SARA DIXON SPIVY
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?
My motivation for running has not changed since my first campaign in 2015. As the mother of a biracial boy with an IEP, I am acutely aware of the racial disparities at OPRFHS. I want the same things for my son that all parents want-- to be treated fairly and with kindness. As a 15-year Cook County Public Defender, I saw first-hand what happens when the educational system fails our children and I am determined to do all I can to ensure that does not happen in our District.
A school’s climate and culture are key components to create an environment conducive to learning and goes hand-in-hand with academics in forming highly functioning students. In my first four years on the Board I developed the Culture, Climate, and Behavior Committee to specifically address systemic racism. I am also a “founding member” of the Tri-Board Equity Committee which examines equity initiatives at OPRFHS and its two feeder districts to make sure we are collaborating effectively. My determination to continue this work has only grown now that I sense we are on the cusp of true change under Dr. Pruitt-Adams’s leadership.
2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?
An effective School Board Member is one who understands the work of a board which is to create policy and monitor the Administration’s progress on implementing it. An effective board member also needs to engage thoroughly in the issues facing the district. While my proclivities lean towards issues of school climate, I am fully invested in all aspects of board work, which includes effective stewardship of our fund balance and facilities.
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?
The purpose of the Board is to ensure that our community’s values and priorities are reflected in the school’s policies and budget. We are directly accountable to the tax payers in a way that the District’s employees are not- our vote is your voice in action on the Board. Our appropriate roll is to oversee broader strategy for the District.
The appropriate relationship between the Board and employees is arm’s length when it comes to Board-level issues- we are not the appropriate body to address the day-to-day operations of the school for many reasons, including the possibility of incurring legal liability for the District.
4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?
As an attorney I have constantly balanced competing interests. At times my clients’ expectations were not realistic. I found the best way to handle this is to listen to the concerns and desires of all involved and then to be as transparent and well-prepared as possible in order to set them up for success.
5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?
Transparency in government means making decisions in full view of our community. When first elected I felt that we could do more to inform our constituents of how we were making decisions. I brought forward the idea of recording our meetings so that constituents could watch at their convenience but that was determined to be too expensive proposition. As a Board we decided on the middle ground of audio recordings which are now linked to the agenda. More recently we have added recordings of meetings that we anticipate will be of high interest for our community and posting them to the District’s website so that community members can watch if they are unable to attend.
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?
A Board member is nothing alone; we only have power as a group. At the beginning of each Board term (every two years when new Board members are sworn in) we establish norms. One of those norms is that the Board speaks with one voice through the Board President. This makes communication via social media tricky. I am always happy to meet with constituents, however I limit my social media interactions to posting informational items out of respect for those Board norms.
As a Board we are constantly striving to engage our community more fully. To that end we have begun hosting townhalls to hear from our constituents. I have found those highly effective at allowing us to hear from a large cross-section of our community. We are always open to new ideas on how to better inform and engage our community.
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)?
We are fortunate to have a community that is diverse in almost every way and we need to listen to everyone’s voice in order to reach the best decisions for our community. I chose to spend the bulk of my career working with those who are most marginalized and voiceless and through that I have come to appreciate the value of hearing from everyone.
Additionally, I have volunteered on local political campaigns for almost a decade which has had me knocking on doors and interacting with people from all parts of Oak Park, seeking their opinions and thoughts on a variety of issues. I strive to be well-informed on the issues our community faces.
8. What have been your most useful sources of information about secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?
Joining the Board involved a steep learning curve, and I sought information from any source I could find: books, school administrators, constituents, and informational interviews with experts. I have attended more Illinois Association of School Board conferences than any current Board member and have achieved the status of “Master Board Member”. As a board member the learning should never stop.
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?
While taxes in the District have increased overall, the high school’s share of taxes has not increased. In fact, we have abated taxes twice during my tenure. That being said, I recognize that taxes are a heavy burden on many (most!) of our District’s residents.
However, the reality is that we cannot freeze property taxes. The bulk of our budget (almost 80%) goes towards salaries and we are committed to providing our employees competitive wages. Due to inflation we have to increase taxes so salaries keep pace with the cost of living. We will try to contain costs by making smart investments in our school such as preventative facilities’ maintenance and responsible contract negotiations. Additionally, we will try to avoid a referendum so that our tax payers are not caught by surprise by rapid tax increases.
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?
