HIGHLAND PARK – Although the election isn’t until April 4, North Shore District 112 Board of Education has begun reorganizing due to the recent resignations of Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy, board President Michael Cohn, and member Jacqueline Denham.
Adam Kornblatt will serve the remainder of Cohn’s two year term, and Lauren Klayman will complete Denham’s term that expires in April 2017. Current Board President Samantha Stolberg and Karla Livney will not be running for re-election in April; therefore Jane Solmor-Mordini is the only incumbent in a race with eight other candidates who are vying to fill four board positions.
In December, the D-112 Caucus endorsed Dan Jenks, Art Kessler and Brent Ross. Subsequently the CARE (Citizens Actively Renewing Education) Caucus endorsed Alexander Brunk, Julie Campbell, Lisa Hirsh and Brent Ross.
In addition, candidates Bennett Lasko and Steven Welhouse both threw their hats into the ring after the D-112 endorsement process.
DailyNorthShore.com asked the candidates and incumbent about their qualifications, as well as the following question: Four schools were slated to close under BDR3 and each year they remain open will cost D-112 $5 million. Since a referendum will not be on the ballot anytime soon, these schools will be open for at least two years. In your opinion, what can be done about this?
Here are the candidates, listed in alphabetical order:
As a data scientist with a degree in public policy, I have a unique professional background and skill-set for providing thoughtful, data-driven oversight to our school system. I have brought these skills to my role on the Reconfiguration 2.0 committee, where I have researched our educational needs and facilities limitations. However, I also know that the most important data point is what people are willing to support.
As a board member, I will work to ensure that the Reconfiguration 2.0 Committee can complete its work for a March 2018 referendum. While reconfiguration does present an opportunity to save money, our focus should be on delivering a world-class education to the students in this community. Changes to our building configuration are needed in order to balance class sizes and create space for additional programming, including Full Day Kindergarten. To achieve these goals and improve our finances, a reorganization of District 112 should occur no later than the fall of 2018.
I’m an attorney with over 15 years of experience in general practice law and five years as a graduate professor teaching communications, medical law and ethics. Exceptional communication skills, as well as expertise in mediation, negotiation, and health insurance law, will make me a valuable asset in contract negotiations. Moreover, utilizing my background in ethics, I can help forge a better working relationship between the board, the cabinet, and the community at large.
For the past seven months I served as a Steering Committee leader and liaison to the Education and Communication Committees where I regularly attended meetings and made frequent BOE presentations.
During the January 3 BOE meeting CFO Chris Wildman and his team presented an update that illustrated positive steps for the district. Wildman informed the board of measures his team was taking to centralize and monitor the financial assets of the district. These measures are good examples of areas where the district can work to become a better steward of the community’s tax dollars. In the interim, the district needs to support the work of the Reconfiguration 2.0 Committee and allow it to develop a reconfiguration plan acceptable to the majority of the community.
As a lifelong resident, I am truly passionate about the future of education in Highland Park. I currently have two children in District 112. My advanced degree in communications coupled with my strong ties to the entire community, uniquely qualifies me for the position of board member. In addition, I am the co-owner of a successful medical billing service. I decided to run for school board to become actively involved in respectful decision making while listening to the will of all of my constituents. My focus as a board member will be to preserve the integrity and stability of Highland Park schools with thoughtful and balanced reconfiguration options.
The rescission of BDR3 does not waste $5 million a year, in actuality it is an investment. This decision enables the Reconfiguration 2.0 committee, working with our entire community, to develop a financially sensible solution which will work to the benefit of all. I am committed to working with the board, 2.0 and the community to find that solution.
I have a degree in economics, and I’m an attorney with an MBA . I also have an open-minded and inclusive style of problem solving. I believe that finding principled compromises will help this board tackle the complicated work ahead of it.
I currently chair the HPHS Advisory Group and serve as co-chair of the District 112 Reconfiguration 2.0 Finance Committee, where I created the 2.0 financial model for District 112. The model allowed the group to evaluate options for reconfiguration and has proved a valuable tool for the entire community ((http://www.112information.org/financial-model.html).
While it is very important financially to address these challenges expeditiously, we need to keep this problem in perspective. In the context of a 10-year operations budget where District 112 will spend upwards of $800 million to educate students, even if it was necessary to keep all four of these buildings open for two more years, it wouldn’t have a material impact on the district’s long-term financial sustainability.
