DeKalb School District 428 School Board candidate Jeromy Olson submitted this questionnaire, answering the Daily Chronicle's questions in the 2017 DeKalb District 428 School Board race.
Name: Jeromy Olson
Office sought: District 428 School Board Member
1) Why are you running for school board?
I am vested and I care. I am a DeKalb resident nearly 20 years and married to a lifelong DeKalb resident whose family has called DeKalb home for three generations. Currently there exist many threats to the well-being of our community, several if which we rely upon the Board of Education to address or repair and I feel I can make a significant contribution. I have many years of experience in the areas our board needs most.
We have $101MM in bonds that are callable over the next several years which could cause the debt tax rate for DeKalb property owners to more than double in two years. Vital decisions will be made in the selection of a Superintendent and district executive leadership. There is a need to improve the relationship with our unions and a public relations problem both internal and external to DeKalb.
As CEO of a public company I have experience in finance, hiring diverse talent, including many within executive leadership, have negotiated labor contracts and continue to build a culture of teamwork and trust within our organization.
2) Were you satisfied with how the school board handled the controversy with the superintendent earlier this school year?
Given the terms of the contract, the board acted in the best possible manner. Hiring a superintendent that requires a 5-year guaranteed contract is simply not a good idea. That decision created the undesirable scenario that played out over the last several months. In hindsight if the board could do it again, I would guess they would not vote to approve such a contract. Therefore, having board members with decades of experience in negotiating employment contracts would be a good thing.
3) What qualities would you like to see in a new superintendent?
An experienced leader who can come in, take inventory and lay out a plan for our district. We need a visionary that is known for goal setting and achievement, most importantly regarding educational advancement. The right leader will need to be excellent listeners which enables them establish the priorities within the district. Our new superintendent should have a track record of excellence in collaboration and hiring practices and be willing to show their commitment to the community by agreeing to live in the district. The need to demonstrate a recognized cadence of honesty and transparency to create trust with the board, administration and community will be a must considering recent history.
The interview process should include a thorough search, as well as discussions with previous board members, teachers and community leaders provided in the locations the candidates are currently working. The importance of experience in this process cannot be overstated.
4) What if anything can the school board do to reduce the tax burden on homeowners?
First, we can help by opening and maintaining direct lines of communication between the board of education, the City of DeKalb and the NIU Board of Trustees. As a sizable taxing body in DeKalb, we should provide input from the board on strategic planning of all initiatives that may create a more positive view of our city to everyone that lives or visits here. The best way to avoid a tax increase is to expand our tax base by recruiting new businesses and families to our community that will provide new jobs and require the building of new homes and live in DeKalb.
Second, we should refund the outstanding debt vehicles as they become callable. This will increase the amount owed potentially by as much as $20MM, however it will provide an additional 10 years to our efforts to increase our tax base in order to spread the debt over a potentially a larger group of tax payers.
This approach would also serve to keep the debt service rates much closer to flat with only a slight increase.
5) Does the district do enough to respect and celebrate the racial and ethnic diversity of its students?
From what I have seen thus far, I feel positive about what has already been done to ensure an inclusive environment within our schools. Given the large number of racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds in our district, I feel that the focus should be on allowing as much exposure as possible to different cultures in a productive and equal way.
I have not had the opportunity to see what the mix of activities is for each particular group within our school community, however I look forward to seeing the metrics associated with that. Allowing our children to understand and appreciate all cultures regardless of race or religion is important to understanding and understanding works against violence and bigotry.
Additionally, there are many ways to celebrate our diversity within the curriculum. By incorporating materials that highlight multicultural literature, scientific discovery, advances in mathematics as well as the arts and music. All are an excellent opportunities to reinforce the feeling of community within our schools.
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?
I do. Due to the growing diversity in our student population, we should begin to create new celebratory events that are inclusive of all cultures and religions wherever possible. One idea would to create special parties based on students working together to achieve some academic or creative goal together. Then the celebration would be inclusive as well as teach the students to strive for achievement and have a party as positive reinforcement.
I am sure that our world class educators have plenty of creative ideas on how to ensure that our elementary schools are places where kids can still be kids and celebrate together in inclusive and exciting ways!
7) As a school board member, how will you approach teacher contract negotiations?
Step one, would be to get to know and develop a rapport with the members of the union and its constituents. It all begins with listening to each other and clearly understanding the goals of each party. Second, it is also vital that these conversations begin now, not be immediately prior to the deadline, but with plenty of time to evaluate what the expected outcomes will be from both the unions and the district, it is always easiest to start from a point of what is expected.
Step two, would be to find a win for each side. If both sides are contributing to the outcome, then afterward it is less likely that one party would feel resentment.
Finally, clear and open dialog about the consequences of not working together toward a successful contract and what the suggested changes would mean in terms of outcomes for the union, the students and the district.
8) Does the school district do a good job of promoting the positive things that its students achieve?
Yes, I feel they are trying to do a good job, however it could be better. What I find most interesting about this is that I see things in the newspaper quite often showing some exciting new accomplishment from one of the children in the district. I would offer that it does seem to be more frequently high school related as opposed to our elementary schools. I feel that there are plenty of opportunities to improve this by focusing more on the achievements and recognizing elementary students.
I also feel as though the district through local media outlets could do a better job of highlighting our teachers and staff who have helped our kids to achieve. I rarely see anything regarding the educator’s achievements and feel this is a missed opportunity to forge a better, more two-way relationship with the union.