DeKalb School District 428 School Board candidate Victoria Newport submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb District 428 School Board race.
Name: Victoria Newport
Office sought: District 428 School Board
1) Why are you running for school board?
I am a lifelong member of the DeKalb Community. I attended District 428 schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. My mother taught in the District for 27 years. Three of my four children currently attend District schools, and the fourth graduated from DeKalb High School last year. I am running for re election to the School Board because I love and am very invested in this community. The education that our staff provides to our students is second to none. I am very proud to call myself a Barb, and I want to continue to be a part of the solution to make District 428 schools great!
2) Were you satisfied with how the school board handled the controversy that led to the removal of its superintendent earlier this school year?
The Board was working diligently toward a relatively quick resolution to the removal of the superintendent. However, the issues involved the terms and conditions of the superintendent’s current contract which ran through June 30, 2019 and various federal and state employment and leave laws which needed to be appropriately addressed. The superintendent had specific rights under federal and state law to utilize various leaves of absences which needed to be honored as well as negotiated a settlement agreement with the superintendent’s legal counsel. The Board of Education chose wisely by approving a settlement agreement for three months’ worth of compensation and benefits. This provided a fresh start for the School District in starting a superintendent’s search as well as saving the District several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
3) What qualities would you look for in a new superintendent?
I believe our new superintendent needs to be a strong leader and an individual who is willing to reside within the school district boundaries. The new superintendent should have a background of working in a diverse school district. In addition, the new superintendent needs to be a good listener and a motivator. He or she must be respectful, trustworthy, and compassionate. The School Board interviewed three search firms and chose IASB in the interest of transparency. The first step in the process is providing IASB with the qualities we want in a superintendent. A survey has been sent out to all district staff for input on what qualities they would like to see in the new superintendent.
From the survey a brochure will be created for the job posting. IASB will screen potential candidates and provide a list of 6 to 8 candidates to the School Board. The candidates will be interviewed by staff, unions, parents and community members. A request from the School District will go out to parents and community members to provide questions for the superintendent candidates. After the first round of interviews, top candidates will be interviewed by the School Board.
4) What, if anything, can the school board do to reduce the tax burden on homeowners?
The District is actively pursuing methods to lessen the impact of the 2008 construction bond referendum where $108 million in bonds were issued. The District refinanced $9.3 million of bonds in December 2016. The district has used an independent municipal financial advisor to assist in the process. The results of refinancing this portion of the bonds realized interest cost savings of $1 million dollars due to favorable market conditions. The rest of the construction bonds are scheduled to be callable in the fall of 2017 and 2019. The School District’s bond rating with Moody’s is Aa2 and with Standard & Poor’s AA-. The bond ratings indicate a very strong capacity to meet obligations and obtain lower interest rates.
The Finance and Facilities Advisory Committee also play a crucial role in the school district’s financial decisions. This committee goes through a vetting process of financial and facility issues and makes recommendations to the School Board. During this debt restructuring process, financial performance, cost containment and strong fund balance policy are crucial in maintaining the favorable bond ratings, even under these unstable state budget conditions. The goal is to lessen the impact to the taxpayers.
5) Does the district do enough to respect and celebrate the racial and ethnic diversity of its students?
District 428’s mission is to educate our students to reach their potential while preparing them to contribute to our global society. The diversity of our School District matches the makeup of the society we live in. Our diversity is one of our greatest strengths. According to Emily Style, Director of The National Seed Project, students should have a curriculum and experiences within a school that both mirror their world and provide a window to their world. District 428 over the years has had a longstanding commitment to celebrating racial and ethnic diversity. Recently, the Board approved a diversity needs assessment plan at the October 18, 2016 meeting. There will also be focus groups made up of staff, students and parents. The diversity needs assessment will provide the District with honest and candid information from district staff, parents and community members. The diversity assessment plan will provide recommendations on how we as a District can continue to respect the racial and ethnic diversity of our students.
The District currently partners with NIU to bring minority groups into district buildings as mentors to our students. We continue to work with NIU to develop and grow our partnership to add more opportunities for all of our students.
6) Class parties for holidays such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day were eliminated at district elementary schools this year. Do you agree with this policy? Why or why not?
I believe in eliminating classroom parties that are tied to a specific holiday. I have been a head room parent at Brooks Elementary School for the past 13 years. This past year my youngest son’s class was preparing to start its Valentine’s Day party. We were going to go to the gym to play games for half an hour and then come back to the classroom for snacks. As the teacher instructed the majority of students to lineup at the door to go to the gym, she called out to two students telling them that they needed to go to the library because their parents didn’t want them attending the party. The expression of complete disappointment on their faces was very sad. As we walked to the gym, I could see more children from other classes also entering the library as laughter and music could be heard from classrooms.
It was sad to see that as a school district we were excluding children from participating in parties because the party was attached to a holiday. I believe we should have celebrations and parties in school, but they should include every student in the building.
7) As a school board member, how will you approach teacher contract negotiations?
Positive contract negotiations start with building trust and respect between the two parties involved in the negotiations. The DCTA and administration have developed a very positive and open dialogue during the monthly meetings both teams attend. The DFSS, DFSA and DSFA unions meet quarterly with administration. The District has four unions DCTA, DFSS, DFSA and FDOSP. Currently the duration of all four of the contracts is three years. Contract negotiations start four to six months prior to the contract expiring.
8) Does the school district do a good enough job promoting the positive things that its students achieve?
The District can never do enough to promote all off the good that is happening in the School District. As a District we need to improve the perception of the School District vs. the reality of the School District. We have great resources that can help the administration promote the District.
The District has fantastic journalism, graphics and photo programs. I would like to see the District offer unpaid internships to our students who are in these classes. This type of internship would provide our students with real world job training. Articles and photos written by high school students would be submitted to the local papers and radio stations. As a District we need to promote the great things that are happening in all of the buildings. I would like to create fliers with facts about the School District. The fliers could include graduation rate, College Prep and Honors classes offered, athletic, competitive, and academic teams, as well as fine arts and club offerings in our high school and middle schools. I would like to share positive information fliers with local businesses’ human resource departments and realtors. Providing potential home owners with all of the positive district happenings will help promote District 428 Schools.