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?
I am motivated to run for two reasons. First, I believe taxes are at a tipping point in Oak Park and I’ve been disturbed by the large number of friends who have left Oak Park because of the skyrocketing taxes. Second, I ran for D200 board 10 years ago on a platform of equity and addressing the achievement gap. Since then there has been no progress made in this area. In fact, by all measures the achievement gap has only grown wider. This is unacceptable. I am running to ensure that Oak Park keeps its commitment to equity for all students.
I will bring to the board 25 years of experience managing large budgets and construction projects and eight years on the Park District of Oak Park board where we have effectively gotten community input and efficiently implemented $60M of capital investments without raising taxes.
2. What do you think makes an effective School Board Member?
An effective board member needs to do the following:
Make every decision considering what is best for the student learning and achievement.
Consider all perspectives within the community.
Become open minded to new ideas and feedback.
Remember that the board employs only one staff member, the superintendent.
Remember that the board sets policy and does not get involved in the minutia of day to day operations.
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 board needs to listen to all of the stakeholders at OPRF and get feedback. However, the board employs only one staff member, the superintendent. The board sets policy and does not get involved in the minutia of day to day operations. The board needs to set clear policy, financial and academic goals, and define measures of performance in meeting these goals that the superintendent is held to.On the Park District of Oak Park board we have had to balance competing interests between many different groups. In my role as a board member I have listened to all voices involved in any issue. My experience has shown me that democracy can be messy but it demands the involvement of all voices, no matter how marginalized, in an effort to move issues forward that affect the quality of life in our community. On the Park Board we have regularly had to balance the interests of organized sports with others who prefer more passive park space. Most importantly though we have had to balance competing financial interests between residents for whom taxes are a burden, the cost of programs for users, and maintaining fields and capital infrastructure.
4. When in your experience have you had to balance competing interests? What process did you use? What did you learn?
On the Park District of Oak Park board we have had to balance competing interests between many different groups. In my role as a board member I have listened to all voices involved in any issue. My experience has shown me that democracy can be messy but it demands the involvement of all voices, no matter how marginalized, in an effort to move issues forward that affect the quality of life in our community. On the Park Board we have regularly had to balance the interests of organized sports with others who prefer more passive park space. Most importantly though we have had to balance competing financial interests between residents for whom taxes are a burden, the cost of programs for users, and maintaining fields and capital infrastructure.
5. What does transparency in government mean to you? How would you put it into practice?
Transparency means insuring that that the public is well informed about decisions that D200 makes and that the Open Meetings Act (OMA) is followed in spirit as well as in letter of the law.
At the Park District of Oak Park it is board policy that no discussion on issues coming before the board are discussed between board members except at a board meeting. Where these discussions involve only two members the letter of OMA is met but not the spirit. Discussion outside of board meetings result in a lack of transparency and the impression that decisions are “done deals” before the meeting takes place. Transparency is achieved when all discussions occur at the board table
I will also revamp the OPRF website so that it serves as a platform for information and engagement for the entire community. Finally, I will push to have all items listed in the weekly newsletter pushed out on social media platforms: Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
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?
Technology gives us wider access to our public officials, but we need a strategy that does not overwhelm them or force them to only engage with, as you suggest, the loudest voices. Board members should be on social media — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — to promote initiatives and to provide context or information. The underlying principle behind this is transparency. Board member can no longer hide in the shadows. Many people in our community cannot be present at board meetings. Therefore, it is important that board members solicit feedback on social media and deliver their thoughts on important issues. All board meetings need to be live streamed and archived on the D200 website.
However, engagement should not end on social media. I would encourage scheduled informal talks by board members with community groups on the weekends or other times that do not conflict with D200 board meetings. This would allow community members to get to know the board and current issues, but also give an opportunity to solicit feedback. I would consider these listening sessions that would rotate — One month at a church, at a elementary school PTO meeting, another at the farmer’s market, another at a local coffeeshop. The decisions we make affect everybody, so we need to do whatever it takes to be IN the community and not just available at board meetings.
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)?
Being involved in a range of community groups — the Irving PTO, OPYBS, Girl Scouts, Food Pantry, professional volunteer work with the Center for Neighborhood Technology, adjunct teaching at Chicago State University and UIC, acting as an IHSA track official, and serving on the oak Park Plan Commission and on the Park District Board — has given me a broad perspective on the issues and passions that drive our community and the larger Chicago area.
I have spent my life engaging with and listening to an extremely diverse group of people and perspectives, and I expect to continue both as a D200 board member.
8. What have been your most useful sources of information about secondary education? Have you found any research to be particularly informative?
My first source on educational information is my wife who is a middle school teacher. I rely on the work of SAY and follow the Minority Student Achievement Network. I also follow the research produced by the Urban Educational Institute at the University of Chicago. It should be kept in mind though that board members are not elected for their expertise in education; D200 employs well paid staff to be the educational experts. The board provides oversight, sets goals, and evaluates outcomes of curriculum and programs developed and implemented by the education experts on staff.