Prior to closing buildings and moving children to new schools, we need a long-term plan developed through stakeholder engagement that balances educational best practices with community values, in a manner respectful of the community’s tax dollars.
As a member of the Reconfiguration 2.0 Launch Team, Steering Committee, Facilities Committee and Communications Committee, I have become aware of all of the challenges and opportunities that are facing NSSD 112. Reconfiguration is the most pressing issue, however these issues stretch far beyond just finance and facilities. We have studied extensively the educational models of the district and toured comparable districts to understand ways in which we can improve. In addition, I have worked on a number of boards and have an MBA from Northwestern which taught me to work collaboratively with others.
Reconfiguration 2.0 is working toward a March 2018 referendum. By December of 2017, the Board will be in a position to vote on a referendum to put on the ballot. Once the long term plan has been finalized, the BOE will be able to implement a transition plan starting in the fall of 2018 closing some, if not all, of the schools that would not be part of the long term plan. It is vital that a board be put in place that can provide responsible leadership to solve the problems facing the district in a way that the community can accept.
I’ve been working with District 112 on its financial and facilities challenges since I volunteered for the SCFFAC committee in 2012. As a litigation attorney, I’ve spent nearly 30 years assisting clients to resolve disputes. I think the most important attributes I would bring to the school board are keeping an open mind, listening to all points of view, following the facts where they take me, keeping a strong focus on maintaining integrity in the process, and building consensus.
In the short term, District 112 will have to stay in cost-cutting mode, as it has been for many years, constantly looking for operational savings that don’t sacrifice core educational priorities and capital expenses that can be deferred. Educational enhancements, for which many people have been hoping, such as full-day kindergarten, are not going to be possible. Longer term, the district must continue working toward a consolidation that makes more economical use of our buildings and a referendum to fund upgrades both to facilities and education. Among other things, this includes supporting the ongoing work of the Reconfiguration 2.0 Committee.
Jane Solmor-Mordini – Incumbent
I have served on the NSSD 112 board for the past eight years and was endorsed by the District Caucus for both terms. While seeking my third term at this year’s caucus, BDR3 was set for implementation and I was the only incumbent and candidate supporting the effort to control deficit spending to improve the district’s long-term sustainability.
I feel a tremendous responsibility to this community to maintain some consistency, continuity and robust experience to contribute to ongoing board, cabinet, and 2.0 initiatives. I will work to keep the process moving forward and avoid duplicating prior effort while safe guarding our resources. We will be working with a new superintendent, a cabinet with an average of two years experience, and a majority new board.
We operate 12 school buildings for a district size that should operate between six and nine. Consolidation must occur to preserve our future financial and educational sustainability. We must investigate with the state delaying mandated Health Life Safety improvements costing millions of dollars in buildings that will likely cease to operate as schools. Another way to save in the near future includes consolidating our Dual Language program into dedicated academies.
As a management consultant for the last 14 years, I help stakeholder groups navigate through times of great change. As chairman of Highland Park’s Natural Resources Commission, I see opportunities for more productive partnerships with municipal organizations. We need to secure full support from the city, park district and other community organizations.
Our district has more buildings than necessary; however, BDR3 went too far. The NSSD 112 financial position is not so dire that we have to take immediate and drastic action. I was working with Chicago Public Schools before they closed 50 schools in 2013. This was an unprecedented number for any city, and this represented less than 10 percent of the total schools. Neighborhood schools should only be closed when all other options have been exhausted. My team worked with CPS to save as much as possible before closing schools.
My firm helps companies reduce administrative expenses as part of large, empowering organizational transformations. We need a more measured, true interim plan. The Reconfiguration Team is still working to establish the future facility plan. Any plan that builds a new school and makes other necessary renovations will cost about as much as the last referendum.
Being a school board member is an ideal role for someone having children in the district and it’s a great way to serve my community. As a litigation attorney involved with construction and real estate issues, I have ample experience vigorously representing clients and engaging in difficult negotiations. As a board member, I will listen to the community and vigorously represent its interests as the reconfiguration process proceeds. I look forward to listening to engaged community members and working collaboratively with fellow board members to resolve the district’s challenging issues.
I did not and do not agree with the closure of four schools under BDR3 and was pleased to see that the current board voted not to implement it. At most, two school sites should be considered for closure at this time. In the current year, the district should realize a revenue increase that it is has not seen in eight years. If future budget developments and the community so dictate, the board should consider closing one or more additional sites.