during the Negotiation Committee's Meetings. The Board and the union both approve the final agreement. The District's budget does drive the process with the Board relying on the Chief Financial Officer to lead the monetary portion of negotiations. For me, fairness and equity are most important to maintain. I am proud to say that during my years on the Board, the district has not had a strike. Because of the sensitivity of negotiations, I am not aware of any concessions being considered and I have not offered any. It is my hope that the District will continue to be a fair and equitable employer, while finding ways to keep the District's expenses reasonable. District 59 has excellent staff that throughout the years experienced many changes and challenges, always keeping their eyes focused on the real reason we are all here. That reason is to educate all students without bias, but with caring, thought, experience, expertise, and time. The Board's oversight on this is to insure that the district will attract and retain the best teachers.
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?
This question is referring to superintendents and administrators. My answer is simply no. Generally, those increases were perceived as reward for a job well done. The State had paid pensions without penalty to districts. With State Funds being low the State is calculating districts liability for some pension costs that will then come out of districts' budgets. Personally, I do not favor increases to any staff member's salary to boost retirement benefits unless it is applied to everyone. Throughout the years, there have be several one-time offers that I did not favor. Usually, the program is presented as no cost to the district or saving money by taking a higher salary out of the budget, and hiring a lower salary employee. Personally, I do not believe it is fair, and see it as favoritism giving some retirees a higher pension than someone who did not qualify to receive that increase. I only supported enhancements that could be fairly applied to all employees. I do believe the days of end of career salary bumps are over. In the future, employees might need to consider some additional savings options for retirement rather than relying totally on their TRS pensions.