candidate for 2019 District 200 School Board

1. What motivates you to seek this office? What skills, experiences, and perspectives would you bring to the Board, and why would those contributions be valuable to District 200?

There are many reasons I am running for the D200 Board, however there are four primary issues to which I want to devote my attention: (i) Creating the effective systems changes needed to ensure the district builds the institutional capacity to provide a truly equitable and excellent educational experience to all students; (ii) Building a more collaborative relationship with D97 and D90; (iii) embedding long term, rational facilities planning into the Board’s policy agenda; and (iv) creating Board practices that make it more transparent and accountable.

One of the most difficult policy tasks that can be undertaken is creating effective systems change that is sustainable over time, especially when that change involves issues of race, ethnicity and/or income class. These issues tend to be highly charged, and most people—including policy makers—allow their normative values and ideological world views to dictate their actions on educational equity.

My work experience over the last 15 years demonstrates I can help facilitate the type of systemic changes needed to address issues fraught with polarizing politics, like creating a truly equitable school system. For example, as executive director of the bi-partisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, I serve as technical advisor on education policy to Illinois State Representative Will Davis. In that capacity I co-drafted the Evidence Based School funding formula (“EBF”) which passed into law in August of 2017 as SB1947. This legislation ties education funding to those practices which the evidence shows actually enhance student achievement over time. Crucially, the EBF adjusts the amount of resources a school district requires to implement those evidence based practices, to account for the specific needs of the student population a district serves—i.e. it is by design creates a funding mechanism that is both adequate in amount and equitable in distribution. Getting this passed took seven years of effort, and building the political will to do the right thing among decision makers that spanned the ideological spectrum from progressive to conservative.

During the Obama Administration, I served on a federal Commission on Educational Equity and Excellence housed in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Education. We were given access to national and international data on everything from best practices in professional development, to labor market comparisons to other industrialized nations, capacity building through collaboration, and sustainable approaches to creating equitable education systems. We issued a report-“For Each And Every Child,” that identified the best practices for creating a truly equitable education system, as well as noted all the literature which shows equity as a pathway to creating educational excellence for all students.

2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?

I have a number of very strong feelings here. First, board members have to remember their job is to set broad policy, not to micro-manage. Period. The board has only one employee—the superintendent. The analogy I like is that board members are supposed to stay up on the balcony, not jump down on the dance floor.

Second, when setting policy, it is incumbent on board members to gain as much expert input and advice as possible—hence board members have a responsibility to read the available literature, as well as draw on the expertise of appropriate faculty, staff and administrators before enacting policies. This does not mean the board will always agree with the input it receives nor act favorably on all recommendations, but it should listen closely to and value highly that input. So when it comes to relationships between a board member on the one hand and an educator, administrator or staff person on the other, it is crucial for the board member to stay in his or her lane, be willing to lead on crucial policy initiatives, monitor implementation to ensure accountability, and cultivate a relationship of mutual respect.

When it comes to the villages a board has numerous responsibilities. One is to understand community opinion on various issues. This is always important, but especially crucial in those instances when the community is generally not supportive of an initiative the board member believes is important for the district. Being aware of dissent can help a board member play a key role in countering misconceptions and/or responding in a positive and productive manner to objections. That said, there will be times when the right thing to do is not the politically popular thing to do. In those cases I believe it is the responsibility of the board member to do what’s right rather than what’s popular. So you lose the next election—that just frees up spare time.

I also believe a board member should be a true ambassador for the district with the villages. This doesn’t mean a bunch of glad handing and rose colored glasses interactions. It does mean celebrating what the district does right, admitting its shortcomings honestly and soliciting input and concerns.

3. What is your understanding of the purpose of the District 200 Board? What do you see as the appropriate relationship between the School Board, District staff, and Oak Park River Forest High School itself?

Answered in question 2 above.

4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?

I have more answers to this question than could possibly fit in the 200 word limit. In brief:

  • I work as executive director of a bipartisan think-tank that’s focused on creating social and economic justice through adequately financed public services. Which means my day job consists of getting Democrats and Republicans to agree on everything from tax policy—to education policy. I work, consistently and successfully, with decision makers on both sides of the aisle with divergent world views on policy reforms. My most recent significant success here was co-authoring Illinois’ new school funding formula as mentioned above, and helping build the bipartisan support to pass it.

  • I already serve on the D90 school board, and navigate education-related policy issues there in a community which also has diverging world views.

  • I served on a federal commission on educational equity and excellence that had every different ideological view on education policy represented, and helped build the consensus needed to have our final report on equity issued on a unanimous basis.

5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?

Answered in conjunction with question 6 below.

6. As more of our local discourse happens in social media, what is your view on how local elected officials should communicate with and respond to constituents? How will you engage with the breadth of the community, and not just the voices that are loudest or easiest to find?

