DeKalb School District 428 School Board candidate Catherine "Kay" Harned submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb District 428 School Board race.
Name: Catherine "Kay" Harned
Office sought: District 428 School Board Member
1) Why are you running for school board?
I am running for office to work for a positive economic and social future for our children. I want a future where students get good-paying, satisfying jobs and have the skills and abilities to be in relationships that are nurturing and satisfying.
Last year my younger grandson gave me the idea that I could do something in the schools and my older grandson got me an invitation to do a presentation that led to working on a project in Rosette Middle School. I saw a classroom where children felt they belonged, were respected and were held accountable all while learning and having fun.
I’d like to support that kind of learning community. I bring creative problem-solving skills to fiscal matters. We are an ethnically diverse community. I embrace the opportunity and challenges of that fact. I understand many of the problems faced by low-income families, who work hard for long hours. In my job I worked with low-income groups to design, implement and evaluate programs to make the lives of their children and families better. I respect teachers and leaders who mentor, teach and care for kids everyday.
2) Were you satisfied with how the school board handled the controversy with the superintendent earlier this school year?
People say democracy is messy and so is life. The perception in the community was that it took longer than it should have to resolve this situation. Whether there are good reasons for the time it took is not clear. In the public eye perception matters when the facts are not understood. At the same time, personnel matters require confidentiality. Contracts are binding documents and so concessions probably had to be made. It just isn’t clear to me how well the board communicated with staff and the community.
It seems to me that resolution took longer than it might have and that cost the district money for no work. That is a bitter pill for taxpayers. There are many able assistant superintendents who could do the superintendent’s work until there is a new hire. Some believe that the new person should be from the district and, depending on the candidate, may not need to have been a superintendent somewhere else. Hiring a firm to identify potential candidates is a good idea given the recent history of hiring choices.
3) What qualities would you look for in a new superintendent?
Someone who is kind and puts children first, someone who values the work of teachers and principals in creating learning environments where all children succeed. Our new superintendent needs the capacity to build and value relationships with a wide variety of groups. He or she must be a leader with strong communication skills, a visionary who has strong creative problem solving skills, a strategic thinker with the capacity to evaluate substantive areas of student and teacher competencies and a team builder with budgeting skills. Our superintendent must be sensitive to the ethnic and economy diversity of families in the district.
4) What if anything can the school board do to reduce the tax burdens of home owners?
First of all I believe it is important to broaden the responsibility for funding the schools. Communities and school boards have to work together at the state level to change how schools are funded. It’s a tall order and will take time. Elect state senators, state representative, and governors who support this change. Engage with local advocacy groups to demonstrate the benefits of this change to all.
School boards are bound by the restrictions of the current funding structure. A budget resolution at the state level is essential since school funding from the state has been reduced by six percent, every avenue of funding should be explored to bring revenue to the district. Grants might alleviate budget shortfalls in specific line items or program areas. Participation in TIF, Enterprise Zones and other tax abatement projects should continue to be explored. Additional sales taxes as discussed in the most recent fiscal report are an unfortunate but necessary solution and should be coupled with work to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit so that low-income groups don’t suffer from an excessive tax burden.
5) Does the district do enough to respect and celebrate the racial and ethnic diversity of its students?
I believe the district has a responsibility to keep all children safe and enable them to feel included in the school community. Given the high number of disciplinary events involving minority and low income students, relative to their numbers in the school population, there is much work to be done. The district is currently engaged in a study to address the school environment.
At a recent meeting on the study one of the researchers indicated that the data that come out of the study belong to the district. As if to say, don’t blame us. Well we will blame them if the research design does not pose the correct questions on the environment, or gather input from all groups in proportion to their numbers or fail to recognize that parents see themselves as the central organizing figure and primary teacher in their children’s lives. However, given the nature of the economy where parents must work unusual schedules and long hours, often at more than one job, the schools are more and more expected to fill the gap. These additional responsibilities require an understanding of how minority families work and what they want for their children. Only families can provide that information and direction for training.
6) Class parties for holidays such as Halloween and Valentines Day were eliminated in the districts elementary schools this year. Do you agree or disagree?
Some kids can’t participate in these holidays for a variety of reasons. Anytime that happens we need to not have these celebrations. Last year Clinton Rosette held a variety of fun days. One included the mixing of a lot of snack foods in a big bin. Everybody got a serving. Along with my nutritional concerns, I saw it as not very productive time. WRONG! There was a great feeling in the room with lots of laughter and camaraderie while sharing this snack. They played charades using language arts, something to do with synonyms and homonyms. Board members need to be in the classroom to see what happens there. Election to and participation on the board is more than a exercise in fiscal responsibility.
7) How will you as a member of the board approach teacher contract negotiations?
I will approach these negotiations with the expectation that we will reach an agreement that satisfies the teachers and fits the budget. Expectation is important in determining outcomes. The recent experience negotiating the current contract demonstrates that a high level of respect and appreciation for the work and responsibilities of the teachers is required. It is a given in a successful school district. Teachers are the mentors of our kids success. They help our children get jobs or pursue education. They provide an array of skills that help our children to be successful in life. They make the schools work so that people want to come here for jobs and have their children go to our district schools.
Boards provide the vision and the leadership. They are financial stewards in the district and are responsible to the children to achieve the best possible education within our financial means. Taxpayers expect that revenues are well managed and the board owes them their best work in that regard.
8) Does the district do a good enough job promoting the positive things that students achieve?
I believe there is always room for improvement when acknowledging the good things that kids do. Many of these questions are best answered by the students and their families. There is always the possibility for improvement in the way the board gets information from students as well as other groups about how to support their concerns. I’d be glad to work to that end.
It is helpful to remember that this is a volunteer board with limited staff support. Each member sees him or herself as having the best interests of the community in their hearts. The issues that face us are many and important. We need to work together, not as adversaries, for our kids and grandkids future. And that future begins now! We need all hands on deck.