On April 2, 2019 the Consolidated election will occur, affecting the various communities in DeKalb County. There are a variety of races that have drawn significant attention, including the Mayor’s race in Shabbona and the School Board race in DeKalb. With that said, there are other races in the City of DeKalb that are on the ballot and deserve attention. There are candidates for Kishwaukee College Board, Dekalb Park District and one contested Ward race for City of DeKalb Council seat.
In the past, Consolidated elections have had low turnout. In 2015, the Consolidated election had a meager turnout of 7%. And that 2015 election included Mayoral races in both DeKalb and Sycamore. One difference in this election is that according to DeKalb County Clerk, Doug Johnson, voters will have a better experience at the polls because of newer ballot machines that offer a larger screen.
What seems to be the “hot” race in the City of DeKalb is the election of School Board members. There are nine (9) candidates running for four (4) Board positions. There were three (3) candidate forums for DeKalb School Board which gave community members a chance to learn more about the candidates. It is important to thank the candidates for making the effort to both run and represent the community on the school board. If you have never run for office, it is intimidating to sit on a stage and be drilled by unannounced questions.
The first forum was held at DeKalb High School. When the house lights went down and the stage and spot lights lit the stage, some of the candidates seemed a little nervous with their answers. As the evening continued, the answers and the candidates seemed more relaxed in the setting. The questions seemed a little soft for this event. Two of the candidates did not attend: Fred Davis and Stephen Irving.
The next forum was hosted by the DeKalb Chamber and held at the Egyptian Theater. This larger venue had a smaller crowd but gave the candidates a chance to expound upon their answers. Some of the questions were a little more insightful and gave the candidates more to ponder. One question that scored low was the reason for the higher cost of Chrome books for students (not confirmed) in DeKalb District 428, compared to Sycamore district 427. Some questions were directed at select members, with other candidates having the option to respond. Because the DeKalb Chamber poorly scheduled the event on the same evening as the DeKalb School Board meeting, Rick Smith and Fred Davis were unable to attend. Stephen Irving was also missing.
The final forum was held at the University Village Meeting Room and was much more relaxed, as the audience and candidates were up-close and personal. The questions were more thorough and it was exciting to see the comfort level of the candidates improved. One problem, though, was that more questions could have been asked if candidates would have had the option to speak (as in the Chamber event), instead of ALL six of those in attendance being required to respond to every question. It also would have been more productive if there were not two forums in the same week, which could have affected the attendance of candidates. Missing at this event were Smith, Davis and Irving.
Each of the candidates running for School Board bring something positive to the table. To expect the candidates to have ALL the answers is unreasonable. DeKalb County Online attended all of the candidate forums.
Jermony Olson: Jeromy is extremely concerned about accountability of school funding. Jeromy (49) is a CEO of a major company in the St. Charles area. He feels strongly that School Bonds should be a major concern and addressed that future taxing and bond requirements will have a higher value if addressed in advanced. Being a responsible steward of the school’s money is extremely important.
Sarah Moses: Sarah stated at the last forum that the community is concerned by high taxes and low ranking schools. Sarah (44) is a former teacher and current business owner in DeKalb. She is concerned that student expectations are not being met for a variety of reasons.
Samatha McDavid: Samatha feels a need for more diversity in the teaching staff and more vision in paying down debt while maintaining academic standards. Her husband works in the school district. Samatha (30) feels School Board members should take a more active role in visiting the schools and attending events. This comment was endorsed by other candidates, who agreed that board members should attend activities and sporting events. Side Bar: Not one candidate talked about attending concerts, dance recitals and theater events. All of DeKalb schools have good band programs, theater events and a growing orchestra program.
Orion Carey: Orion is concerned about declining achievement levels in the DeKalb Schools compared to other schools in the state. Orion (31) would like to see a school board member attend City Council meetings, as this is the legislative body that can be supportive (look at your home tax bill to see how much the school district, Kish College and the Park District get). Side bar: Superintendent Craven is a non-voting member of the DeKalb Chamber Board of Directors.
December Richardson: December feels that there is a tax burden, but there is also a need to spend money to improve the schools. December (28) believes her background and advanced education makes her one of the best and most-learned candidates. Her comments on discipline questioned whether the issue is a problem with the student or with the parent, or a combination of both. Side bar: Some of the older people in attendance remembered when growing up, if you got in trouble at school you knew there would be repercussions when you got home.
David Seymour: David feels his background and education would make him as asset to the Board. David (41) wants more diversity in the teachers’ ranks for both mentoring and acceptance. He wants NIU to take a more active role in being an outreach as well as a resource to the DeKalb School District. Side bar: Recent reports show a declining number of college students seeking a career in education, and with 48.4% of all high school graduates leaving the State of Illinois for school it makes it even more of a challenge to recruit future teachers.
Rick Smith: Rick feels it is important to address the future by acquiring good teachers and administrators when current ones depart. Rick also feels it is important to have continuity within the School Board by having current members re-elected. Note: Mr. Smith attended only one of the forums.
Steve Irving: Steve Irving contacted DCO and acknowledged that he did not attend the forums. Steve relayed that he had planned and purchased a family vacation months before deciding to run for the school board. Steve wants home owners to look at their tax bill and choose wisely. He is a local businessman and on the Board at Kishwaukee Country Club. Note: Mr. Irving did not attend any of the forums.
Fred Davis: Fred Davis did not attend any forums and made no effort to respond to a request for information.
NOTE: The High School forum is available to view. The local newspaper also posted background stories on most of the candidates.
DeKalb County Online submitted a list of 12 questions to all the candidates with the request to answer some or all the questions or by professionally acknowledging the questions and declining to answer. Four candidates did respond and some elected to answer only some of the questions:
What should the school district do with the current two million dollar surplus? (Note: This question is from one of the forums.)