Questions of transparency and stakeholder engagement are challenging for school boards, given the volunteer nature of the position and the difficulty in reaching all stakeholders across the spectrum.

Obviously, D200 will have to take full advantage of social media as one way to connect with the community. That said, as president of River Forest School District 90, I have made myself available to meet directly with any individual stakeholder or community group that has indicated a desire to weigh in on or express concerns about district polity. Moreover, I have pushed for two reforms—which have been implemented—designed to enhance both transparency and engagement. First, D90 holds 3-4 board meetings every year in a “town hall” format—where there is no time limit on questions from the community, and board members, or when appropriate administrators, staff, and faculty, directly respond to inquiries raised. Second, I developed a user-friendly financial report, which explains D90’s finances in simple terms, uses pictures, provides comparables, and covers change in spending, salaries, etc. over time, and is just 5-6 pages long, as opposed to a typical district budget which is literally hundreds of pages long.

7. In what ways have you sought to better know and understand the concerns and needs of residents outside your demographic group (specifically the demographic groups of race, religion, ability, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status)?

I take numerous steps to understand concerns of people outside my demographic group, including: serving as technical advisor on education, economic development, and various civil rights policies to Reverend Jesse Jackson, Dr. Byron Brazier, State Representative Will Davis, a former chair of the Black Legislative Caucus, as well as Senator Kim Lightford who still serves as chair of the Black Legislative Caucus, and Senator Toi Hutchinson, also a member of said Caucus. This work exposes me to the concerns of the individuals and communities the aforesaid individuals either work for or represent, as I am either asked to research policy solutions to issues they or their constituents have identified, or attend community forums in their districts where I receive direct input from stakeholders.

I also serve on D200’s Culture, Climate, and Behavior Committee, which has not only provided me with direct insight into some of the difficult racial, gender, gender identify, ethnic and related challenges faced by the high school, but also allowed me to hear—directly—the authentic voice of a demographically diverse cross-section of students, faculty and staff.

I provide over 50 town hall styled briefings on various issues involving education and equity in communities across Illinois that collectively include very demographic—each of which involves a Q&A session that provides me direct input on unique community concerns.

8. What have been your most useful sources of information about secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?

I work in the field of education policy and have an exhaustive list of such sources which is too long to include.

9. Why have property taxes assessed by the District increased so substantially over the past 10-15 years? Can the District continue without additional tax increases? How?

I cannot speak to the specific decisions made by prior boards to increase property taxes over the last 10-15 years. However, generally speaking, property taxes are high in Illinois because our state ranks 50th in the nation in the portion of K-12 funding paid for with state-based tax revenue, and first in the country in reliance on local property taxes to fund schools. Hence to a very large extent, all Illinois school boards have had to over-burden their local property tax payers to make up for the state’s consistent failure. That said, D200 has the 15th greatest total resources per pupil of the 97 high school districts in Illinois, and had per-pupil operational expenditures of $23,966, which is also high. So, while no district can move forward without any tax increases—indeed inflation alone causes costs to increase annually, D200, with its strong reserves and high levels of both resources and operational expenditures, should be able to keep increases to a minimum while still enhancing its educational environment.

10. How will you balance the community's desire to decrease the property tax burden with the need to create an equitable environment for all students?

Given D200’s high level of both expenditures and resources per student that I cited in answer 9 above, it would appear that reprioritizing expenditures in accordance with evidence-based best practices and thoughtful, strategic utilization of the district’s reserves should be the first steps taken by the board when building the fiscal capacity needed to reform the D200 education system utilizing an equity lens. As chair of the finance committee of D90, I was able to recommend the board actually decrease its levy in FY2010—not hold constant, not increase up to less than the max—but actually decrease its levy, which the board did, while still funding an excellent education. Since I led D90’s equity reform initiative as well, I know prudent utilization of extant resources is possible in a high spending environment. That said, I don’t want to pander on this issue, so while a board always has to be a prudent fiscal manager, its primary obligation is to ensure an excellent education for all students. That means if enhancing revenues were the only way to achieve that result, I would support such an approach and make the case to the community for why it is essential.

11. How do you define equity? Do you favor implementing a formal equity lens/framework at District 200, and if so, what specifics should it include? How have you engaged with efforts by the community to push for a comprehensive equity policy?

In an equitable school system, every student receives the education and related supports she or he needs to succeed academically. This goal is met when there is no statistically meaningful correlation between a student’s race, income, ethnicity, or gender and projected academic performance. As president of the school board for River Forest District 90, I campaigned for and led an equity initiative that has been fully adopted by the board and is being implemented by faculty, staff and the administration. The equity committee I led (which includes two board members, two faculty members, two administrators and two community members) focused on making recommendations to the board that were designed to change our educational system over time by implementing: (i) reforms in pedagogy and hiring practices; (ii) evidence-based professional development on implicit bias for faculty, staff, and the board; and (iii) a process for monitoring outcomes to create accountability for performance.