We need to ensure that our budget aligns with our priorities. Appropriately, our biggest investment is in human capital- salaries for our faculty and staff. However, the additional expenditures need to be monitored carefully to ensure they are truly bringing us closer to our target of a school environment where success is not determined by race, gender, or gender identity. For example, this year we began restorative justice training for segments of our school and it was remarkably affordable. Large gains can be had with small monetary investments if we choose wisely and monitor the expenditures carefully to make sure they are effective.
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?
Equity is giving each student the tools and environment they need to succeed. I favor implementing a formal equity policy because without it there is no formal commitment or clearly-voiced stance. The policy should speak to how we define equity and what true equity looks like so that we know what target we are aiming for. I am especially proud of our relatively new gender equity policy. In developing the policy we sought guidance from students, community members, faculty, staff, and experts. The policy and procedure were released simultaneously so that there was full transparency in what the new policy would mean for our students. I am hopeful that our racial equity policy will be just as well researched and rolled out.
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?
The Imagine Plan was developed to give us a roadmap to address current and future needs of our school. With over a million square feet of space, the ongoing upkeep of our physical structure is a large task and long-range planning is essential to ensure we spend wisely. That does not mean that the Imagine Plan is a punch list of “must do” items, but rather gives us a complete view of what we can expect the needs of the school to be long-term so we can make spending decisions wisely.
In order to prevent a tax increase to fund renovations I am in full support of the Administration’s efforts to assess the fundraising capacity of private donors before making any further decisions on facilities improvements. I also support different avenues of fundraising such as naming rights. I am hopeful that private donations can support the renovations of much of our athletic facilities.
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?
It has already sharply defined our work as a Board. That’s not to say that we would not be focused on issues of equity absent being a part of the documentary but rather it sums up our struggles. This is a District with a persistent opportunity gap that has only grown over time-- clearly what we were doing to address it was not working.
We hired Dr. Pruitt-Adams with the specific mandate to give us new direction on how to address the opportunity gap and we have fresh hope that we will make progress. It is not something that can be solved overnight but I am optimistic that we will begin to see the needle move in statistically significant ways soon. This Board has been committed to reducing the opportunity gap for the four years I have served and I do not foresee that focus waning in the coming years.
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?
Courageous Conversations is only a starting point for racial equity work and should not be the sole means of addressing racial disparities. Until this school year, restorative justice practices were implemented on a piece-meal basis by early-adopting faculty and staff. We need District-wide alignment to have maximum impact. To that end, we contracted with Umoja Student Development Corporation this school year to begin restorative justice training at all levels and throughout the building. We are piloting that work with the expectation that we will expand it next year.
15. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
$1555.00 (in-kind yard sign donation from my partner Preston Jones, Jr.)
$250.00 (community member)
$200.00 (family friend)
I have also received a $2,500.00 contribution from a community member but have not had a chance to deposit it yet.
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[The above answers were submitted on 2/13/19. For current financial information, please see Friends of Sara Dixon Spivy financials at Illinois Sunshine. Illinois Sunshine is also a useful resource for identifying past contributions by individuals to political candidates and committees in Illinois.]
Sara Dixon Spivy for OPRF Dist. 200 (candidate Facebook page)
Re-elect Spivy for D200 (WJ 3/26/19)
Vote for principled, pragmatic candidates (WJ 3/26/19)
Wednesday Journal endorsement (WJ 3/19/19)
Exceptional candidates for extraordinary times (WJ 3/19/19)
Equity is Spivy's core issue (WJ 3/19/19)
Candidate profile (WJ 3/14/19)
Spivy, a thoughtful leader for D200 (WJ 3/12/19)
Trust, transparency and the D200 election (WJ 3/12/19)
The tax-conscious should vote for Spivy for D200 (WJ 3/12/19)
Chicago Federation of Labor endorsement (PDF 3/10/19)
D200 incumbent focuses on equity, master plan (WJ 2/12/19)
Residents express shock at Imagine price (WJ 11/6/18)
OPRF tries juggling cost concerns and equity (WJ 4/3/18)
OPRFHS Faculty Senate Endorses District 200 Candidates (Patch.com 3/28/15)
Friends of Sara Dixon Spivy campaign disclosures (Illinois State Board of Elections)
Friends of Sara Dixon Spivy financials (Illinois Sunshine)
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Oak Park Property Tax Watch Forum (Facebook Live 3/4/19)
Equity dominates King Day candidates forum (WJ 1/22/19)
Suburban Unity Alliance School Board Candidate Forum (Facebook Live 1/21/19)
Election a go-go (WJ 12/18/19)