With four out of seven seats up for election on April 9, Park Ridge-Niles School District 64 is going to go through a major change no matter who is elected.
Only one incumbent is running, so there will be at least three new school board members.
See summaries of what the candidates had to say, below, at Thursday's debate at Washington School.
The entire 90-minute debate can be viewed on the PREA website.
Gail Haller, executive director of the Park Ridge Chamber of Commerce, moderated the debate.
The six candidates are:
- Scott Zimmerman
- Terry Cameron
- Rick Van Roeyen
- Vicki Lee
- Benjamin Seib
- Dathan Paterno
Scott Zimmerman, the only incumbent running in this election, described his job as the CIO of CenterPoint Properties, as being the "head computer geek there."
He has three children at Washington School, joined the district's strategic plan committee in 2009 and was appointed to fill a vacant board seat in 2009, and was elected in the subsequent election.
Zimmerman wants to "keep the promise of the 2007 referendum."
Four areas where he can add value, he said, are:
- Technology. In his job, "I work across department and functional boundaries to implement ideas."
- Facilities. "It’s only recently we’ve come to realize the aging state of our buildings and mechanical systems." As a real estate exec, he said he has expertise to plan and avoid expensive surprises.
- District finance. "The district is in reasonably good shape but I think we need constant vigilance." He works with financial projections and budgets in his career.
- A mix of old and new board members. As the only incumbent, he said he could provide historical context about how decisions were made.
Terry Cameron has three boys at Washington School, has lived in various places around the country for his career and works as a senior vice president and general manager of a health care company called Emdeon. He has served on the executive board of the American Heart Association of Greater Chicago.
"I served on D64’s strategic committee in 2010. It was nice to see a number of the initiatives implemented by Dr. Bender and his staff," he said.
His website, Cameronfordistrict64.com, lists some of the issues he wants considered, such as curriculum, infrastructure and funding.
In the course of preparing to run for the board, Cameron met with and spoke to parents, principals, teachers, and taxpayers.
Cameron, also a private pilot, compared running a school district to flying an airplane, requiring pre-planning, analytical skills and more.
Rick Van Roeyen is a special education teacher at Leyden Township High School. He grew up in Skokie and said he and his wife moved to Park Ridge for the quality of the school district.
"We need to provide the best education possible for our children but we also must live within our means," he said.
He has a masters degree in special education and is certified to be a school administrator.
"In three of the last years I worked as a department chair in which I evaluated the work of other professional teachers," he said, adding he would bring the perspective of an education professional.
Vicki Lee went to Purdue University, got her MBA at Loyola University, spent most of her career in telecommunications and moved to Park Ridge in 1999 for the schools. As a stay at home mom, she feels she can contribute to the community.
She became president of Carpenter School's PTO, but the school had some issues: the school was on its fourth principal in six years and the building had water in the basement.
"At that time I spoke to the board," she said. "I was impressed with the things they cover. The parents came out, everybody got involved. We have a new principal, they’ve gotten rid of the asbestos, there is no water in our basement and we’re getting air conditioning. It just shows what you can do when you work as a team."
With the PTO, she looked at how the organization was raising money and how it was spending it.
"We want to spend it for the majority of kids. We took our Walkathon profits and spent it on smartboards for classrooms that didn’t have them. The students wanted it, the teachers wantead it, the parents wanted it," she said, describing it as a win-win.
"I just can’t even tell you the energy and excitement at Carpenter now and I’m proud of it" she said. "If I could bring it to all the schools I’d be so proud of it."
Benjamin Seib is from Evansville, Ind. and attended the public school system there and then a private liberal arts college for men, Wabash College, which he said were both fantastic experiences. His dad is an engineer, and his mom a teacher, and he got her perspective at the dinner table.
At 32, he's the youngest candidate, and he and his wife moved to Park Ridge in 2011 for the quality of the schools, as they hope to have children soon, he said.
He works as a vice president of finance for Cancer Treatment Centers of America and earned his MBA from the University of Chicago in 2008.
"I’m the inquisitive type, the contrarian, always asking why. Where does my property tax money go? Most of it goes to the schools," he said, adding that the 2012 D-64 budget works out to spending about $16,000 per kid.
"That was the tuition at my private liberal arts college in Indiana," he said.
Dathan Paterno was raised in Park Ridge and has two childen at Carpenter and one at Emerson. He received his doctorate from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and has started his own practice, Park Ridge Psychological Services, which he said is rewarding.
"My reason for running is that I want my kids to have the best education possible," he said. "I think I bring a unique brand to this board because of my background in child development."
He felt D64 could tweak bullying policies, and said discipline should reflect an understanding of child development.
"I've heard of kids making guns out of popsicle sticks and they’re being shamed for it," he said. "Let them be children, and do what is developmentally appropriate."
He also said the district should be looking for more male teachers, and that special education services, while phenomenal, can be tweaked.
On the topic of what D64 does well and what can be improved
Van Roeyen: "We could have more social emotional learning in the classroom. That can improve situations with respect to bullying and other situations that have come up.
"Move toward 1:1 computing, where students are supplied with some sort of internet connective device. I know the schools are already looking at those things."
On the topic of what the district needs to address
Lee: "I agree the special needs is phenomenal and also the Channels of Challenge program (for top achievers). Where I think we need improvement is in the middle. I think we could be doing more so you can learn at your pace."
"There is a sense the cost is running away from the incremental value over the years," he said, citing the levy would have been $37 million back in 2007 without the referendum, and $44 million with it. At the time, D64 was being outspent by neighboring communities, he said.
"That $44 million tax levy has now become $64 million," he said. "So we went from 44 to 64 in five years. That’s a 70 percent increase. The rhetorical question for parents is, we love our system, but has the value grown 70 percent? Some people feel costs are out of control. The value and cost equation is getting a little unbalanced."
On the topic of 'how do you define transparency?'
"Sometimes too much information is misleading because it’s so difficult to navigate.
"I think when we give our press releases, as well written as they are, they’re long. Let’s summarize in bullet points.
Regarding materials that are in the board book, he would like to see them cross referenced with key words. Since we live in a Google age, it would be functional to be able to search effectively, he said.
On the topic of 'it has been said school board members should be on the balcony overlooking the dance floor; what does that mean to you?'
Cameron: "The school board is appointed to do two things; make sure there’s a good superintendent running the district and make sure that person is capable of driving the execution within the district.
"In addition I think the district is responsible for taxpayer dollars."
On the topic of 'what are your thoughts on the teachers' union and the collective bargaining process'?
One of the things I’ve noticed in talking to teachers and parents is that if you even talk about financial responsibility, that’s code for being anti-teacher. That's silly talk. It needs to be as amicable as possible. Everybody wants the best for teachers and children."