Jermony Olson: The board recently decided to allocate $2 million per year, from the district fund balance, for the next 5 years as an abatement to help ease taxpayers into the annual increases that are coming for the repayment of the outstanding bonds. This is a good thing, however in this case the dollars are paying off principal and interest and thus do not have a huge impact on the debt service in total. Plus put the entire TIF funds, which is actually $3M toward the debt, but that we should front end load the $2M/year and pay a total of $13M toward our debt in 2019.
December Richardson: The school district should put the majority of the surplus money into our district’s underperforming schools. The money can be used to equip our teachers and students with everything they need to be successful both in and out of the classroom.
Orion Carey: Surplus funds, outside of normal contingency funds, should be used to pay down our significant debt. If the debt isn’t paid down, we will be in trouble when we need to borrow to once again increase our capacity.
Steve Irving: Pay down the debt immediately.
How should the district deal with over crowded classrooms? (Note: Question from one of the forums)
Jeromy Olson: Our average classroom size in the district is actually 20 students according to Illinoisreportcard.com. We currently have a few larges classes that are working their way through the elementary system. According to the demographers that studied our population we should actually be seeing a reduction in the student population over the next 5 years. As stated before, if there are children in the district that should not be, even 2% reduction would represent almost 6 classrooms worth of children which would help.
December Richardson: Increasing class sizes should be a last resort for any school district. It should never be a starting point. There are many other ways to trim a budget. If all other options are exhausted, then schools may be forced to RIF (Reduction in Force) teachers and increase class size. Schools should use benchmark assessments to determine student placement.
Orion Carey: As unfortunate as it is, crowded classrooms are not a new issue nor is it an issue easily remedied. Until such time that facility size can be increased, some creativity is going to be necessary. Additional teacher’s assistants in classrooms could be a way to provide some relief. Communication with other districts to see how they are handling large class sizes would be beneficial, no doubt.
Steve Irving: With crowded classrooms – if funds are available, create another section to reduce overcrowding.
How can the school board be more accountable to the public on student achievement, school performance and progress over time?
Jeromy Olson: Only by setting goals with an action plan to achieve them and then measuring the progress or regression. In order to do that, board members need to attend meetings, be engaged and accountable.
December Richardson: If the school Board committee was required to answer questions from the public, then the public can start holding the appropriate people accountable when certain needs or concerns are addressed. How many school visits has the Superintendent made to observe classroom instruction?
Orion Carey: Transparency goes a long way towards accountability. To the public that takes an interest, I believe total transparency with grades and test results is the best way to provide that public with the means to approach the schools with anything they may hold an issue with or like to see changed.
Steve Irving: School Board (member) can do several things: move monthly meeting each month to a different school, publish board minutes on the school web site, issue minutes via e-mail to all parents, have each Board member visit a school for a full day and sit in on classrooms, have regular dialogue with Teachers, Principals, Secretaries, Kitchen and Janitorial staff and seek input.
How will you engage the community to improve public schools in the district?
Jeromy Olson: First, board members need to visit the classrooms. You cannot inspect what you expect if you never see it. If the board is going to create policy to address the situations in our classrooms, they need to be present in order to give input and ideas. Second, have at least one board member attend each city council meeting. This will benefit both the district and the city by creating open channels for dialogue about how help solve problems. Lastly, engage the University on a scheduled basis to ensure that the goals between parties are aligned. This would also help us with the teacher recruiting process. The stronger this relationship is the better.
December Richardson: I would like to organize a curriculum fair and host an open house. This will create opportunities for the community to see high-quality work your school is addressing through a curriculum fair or school open house. This will develop a strong connection to my community by demonstrating my school’s good deeds in an inviting setting. I plan to send an email newsletter.
Orion Carey: I believe that the school board needs a firm relationship established with the city council. Power is in numbers and if we can work together, both will come out ahead and for the better of DeKalb.
Steve Irving: Engage the community more: move the meetings around as mentioned (above), post achievements via newsletter.
What is the biggest challenge to the current school district?
Jeromy Olson: Without a doubt it is the continued downward slide of our standardized test scores as compared to the rest of the state. Our district school rankings make it difficult to attract growth and maintain a strong tax base. People are leaving DeKalb at an alarming rate to move into other districts and the only way to reverse that is to improve our results academically.
December Richardson: We need to put the necessary resources in place to ensure our students feel the support that they need to succeed both in and out of the classroom. We want more of our students to see going to college as a must and not an option. Failure is not an option when it comes to our students. They are our future workforce and this election will largely impact them in a negative way, if the appropriate people are not elected for the school board.
Orion Carey: Getting to kids as early as possible in their scholastic life. Pre-K school and early education is going to be what gets us ahead on improving test scores and results. Making sure students and families without sufficient resources are worked with to guarantee kids are making it to school prepared for their education.
Steve Irving: Biggest challenge: Improve low rankings, reduce debt to allow for a lower property tax burden, improve discipline by hiring/promoting strong/firm Principals, and enforce a code of conduct.
NOTE: Other questions not listed above were answered at the various forums.
DCO would like to thank former Mayor Bessie Chronopoulos for reviewing and endorsing the questionnaire for the School Board Candidates. The candidate forums touched on over 14 different issues. It is important that any Board have Board Diversity, with its members specializing in a variety of areas: i.e.: pedagogy, academics, finance, economics, problem solving, negotiations, and most importantly common sense.
Conclusion, DeKalb County Online encourages all citizens to be informed and learn about all candidates in all races. This is not a battle of neighborhood Yard Signs or “My candidate is better than your candidate.” On Wednesday morning there will be new faces in select offices and it will be time to work together for the betterment of everyone.
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