Holly Neumann

District 94 School Board Candidate

Age: 39


Why are you running to be on the school board? 

I’m running because I think I can do some good. I’m a Komarek parent who values education and a District 94 taxpayer who believes in the power of community engagement.

When I was doing community outreach for the referendum effort, I frequently heard North Riverside and Broadview residents talk about how important transparency is to them. The D94 community has a strong desire to have all the facts laid out, and some people I spoke with had a historical mistrust of the school administration, school board, and town officials.

I respect that demand for transparency, and I’d like to take it a step further:  Engagement. Transparency is often one-sided; an inert presentation of information from one party to another. But engagement is a way to strengthen and improve the relationship between the taxpayers and the school board. 

My platform is centered around engagement, including holding community listening sessions, advocating for a place on the school board agenda for community/parent input, and increasing communication with the community via social media and other outlets.

What motivates you and what experience and perspectives would you bring to the job? How would those be valuable as an elected official?

I would come to the school board wearing two hats: 

1. I’m a parent. I have a 3rd grader at Komarek, and next year I’ll also have a Kindergartener. I care deeply about their education, this school, and this community. I’m a member of the PTA. We’ve lived in North Riverside for 7 years, and I’ve happily walked my child to Komarek for 4 of those years. This is valuable because I firmly believe that school board members should have a connection to the school. 

2. I’m a health policy researcher, with a master’s in public policy. Much of my work at RTI International is focused on Medicare, and how to provide high quality health care while managing costs. 

While I do not have a background in education, I do feel that there are many similarities in the way we think about healthcare costs/quality and education costs/quality. We want to achieve the best outcomes while making the best use of taxpayer dollars.

As a school board member you will be asked to balance what’s best for the district as a whole with what might be in the interest of specific groups. How will you do that? When have you had occasion to do something similar in the past and how did you accomplish that?

Balancing the needs of various stakeholders is a key part of my job at RTI. One of my roles is to help the Centers for Medicare and Medicare (CMS) respond to public comments about their proposed policies. This involves reading hundreds of letters from individuals, organizations, and hospitals – each of whom has something to gain or lose with the new policy. My job is to find the themes, summarize the issues, and help CMS respond. 

This is a role that requires careful attention to opposing viewpoints, synthesizing lots of information, and weighing costs/benefits. These are skills that I have built over the years, and they are handily applied to the school board. Listening, reading, and gathering information for careful consideration – these are core competencies I would bring to the board.

It’s my intention to listen carefully to the concerns of the groups involved. I trust that teachers know what they need to educate our students. I believe that parents who advocate for their children deserve a voice. I hear concerns from community members who fear that they are one tax hike away from financial insecurity. 

It’s not the school board’s job to make all of these groups happy. It’s the board’s job to listen to all perspectives and make the best decision based on the resources available.

The past year has been a challenge from the perspective of balancing the social, emotional and academic needs of students with the need to ensure the health and safety of all in the extended school family. What could the school district have done better to achieve that balance and what succeeded? What planning is needed to respond more quickly to any future disruptions in the traditional learning environment?

As a parent, I appreciated all of the communication (via email and phone) that the school administration did, especially early on. I also appreciated the surveys that were sent to parents, asking about their preferences for return to school. 

As a board member, listening to parents and teachers is paramount to the task of governance. As a public health researcher, I have also appreciated that the district has been listening to the advice of scientists and taking into account the current condition of the school’s aging ventilation system in these decisions.

I also feel that the teachers have done an amazing job under these circumstances. One area of improvement (again, from a parent’s perspective) would have been giving teachers more resources for virtual learning, so that they were not tasked with figuring out every technical aspect and could focus more on the actual learning. I should note that I do not know the constraints of the board, administration, or faculty during this time.

How do you define equity? How has your thinking around the subject of equity evolved and what should District 94 do to address that subject?

Equity is ensuring that every student has the same opportunity to succeed. Equity is not just about leveling the playing field, but about equipping each student with what they need in order to play. It is not enough to provide equal resources; we need to take individual factors into account so that each student has the tools to reach the goals of the school. 

This is an area that I am familiar with in health care, and I am in the process of learning more about when it comes to education. I am optimistic about Illinois’ recent switch to an Evidence Based Funding formula, and will continue to monitor how that model for funding the state portion of the budget serves our district. I also plan to meet with as many teachers and administrators as I can to find out more about ongoing and future plans to address equity in D94. 

As a school board member you will play a role in budgeting. How will your values inform your approach to budgeting and fiscal planning?

The role of a school board member is to clearly elucidate the district’s vision, and empower the superintendent and school staff to carry out that vision. The district’s budget should be the conduit through which that work is done. 

As a board member, I would bring my personal values into budget decision-making – including a strong commitment to high quality education, a trust in teachers and their assessment of needs, and a belief in fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers. 

A budget should be a living document, a trust formed between the community and the school. The board must also be nimble and open to new ideas, including the possibility that post-COVID school might look different in many ways.

What are the biggest challenges facing District 94 and how should the school board address them?

In the wake of the COVID Public Health Emergency, we face the ongoing threat of shrinking revenues at the state and local level. Illinois relies more heavily on local funds than almost any other state – resulting in the biggest gap between the districts with the highest spending per pupil and the lowest spending per pupil of any state. 

While the planned Illinois state education budget for FY 2022 budget is an increase over the previous year, we can expect a budget crunch at the local level that might be felt for the next few years.

On the other hand, I am heartened at the progress being made in construction to update the school facilities. I was a vocal advocate for the referendum, and I believe this district deserves a physical structure that both represents the learning inside it, as well as equips us to keep improving. 

For example, giving occupational therapists a space to do their work (instead of continuing to do it in crowded hallways) will allow the great work already being done to provide accommodations to continue, and allow us to increase the capacity for this work.