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?
Taxes in Oak Park pose a threat to the economic diversity in our community. Taxes have risen faster than the inflation rate in Oak Park because of both the referendum by D97 and D200 and large tax increases by the Village of Oak Park, a municipality without a tax cap.
Roughly 80 percent of D200’s expenses are driven by salaries which are rising faster than the inflation rate. However, D200 is tax capped and tax increases are limited each year to the inflation rate. Therefore, D200 has to find savings each year to offset expenses that are rising faster than revenue.
Since 2005 D200 increases have kept pace with inflation, however, throughout most of this period D200 has been sitting on an excessively large fund balance which indicates that it has taken in more tax revenue than needed. D200 is facing in the near term a difficult balancing act of paying for capital projects out of the fund balance and insuring that there is sufficient balance available to cover anticipated deficit spending so that an operating referendum is pushed as far as possible into the future.
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?
I believe equity does not have to result in increased taxes. First, we have to differentiate between long overdue capital improvements that directly impact academic achievement and equity and the cost of addressing equity daily in the classroom.
The D200 Board has committed to the $32M capital improvements identified by IMAGINE that directly impact academic achievement and equity by creating a welcoming environment. I support these expenditures that will come from the existing fund balance and will not directly impact taxes.
Equity can also be addressed in ways that do not have to drain resources. These include:
Updating the curriculum to reflect perspectives of all races and ethnicities in our community
Aggressively recruiting teachers of color
Re-introducing the scholars program
Re-instate a clustering program where minority students are “clustered” together in honors classes so that they are not alone
Rethinking summer school to provide a foundation for students seeking to make the jump to honors classes
As a good will gesture D200 should forgo capturing TIF funds when the Madison and Downtown TIFs expire next year as well as capturing new EAV that comes on line as a result of new high-rise construction.
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?
Racial equity is achieved when one’s racial identity is not a predictor of academic performance. Equity is needed in order to attack the achievement gap. There is not a single solution that will address the achievement gap and achieve equity at OPRFHS. Instead, it requires a change in culture by the entire school community. I support implementing an Equity Policy and appointing an Equity Coordinator
My record for driving equity in our community stands for itself:
I have been involved in equity on the Park District Board of Oak Park where we increases scholarships from $8k/year to $65k/year so that all our residents have access to program; constructed the full court at Longfellow and increased gym access for all our youth; expanded programming for youth; and increased after school programs.
On the Oak Park Plan Commission, I supported affordable housing initiative.
As a member of the Oak Park Youth Baseball/Softball board I pushed for expanded scholarships and outreach so that OPYBS reflected our community.
As Irving PTO president, I participated in efforts to make all parents feel welcome and become involved in our learning community; I worked others to expand after school enrichment programs for all Irving students. I also worked to start honest discussions among parents about how welcome diverse groups feel at the school and how to address it
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?
No capital expenditures should be done until a long term financial plan is developed that defines what funds are available for capital investment without increasing the tax burden. The board needs to strike a balance between capital spending, reducing the fund balance, and pushing an operating referendum as far into the future as possible.
I support the recent action by the Board to pursue the aspects of IMAGINE that are directly tied to academic achievement and equity. All decisions should be prioritized by asking what the impact is on academic achievement.
The pool is the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed because it is time to repair them. Funds are limited and I would replace the pools within the existing footprint for swim classes and partnering with the Park District for a competition pool such as by covering Ridgeland Common. Such a pool would be a community asset and the cost would not have to be bore by D200 alone
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?
I expect a continued focus and pressure on equity. We must do more to close the opportunity gap and continue to demand progress that is measured by metrics, not platitudes. We need to show that OPRFHS serves all students, no matter their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or household income and do whatever it takes to get us there.
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?
Anytime communication and discussion take place to resolve conflict is a success. Discipline rates have declined since restorative justice practices have been implemented so I view this program as a success. Restorative practices can be used to resolve contact between any members of our school community (parents/teachers/administrators/students/staff). Training has been limited so far and I’d like to see it expanded.
15. Please list the three largest donors to your campaign by dollar amount contributed.
Because I believe local elections should not be determined by who can raise the most money, I am not accepting money from outside donors. My campaign is 100 percent self-funded.
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[The above answers were supplied on 2/12/19. 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.]
Committed to collaboration (WJ 3/26/19)
Park district head has OPRF board on radar (WJ 3/26/19)
OPRF Faculty Senate endorsement (WJ 3/19/19)
Pragmatic Solutions' endorsements (WJ 3/19/19)
Candidate Profile (WJ 3/14/19)
Oak Park Conversation - Consolidating Taxing Bodies (The Doris Davenport Show 10/21/18)
Oak Park to ask consolidation question (WJ 7/24/18)
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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)