I truly believe in the power of public education to lift up the underprivileged and to strengthen our community by preparing our young people for fulfilling and productive careers. The board of education plays a critical role in the management of our community's public schools by setting policy, hiring administrators and staff, making critical decisions about curriculum and school safety, and managing the $35.6M annual budget carefully. The Mahomet-Seymour community not only trusts the school board with managing its hard-earned tax dollars, but also with the vital task of educating our children. For these reasons, I believe there is no more important unit of local government.
I have a long background of volunteering in the Mahomet-Seymour community, advocating for the needs of children, and teaching in the classroom. Since moving to the district a decade ago, I have served on the Mahomet-Seymour PTO's board as treasurer and communications secretary. I most recently chaired the 2018 Dawg Walk fundraiser that saw record-breaking dollars for the PTO and our schools. Also locally, I have regularly coached for the Mahomet Parks and Recreation Department's baseball, softball, and soccer leagues. These local opportunities have given me direct engagement with our students and their families to help them grow.
I have always had the drive to help others in need, especially the most vulnerable in our community, children. My wife and I have been licensed Illinois department of child and family services (DCFS) foster parents for 8 years now and have had 9 children placed in our home in that time. We have also given permanency to children in need by being adoptive parents for DCFS youth. Being a DCFS foster parent is an extremely challenging, but rewarding life. One of the greatest challenges is navigating the bureaucracy of the child welfare system. Since 2015, I have served on the Illinois Statewide Foster Care Advisory Council, a state of Illinois board dedicated to advocating for Illinois foster families and advising the director of Illinois DCFS. I am currently chair of the Policy/Legislative committee and Vice-Chair of the council at large. My time on the council has given me extensive experience working collaboratively with council members from all walks of life. I have also had significant experience analyzing and advocating for change in Illinois law and DCFS policy.
My educational background is in mathematics and computer science. I have spent time substituting at the high school level and have taught several for-credit courses at two Illinois community colleges to high-school and adult students. My wife is a teacher at Gibson-City-Melvin-Sibley and I currently work as a researcher at the University of Illinois where I collaborate with and guide graduate students in their research.
Each candidate in this election has valuable qualities for serving on the school board. I suggest that voters consider what truly sets each candidate apart from the other candidates and especially the existing board. I have experience teaching in the classroom. I have a technology background that could make my voice very useful during discussions regarding investment in technology. I have children in 8th grade and kindergarten, as well as a new 3-month-old baby boy, so I am definitely interested in the long-term health of our district and community. I have a history of advocating for special needs children, both from within my own family and at the state level. I have an extensive history of volunteering in the Mahomet-Seymour schools, working directly with students. These qualities and more set me apart from the current board and other candidates.
I am definitely not a single-issue candidate as there are many topics I am interested in. I also recognize that serving on a school board is necessarily a group process and will require collaboration and compromise with the other members of the board. However, for this campaign, I'm focusing on four areas that I think are both extremely important and things that I believe I can help to effect change.
The Mahomet-Seymour class sizes throughout our district are substantially higher than the state average and surrounding schools in our area. For example, the average class size in Mahomet-Seymour's 5th grade is 28 students per classroom. The state average is 21 and some schools in our area are as low as 17! Average class size has been shown to significantly impact educational outcomes for the simple reason that a teacher has limited time resources that must be divided amongst his students. When there are more students, each student gets less time and attention, which is critical in a classroom setting. There are several challenges for overcoming this issue in our district, chief among them is finding funds to hire additional teachers and finding space to house additional classrooms. I believe that with real fiscal discipline and focusing our finances on expenses that truly effect educational outcomes, we can carve out funds for additional staff. Too often our board approves flashy and unnecessary expenses like score boards and big screen TVs. The space challenge is going to require longer-term planning. Some buildings in our school have only one extra classroom and at Lincoln Trail, which houses 3rd-5th grade, there is no extra space. The student population growth should not have caught the board by surprise and future boards must act decisively to make sure our facilities are ready for our future needs. As a stop-gap measure, I would ask the district to look into how we can use teacher aides and volunteers to increase the one-on-one attention that each student has access to in their classroom.
The Mahomet-Seymour school board has a history of failing to engage the community and act as a transparent public body. I know that it can be difficult and I understand that some board members may not value community involvement. However, I would strongly advocate that we meet the legal obligations and spirit of the Illinois Open Meetings Act. For the past decade, there has not be a single vote by the Mahomet-Seymour school board that was not unanimous. Board members have openly admitted that decisions and debate are happening privately, either in closed session or in one-on-one meetings. While this behavior may be convenient for members of the board, I believe it is extremely unhealthy for a publicly-elected body. If I am elected to the board, I will immediately begin to challenge any efforts to skirt the open meetings act and I will see that decisions and discussion are happening in the public eye, where it belongs.
The Illinois school code defines the rights and responsibilities of school boards. One responsibility that the current board has delegated is the analysis and determination of curriculum. I certainly believe that this work should be done in collaboration with the highly-skilled teachers and administrators that the district employs. However, I also want the board to involve students and parents in this work and definitely take a more direct role as board members. Currently, the board has merely acted as a rubber stamp on curriculum decisions put forth by the administration. This is something that I would work to change in my first year.
Finally, I will embrace true fiscal responsibility. There are eight candidates running in this election and all eight are including fiscal responsibility as one of their objectives. Fiscal responsibility apparently can mean many things. For me, it means balancing annual budgets and minimizing our long-term debt. In the past ten years, the Mahomet-Seymour school district's long-term debt has ballooned from $21.3M in 2008 to its all-time high of $37.6M in 2018. That debt level puts us at 82% of our legally allowed debt limit. In other words, we've almost maxed out or credit cards! Assuming we do not accumulate any additional debt AND we pay off our existing debt on schedule, the district will have wasted $9M in interest alone when it finally pays it off in 2033. All of this data comes directly from the Clifton-Allen-Larson financial audit that the district published for FY 2018. For the incumbents running for re-election, I cannot fathom how they can say they are for ""fiscal responsibility"" with a straight face. This task will take some considerable time. I will constantly support the fiscal discipline that will pay down our debts and avoid future debt. Public debt is just another form of taxes and it is the most inefficient and unfair form as it comes with a significant additional penalty (interest) and it is placed on the shoulders of future taxpayers without their consent or input.
I really do believe in the wisdom of crowds. I believe that when we all work together on a problem, we will be better off. For me, engaging with voters and the community at-large is not just a campaign tactic. It is an approach I will exercise if I am elected to office. I strongly encourage people to reach out if they have issues that they are interested in or have ideas for solving our district's problems. My email, website, Facebook, and even phone are listed on this voter's guide. Reach out and let's talk about what's on your mind.
A great way to do that in collaboration with other voters is on my Facebook page. I regularly post about issues I think are important, issues that voters have brought up with me, or issues that are in the news. I am ready to listen. I am ready to get to work!