Most of the 10 candidates running for four seats on the Township District 113 School Board danced around the question about the $133 million referendum on the April 5 ballot during a recent forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Highland Park Country Club.
Candidates Corinne Bronson-Adatto, David Greenberg, Debra Hymen, Carl Lambrecht, Mark Mulert, Marjie Rosen Sandlow, David Small, Michael Smith and Steven Narrod answered questions about fiscal responsibility, school consolidation, the pension scandal, the role of a board member and their credentials for election during an hourlong debate on March 6.
The 10th candidate, Matilda Manfredini, was not present. George Pierachi made a statement on her behalf but was not able to answer questions under league rules.
Only Greenberg and Lambrecht said they opposed the referendum. Mulert, Bronson-Adatto and incumbent Smith specifically voiced support for the proposal. Narrod said he wanted to address the aging infrastructure of Highland Park and Deerfield high schools but did make an affirmative statement. The others were not specific.
Even if the election creates a majority on the seven-person board that is opposed to the referendum, they will be obliged to follow the mandate from the voters on the capital improvement projects, according to current board member Annette Lidawer.
“We [the board] brought this to referendum so the community could decide,” said Lidawer, whose term expires in 2013.
When the subject of fiscal responsibility was raised by the moderator, the candidates were once again given a chance to discuss the proposal to spend $133 million for renovations at the schools.
Greenberg made it clear the quality of education was satisfactory and the board must oversee a reduction in spending.
“What we have is an ever increasing tax burden that’s becoming more and more onerous on the taxpayer,” Greenberg said. “The district needs to do what everyone else is doing and cut back.”
Narrod pointed out 70 percent of all expenses go to payroll. He would look at appropriate expenditures and advocated working with staff to closely monitor spending.
“Everything is always in play. Everything is always looked at,” he said.
Sandlow, another incumbent seeking re-election, considers the budget a challenge for the board and administration since expenditures have increased while revenue remains constant under a state mandate.
“Over the past several years, we have been very fiscally responsible and cut over $3 million out of our budget,” Sandlow said. “This will continue to be the challenge in the future.”
Smith added that current cost-cutting persists and most of the cuts came from recommendations of faculty and staff.
“These are the people who can tell us how to cut costs without impairing the education of our children and their opportunities for extracurricular activities,” Smith said. “We are targeting another $2 million in cost containment as we move forward.”
When the candidates were asked about their credentials in education, four—Sandlow, Smith, Hymen and Narrod—answered they have experience either on the current board or the North Shore School District 112 board.
Others offered a background in business or education. Nearly all spoke of their experiences as parents of children in the schools.
Small has taught graduate business students as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Chicago and has conducted a variety of seminars. He considers being a parent of diverse students to be his greatest experience.
“My most relevant experience in the high school area is through my children,” Small said. “We have a freshman and junior at the high school now. Our 17-year-old son has Tourette's and as a result we have experienced the special education program as well.”
Tourette's syndrome is a neurological disorder that involves repetitive, involuntary muscular movements and vocalizations, often called tics.
Mulert acknowledged he has no direct education experience, though he has volunteered in the Deerfield schools. He is the parent of two Deerfield High School students. He does not think educational experience is a necessary qualification to join the board.
“Obviously I have a personal vested interest in the educational aspects of the board,” Mulert said, referring to his children. “The board’s role is to play an oversight role. The district staff and the school staff--they bring the educational expertise.”
Bronson-Adatto said her diverse experience as a teacher makes her well qualified to seat on the school board. She has taught art and has been a director of nutritional education for the public at the American Dietetic Association.
When it comes to their views on the most important role of the board, the candidates agreed that it is to hire a superintendent and monitor the activities of the administration and staff. They see other roles as well.
Lambrecht wants to act as a financial watch-dog and seeks to cooperate with other school boards in the area.
“[The board should] control all spending for the community,” Lambrecht said, “and to look for ways to work with the school boards of other places to correct some of the laws which are not to the advantage to our students.”
Hymen acknowledged the supervisory role over the superintendent but also said that communicating with all constituencies, including the public, is a key component of being a school board member.
“You can never share too much with the community who elects you,” Hymen said. “They [the residents] have a right to the information. They have a right to know within the realms of public sessions what you are doing, how well you are doing it and how you need to improve.”