I have also been serving on D200’s culture and climate committee since its inception three years ago. That committee has significant community representation and is charged with addressing the equity challenges D200 faces.

12. The incoming board will be responsible for deciding which elements of the Imagine Plan, if any, to act upon. What factors will inform your decisions about whether and when to move forward with the various components of the plan? How will you prioritize these factors?

Facilities planning is a fundamental responsibility of a board of education, especially one charged with running an old land locked building—but one that hasn’t consistently been on the docket at D200. This led to the pool foofaraw and ultimately the work of the Imagine group. I would attempt to get D200 to follow the practice I pushed at D90, whereby the board considers a rolling 10 year facilities plan annually, with costs broken down into maintenance items and or life safety audit issues we know we will have to address over that sequence, as well as potential facilities upgrades the board, faculty or administration would like to see implemented. It is then incumbent on the board to budget accordingly and do all of the items on the “must” list, and then prioritize those on the want list we can both afford, and which have the greatest potential positive impact on the educational environment.

13. America to Me focused national attention on Oak Park River Forest High School, and in particular on issues of race, equity, and the opportunity gap. How do you expect that will affect your tenure on the Board?

America to Me will affect my tenure at D200 in two ways: (i) significantly, and (ii) not at all. The significant impact, hopefully, will be enhanced stakeholder engagement in working collaboratively to resolve racial equity issues embedded in the system. Given the coverage the documentary has gained, I am hopeful that D200—including faculty, students, parents, administrators, staff, and board members—as well as the larger communities of Oak Park and River Forest—will be more willing to take the difficult steps needed to redress long-term racial inequities. However, the documentary has no impact on what my main focus as a board member will be, as I would run to address issues of racial and other inequities, whether or not there was hype in the community over the issue. Indeed, I pushed D90 to start an equity initiative even though there was not only no outcry to do so, but the community at large was not yet aware of the equity issues in D90.

14. District 200 makes use of some restorative practices through the Courageous Conversations program. In your view, has this initiative been successful? Do you see additional opportunities to employ restorative justice practices in the District?

District 200 is just now developing data and monitoring practices to evaluate how effective the restorative practices begun as part of the Courageous Conversations program have been. That said, the research supports utilizing restorative practices as part of a comprehensive, strategic approach to resolving racial and other equity issues. So going forward enhanced utilization of evidence-based restorative justice practices should continue to be an element of a comprehensive and strategic long-term approach to making the systems reforms needed to build a truly equitable and excellent education system at D200.

15. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.


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[The above answers were supplied on 2/18/19. It may be possible to find more current financial information at the Illinois Sunshine website. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]

Ralph Martire (Center for Tax and Budget Accountability bio)

Ralph Martire (Roosevelt University faculty profile)

Vote for principled, pragmatic candidates (WJ 3/26/19)

Wednesday Journal endorsement (WJ 3/19/19)

Independence from influence defines Martire (WJ 3/19/19)

Martire's leadership will benefit D200 immensely (WJ 3/19/19)

What Moore, Hickey and Davis bring to D90 (WJ 3/19/19)

Martire understands school policy and finance (WJ 3/19/19)

Candidate Profile (WJ 3/14/19)

Policy expert, D90 board prez eyes D200 board (WJ 3/12/19)

Martire is eminently qualified for D200 board (WJ 3/12/19)

Trust, transparency and the D200 election (WJ 3/12/19)

Keep the D200 board independent (WJ 3/12/19)

Villagers of the Year in a liberal village are mostly white (WJ 2/12/19)

A focus on the American dream (WJ 1/3/19)

Difficult challenges await Pritzker (The State Journal-Register 12/18/18)

What Evidence-Based Funding is teaching us about school performance (Daily Herald 11/6/18)

Pensions not to blame for deficit, says think tank head (The Pantagraph 9/21/18)

A graduated rate income tax is in Illinois’ best interests (The State Journal-Register 9/18/18)

New Report Recommends Graduated Income Tax for Illinois (4/30/18 WTTW)

Friends of Ralph Martire financials (Illinois Sunshine)

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About the D200 School Board

Collaboration for Early Childhood Candidate Survey (PDF)

Oak Park Property Tax Watch Forum (Facebook Live 3/4/19)

SEOPCO candidate forum Part 1 | Part 2 (Facebook live 2/27/19)

Equity issues, minority hiring topics discussed by Oak Park District 97 school board candidates (Oak Leaves 1/22/19)

Equity dominates King Day candidates forum (WJ 1/22/19)

Suburban Unity Alliance School Board Candidate Forum (Facebook Live 1/21/19)

Everyone on the ballot in Oak Park, River Forest elections (WJ 1/8/19)

Election a go-go (WJ 12/18/19)

Nearly a dozen running for village board as ballot takes shape for April election in Oak Park (Oak Leaves 12/18/18)