Steven Strack: Grayslake District 46 Board Candidate
Steven Strack is among five candidates running for four spots on the District 46 board.
Name: Steven Strack
Family: Married for 18 years, 2 children in CCSD46 (one at Prairieview, one at Grayslake Middle School). Resident of Hainesville since 1999.
Education: BA, Augustana College (IL) MBA, Keller Graduate School of Management
Occupation: Continuity Manager, VW Credit, Inc., Libertyville IL (Employed by VW Credit, Inc. since 1999)
Previous Elected or Appointed Offices (please include years of service): None
Other community involvement: Member of the Augustana College Chicago Advisory Group for strategic planning. Volunteer coach for Science Olympiad. Participated in the Grayslake/Round Lake Area's Relay for Life for five years.
Position sought: Community Consolidated School District 46 School Board Member (4-year Term)
Campaign E-mail address: email@example.com
Campaign committee: Friends of D46 Focus on Education
Campaign Website: D46FocusOnEducation.com
Campaign Facebook: facebook.com/D46FocusOnEducation
Campaign Twitter: N/A
Why are you running?
I am running because I believe I will contribute to a more effective approach to leadership. Our district currently gives the appearance of a lack of leadership. This perception hampers the ability of the board to conduct business and it leads to a community that has no confidence in the school board’s ability to effectively govern the district. I think more effective leadership and a renewed focus on the issues facing the district will go a long way toward bringing the membership and community back to the table. There is too much at stake for petty differences to get in the way of finding a path forward for the community and the district.
In what ways would the District 46 board benefit from your service?
I will take a measured, analytical and thoughtful approach to governing the District. The issues facing us today – for example a deficit, potential cuts, declining revenues, conversion to a new academic standard, to name a few – are not black and white issues. These are complicated problems that demand a thorough approach to solving them. My background in process improvement, financial services, and recovery planning lends itself to an approach where in depth analysis is a driving force for change. We need to better understand these issues as well as the effects of any decisions we make to solve problems. I will drive the discussion toward this detailed examination of our situation and finding the most beneficial solutions to our problems.
What do you think should be done about the district's projected deficit? What areas should be targeted for potential budget cuts?
I think it’s important not to assume that further reductions in spending and/or staff are imminent and required. In general, I believe the district should save money where it can while examining the effect of each cost-saving decision on the quality and availability of our educational opportunities. It is better to maintain current spending levels in order to maintain the current quality of the education we offer rather than make drastic cuts that will require the district to play catch-up down the road. To prevent or minimize the possibility of this situation occurring again in the future, I think we need to work toward obtaining additional revenue from State, Federal and other sources rather than having a singular focus on spending cuts, and we need to be creative with all of the funds that are currently available. The district must also explore additional revenue streams from sources such as the rental of district facilities, sponsorships and foundations. Additionally, there are opportunities for savings in areas like electricity use and transportation.
With regard to the deficit, I think we need to be mindful of how we got to this point because that will help us better understand the effect of the decisions that have been made and we can then learn from our past mistakes. There are many contributing factors to the current deficit, primarily our declining state funding and the decision not to maximize the levy. The former is largely out of our control, the latter was a self-inflicted wound. The district’s budget for the current year is approximately $49 million. The district spends approximately 60 percent on wages and benefits; 12 percent on debt service; 7 percent on Operations and Maintenance; 6 percent on transportation; and 3 percent on Special Education for a total of approximately 88 percent of the budget. A large part of the last 12 percent is taken up by grants with specific spending requirements. Also, because of the rising cost of transportation, health insurance, declining state funding, and other factors the district is in a situation where even if the levy were maximized doing so would not completely solve the deficit problem. Even in the face of these issues, our students maintain above average test scores in a district where we spend an average amount per student and pay our teachers average salaries. We must maintain and enhance this quality even while dealing with these financial challenges.
What do you think about the possibility of closing a school as a potential cost-saving measure?
This is an issue that demands careful examination because the cost savings cannot be the only consideration. The impact on transportation, the disruption in the community, and the impact on student learning and achievement must also be part of the equation. To properly assess the parameters and impacts of a school closure will take several years. While our student population may be declining, it is not dropping precipitously so as to make this an easy decision. With that being said, it makes sense to do the analysis soon so that we know the positive and negative impacts such a drastic change would have in the event that the decision to close a school is made. Overall, a declining student population could make it necessary to close a school in the future, but I think it is difficult to say that it is certain at this time.
