DeKalb School District 428 School Board candidate Scott Campbell submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb District 428 School Board race.
Name: Scott Campbell
Office Sought: District 428 School Board
1) Why are you running for school board?
I love DeKalb and love our school district. But when my wife and I chose DeKalb to settle down and bought our first home here in 1993, the community was thriving, the schools were better, and our local governmental units did more for citizens, especially minorities and low-income families. It was cheaper to live here, taxes were reasonable (now they’re amongst the highest in the country), crime was lower, and kids had more opportunity after high school. As a teacher with a strong business background (MBA and fifteen years as a banking executive), I feel I can best help our community rebound and help our kids get the future they deserve by serving on our School Board. It’s time for me to do something and serve.
And I feel my passion for education, my understanding of what teachers do and how educational processes work (or don’t sometimes), and my background in finance make me uniquely able to serve in the capacity of a member of the District 428 School Board.
2) Were you satisfied with how the school board handled the controversy that led to the removal of its superintendent earlier this school year?
I’m proud of and impressed with the Board for getting us out of Dr. Moeller’s five-year contract with only a three month “buy out”, and I think Ms. Newport deserves the bulk of that credit. I’m basically satisfied that it only took six months or so to get to that settlement, which could have been much worse in our litigious society. But I’m very dissatisfied that Dr. Moeller, as an untested Superintendent, had a top-dollar five-year contract in the first place, with weak recourse for the District to terminate him in the event he proved unsuitable or unethical.
I think that shows who was really running the show when he was promoted, and I don’t think it was the Board of Education, as it is supposed to be. This lack of good governance cost us nine months of a Superintendent’s salary, the expense of an interim superintendent during that time, legal fees, lost educational opportunities for our kids, and the credibility of the District in the eyes of our parents, commercial investors, and prospective residents.
3) What qualities would you look for in a new superintendent?
Given our recent troubles, I’d say integrity and transparency in decision making are extremely important qualities of our next Superintendent. I think we also need someone experienced with closing large gaps between educational outcomes (including test scores) and property tax rates. DeKalb has the 55th highest taxes of any county in the nation, but our schools rank 7263rd of 13,506 public school districts in the nation. I would want a Superintendent who understands that not getting what we’re paying for from our schools is unsustainable for a community and drives people away.
I would like to see some demonstrated accomplishment in similar situations at other districts, preferably local ones with similar student demographics. We also need a superintendent who is a fan of teachers and the work they do and who understands her job is to support them, not control them. And last but certainly not least, we need a superintendent who is experienced with educating a very ethnically and economically diverse student body, because we’ve not properly recognized the importance and value of diversity in our district. I want our minority and low income students to know that the top of the organizational chart is their advocate.
4) What, if anything, can the school board do to reduce the tax burden on homeowners?
I’ve publicly committed to voting against any levy increase (except already committed increases like bond repayments) for at least two years. That will let inflation and rising home values outpace our tax increases, effectively lowering the net tax rate for homeowners. Then we need to reduce non-instructional expenses, which are disproportionately high in District 428, so we can spend more on instruction without asking for larger tax levies. Our homeowners (and renters, who indirectly pay property taxes) have done their part and then some. Next we need to increase the commercial tax base in our community so the whole burden isn’t carried by homeowners.
The District can help with this by working with civic groups and city/county offices to market the value of DeKalb and the District to prospective investors and homeowners. And we cannot allow new TIF districts that draw tax dollars away from our schools so that other local governmental bodies can make investments that never seen to pan out while forcing us to raise school taxes. Lastly, by raising our scorecard numbers by just doing our job better as District leaders, we raise property values, bring in more new homeowners, and effectively lower tax rates.
5) Does the district do enough to respect and celebrate the racial and ethnic diversity of its students?
Absolutely not! We’re now a majority-minority district. But our teachers are 91% white and we still teach a white European centric curriculum. Do we have celebrations of diversity? Sure. But no amount of school-wide assemblies, or mission statements about diversity and inclusion, are going to actually “celebrate” diversity.
Celebrating and respecting diversity of all students means our district, over time, models our student population at every level and in every way. Kids need to see teachers and staff that look like them in order to thrive, so we need to implement and actually use an affirmative action hiring program going forward. Kids need to feel that white European is one history, but not the only or right one. So we need to expand our curriculum to include history and cultural courses reflective of all of our students’ ancestries. And we need to fund our programming in a way that closes our massive achievement gaps, which means more funding for minority-majority schools in the District, minority and at-risk intervention programs, and low-income student support. We’ll have celebrated and respected our diversity, we’ll have done our jobs, when our “diversity” students no longer underperform their white and Christian peers.
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 agree we need a party/holiday policy, but I disagree with the one we came up with. Our district, and our society, is changing in its ethnic and religious mix. Kids who are not Christian would not feel welcome at many of our traditional celebrations. The last thing we want is a child feeling out of place in their own classroom just because they’re “different” in some way than the teacher or many of the other kids.
But let’s not throw out something that engages kids, especially younger kids, with the learning environment in the name of ethnic and religious neutrality. Let’s be neutral by celebrating differences equally, not ignoring them entirely. Let’s set a policy whereby schools have planned parties where kids and their parents talk about their cultures, make displays celebrating their beliefs and values, and welcome those not exactly like them to experience something fun and new. And if we need to do that on a day that isn’t anybody’s particular religious holiday, then so be it! But let’s still have our fun days. Let’s use school parties to recognize and be proud of our differences, not set a top-down policy that divides our community further.
7) As a school board member, how will you approach teacher contract negotiations?
It’s shameful what our Board said publicly about teachers this summer. Or, as some have suggested happened, for lacking the management control to stop someone from saying it on behalf of the Board. Teachers are the people we trust with our kids, and our primary means of school improvement. Disrespect of teachers helps nobody. In future negotiations, let’s start a year in advance by meeting with representatives of the DCTA, as well as teachers at large, and ask their input on what they need that costs the district money, and what they want that doesn’t, and plan for both.
Our teachers’ working environment is the students’ learning environment, and we have low cost things give to teachers. Like the right to have their kids at their own school, or teacher recognition programs. Those don’t cost us anything, but show respect for teachers and make their jobs better. We need to offer that, then in return ask the teachers to help us keep the budget manageable. Our teachers aren’t really overpaid or underpaid, they’re underappreciated. Let’s start negotiations next time on that note, and select a team on both sides that is committed to putting the kids first.
8) Does the school district do a good enough job promoting the positive things that its students achieve?
No. How could we ever do enough promotion of our kids? Kids are amazing and teachers are amazing, so the combination of the two do more positive things in an hour than we could possibly promote to the community in a year. I think the District, PTO’s, and parent interest groups do a good job of pushing events and accomplishments to social media, which gets our great story out to some of the community.
Plus, the District and the Chronicle are good about promoting our athletes. But criticism of the District is largely around scorecard numbers (academics), taxation, and, lately, scandal. People don’t feel they’re getting their money’s worth, and assume that means our kids aren’t achieving. To overcome that criticism and raise confidence in the district, I’d like to see the District work to publicize great stories of student and teacher accomplishments in our classrooms. Like the amazing job Brooks teachers do with their unique socioeconomic mix of students at both ends of the spectrum to make them educationally equal. We have a center of excellence there that few people seem to know about, and that doesn’t show up in our district-level numbers.