Below are candidate-submitted answers to a survey Landmark sent out to all candidates running in this year’s elections.
Office sought: Board of Education, District 96
Previous political experience: None
Previous community involvement: Taxpayer and voter
- MBA, Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management
- MS, Environmental Engineering, Missouri University of Science and Technology
- BS, General Engineering, United States Naval Academy
Occupation: Engineering/Manufacturing Leader
As a school board member, how would you approach the board-administrator relationship? What is your view of that relationship as it exists presently?
I’ll describe how the relationship is defined for most oversight boards. Administrators work as employees of the Board, the board hires the Superintendent who has responsibilities similar to a Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a for profit company. The superintendent then delegates most operational (day to day) tasks to the Administrators and teachers, all consummate education professionals. The Board carries out its responsibility to the taxpayer through sound governance and oversight of the results, not necessarily the activities. The Board ensures the Superintendent has clear, measurable goals, has adequate resources in place (people, facilities, technology, funding, etc.), and has the authority, and within reason the autonomy to maneuver to as needed to achieve those goals. My approach to the would emphasize working in concert. First, this requires unfettered communication – the Board needs to know of any unusual or unexpected situations. Second, is mutual respect; we each have strengths and weakness. Interactions should play toward our positive attributes not for the purpose of exposing flaws. A Board comprised of the right mix of experience can be a powerful resource to the taxpayers and Administration, one that can all but guarantee goals established by the Board will be achieved.
I see that interaction as described above moving rapidly in that direction. My perception of the present Board/Administration interaction is one in which there is sincere effort to work together. Historically, there were some challenges to holding the Administration to account for results, but that was a different board, a different administration. I would say the positive changes have accelerated with the recent board appointments of Juliet Boyd and Rich Regan.
What is your view regarding the performance of the current school board? What should change, if anything?
The Board appears to be working on the right problems. Let me give you a few examples of what I see as accomplishments. First, is in financial accountability. I am not privy to all the facts, but find myself mystified that in an employment contract there is not an agreement as to what constitutes compensatory benefits and what are non-compensatory benefits – I’m referring of course to the excessive retirement package of the former Superintendent that prompted a penalty fee from the State. The taxpayers of D96 now have a champion in the Board that is going to ensure that this employment contract ambiguity is resolved and that this situation never happens again. The second action that is a credit to the Board was in how they worked with the Administration to free resources for a successful implementation of Common Core. It was no small feat to come up with a solution to allow a curriculum to be developed with teachers ready for students to receive solid instruction without missing a beat. The third activity that demonstrates the Board is working on the right problems is in regards to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The two most recent appointments to the Board, Juliet Boyd and Rich Regan, are exceptionally qualified and are essential to negotiating a contract that is fair to both tax payers and teachers alike.
Going forward as a new Board member I would not do anything to slacken the tepmo, but would expect to participate and expand these types of Board successes. My agenda would be to support the Agenda.
What do you think of the district’s 1-to-1 laptop initiative? Should it be changed? If so, how?
I am a user of technology, much like most of the D96 residence. At a high level one should feel this is a good program even if it can’t be articulated. And, that’s the problem. I am suspicious that recent changes to the curriculum, Common Core, have muted the original intent of the 1-to-1 laptop program. If not already happening behind the scenes, I would recommend that we go back to the drawing board, define all technology needs, and see where they intersect with academic achievement. From that perspective we can then establish the specification for appropriate technology that may be assignable to students and to what grades that would include. Once that is accomplished we can appropriately modify the curriculum reinforced by technology in all its variants. The last action would be to procure the technology.
D96 has amassed a large budget surplus since its successful referendum in 2004. Do you think the district should continue to ask for the maximum annual levy it is allowed? Why or why not?
The budget is driven by the educational needs of the students. All expenditures therefore should be in alignment to that end. I’m not a proponent of a “rainy day” fund disconnected from a risk management strategy. One of the governance functions of the Board is financial accountability. When in the course of its interaction with the Administration the Board seeks answers to questions regarding activities, it is not because there is dissatisfaction with the activities, but to gauge what is the probability of a successful result. If confidence is low, the Board would appropriately hold reserves for remedial actions. So, when I see a large rainy day fund my mind starts to imagine a lot of bad scenarios out there that have a high probability of needing renewed attention. Recently I learned that reserves are overstated by a third, as some of that represents cash borrowed and obtained through debt instruments, not taxes. It has to be paid back to the debt holders. The decision to take on debt for the purpose of making an existing rainy day fund bigger defies all logic. This topic is something I intend to look into more thoroughly as a Board member. Absent more information to the contrary, I do not support an arbitrary tax to the max position.
How could the district’s gifted and special education programs be improved or changed, or are changes even necessary?
I have personal experience as a parent of a special needs student. A few years back the availability of D96 offerings had a strong correlation to the intensity and tenacity of the of the student’s parent. That dynamic is very much in the past. Today there is a clear process driving the service offerings to the students of special needs. In the past it was a little loose. It’s worth noting that a parent of a special needs child has paid their dues and knows how to get through and around bureaucratic nonsense. Before the first conversation with a school official such a parent has had three to five years of experience fighting insurance providers, hospitals, government agencies, you name it. Parents are keyed up looking for any hint of obfuscation, so in the heat of the moment they may express disappointment. I have had those moments, but overall I am more than satisfied with D96 when it comes to getting special services for my daughter. People are imperfect and we don’t always get it right the first time, so sometimes we have to get together again to work out a new plan. The point is, D96 has a process and it works.
I’m less confident in our gifted program offerings, however. With special needs students one gets a diagnosis, there are professionals on staff or available that have specific skills in addressing the student’s needs. With gifted students it’s not clear as to what service is required. Each gift is unique and not uniform in its manifestations within any single child. That really makes a solution all the more elusive. Can we have a gifted program that encourages all gifts of all students to flourish? Yes. That is a foundational component to academic excellence.
What other issues do you believe will be important for the next school board to address?
The first objective for the next Board is to get a good Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, one that does not exploit teachers nor deprive students. The next action item after that is getting the long term strategy in place that will reinstate D96 to top tier status. It’s a reasonable expectation that can be achieved.