How do you feel about the way the teacher's contract and strike were handled? Is there anything you would have done differently?
Without direct knowledge of the negotiations themselves I can only speak to the perception of the negotiation and strike from my perspective as a member of the community. I have three areas of concern: the duration of the negotiations; the poor communication between the school board, teacher’s union and community; and the apparent lack of trust between the school board and the teacher’s union. The negotiation took place for about a year which seems like enough time to come to an arrangement given the willingness and ability of all parties to compromise. That it went on for so long and still ended in a strike signals a lack of that willingness and ability. The communication between the school board, teacher’s union and community demonstrated a lack of awareness as to the desire for all parties to deal with the same set of facts and an inability to agree on baseline considerations in the negotiation. And it appeared to the public at large that there was, and is, a lack of trust between the school board and the teacher’s union that presented one of the most serious roadblocks to an amicable solution. As I stated previously, we do not know the intimate details of the process. However, I think that if the school board had approached the teacher’s union from the standpoint of problem-solving and invited the teacher’s union to be part of that process in order to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion things may have gone more smoothly. Perhaps a more inviting approach where both parties agree on the starting point and are working toward the same goal and without the apparent animosity inherent in these types of negotiations could have paved the way for a speedier resolution.
What will you do to ensure there is more unity amongst school board members?
Civility and a lack of comity have been recurring issues at board meetings to be certain. In my opinion, when meetings have devolved into arguments the problem has usually been a lack of control both on the part of the board members involved and the board president himself losing control of the proceedings. I think more effective leadership and a renewed focus on the issues facing the district will go a long way toward bringing the membership back to the table. While it can be easy to criticize the behavior of others, the important point in this situation is to show respect for people and their opinions. I will not always agree with the views of the other board members, but I will always respect their right to have and express those views. As I stated earlier, there is too much at stake for petty differences to get in the way of finding a path forward for the community and the district.
What else do you want voters to know?
Throughout this campaign I have highlighted 3 main issues:
School funding: Of the three main sources of school funding the local property tax component is the most well-known and oversubscribed. Currently, the district budget for FY2013 is covered approximately 69% by local funding, 27 percent by state funding, and 4 percent by federal funding. In my opinion, the funding split should be closer to 40/30/30. As a society we speak about how we value education, but then many people support policies that undermine the programs and funding that support the very education we claim to value. So what do we do? On the local level we try to hold the line on the levy at the current level and find savings where we can. We can also explore other potential revenue streams for the district in order to supplement or lessen our reliance on property taxes. On the state level, we can fight for more equitable funding so some of the wealthier districts are not receiving 20-30 percent more state funding per pupil than districts with higher numbers of students living at the poverty level. On the federal level, we can work with other districts across the country to convince the people and Congress that increased education funding is better for everyone. It's going to be a long road for sure, but these are fights worth having.
Long range planning: Based on my observances at the board meetings, there is very little public discussion regarding the long-term effects of the decisions that are made. There is rarely any substantive discussion about long-term costs, benefits, effect on student learning, or other issues. On most every issue, the discussion is strictly about short-term cost and how the school board can lower the tax levy as soon as possible. The Board does not appear to look more than two or three years into the future. There is no in-depth public discussion about the long-term efficacy and cost of ideas, such as using digital textbooks, or the future effect of grade level centers on learning and student behavior. I think the people of the district deserve to be well-informed and they are currently being underserved. As a board member I will drive these discussions toward a more thoughtful review of the district's planning. This will involve a thorough analysis of our situation in the context of the current local, state and federal funding system, using that analysis to develop strategic plans for the short, medium and long term, and subsequently working to ensure this plan is executed. In addition, we need to band together with other school districts across the state and the nation to work with the state and federal government regarding the appropriate levels of funding for education. We have to take the long view to see that the entire system of education funding has to be changed in order to make a meaningful and lasting difference.
Community involvement: The district would be well-served by the formation of standing committees whose membership includes persons from the community who are interested in examining issues in-depth and presenting solutions to the problems faced by the district. These committees should include, but not be limited to, Finance, Facilities, and Curriculum, with policy statements and charters for each that define its authority, reporting requirements, goals and boundaries. It's in these committees, held in public view, where the in-depth policy discussions might primarily take place.