DeKALB – Diversity, classroom size and property tax reduction were hot topics as six candidates running for four open spots on the DeKalb School District 428 Board gathered for a public forum Monday night at DeKalb High School.
After a meet-and-greet at 6:15 p.m., candidates took to the auditorium stage to field five questions culled from queries submitted by audience members. The forum was open to the public, but the session also was livestreamed on barbcast.com.
Six hopefuls – Orion Carey, Samantha McDavid, Sarah Moses, Jeromy Olson, David Seymour and Rick Smith – answered questions posed by moderator Mary Lynn Buckner, co-president of the DeKalb teachers union. December Richardson, Stephen Irving and incumbent Fred Davis also are running but did not attend the event.
Much of the conversation focused on drawing people to the DeKalb area, with candidates offering suggestions for how that best could be accomplished.
When Buckner asked the candidates which three budget items they would eliminate to reduce property taxes, most said it would be difficult to know which cuts to make to the budget without sitting on the board. Instead, they offered suggestions for how to draw new families to the district.
“If you make your school worse [by cutting programs], it’s a negative for the whole community,” said Moses, who owns the local small business Destination Fitness.
“If we can improve what happens in our school, that will become a draw,” said Seymour, who serves as senior pastor at Logan Street Missionary Baptist Church and as an admissions counselor for the CHANCE program at Northern Illinois University.
Generally, the candidates seemed to share a stance on most of the issues. However, some disagreements arose on the topic of diversifying staff.
Seymour, who is black, suggested that the district should hire a recruitment officer to find qualified minority candidates from outside the typical talent pool, i.e. NIU, Kishwaukee College and Aurora University.
“Someone needs to be employed to be a recruiter to look outside of our typical recruitment area,” he said, suggesting statewide and possibly even nationwide searches.
Carey disagreed, saying that he does not believe the district needs an employee to address the issue of diversity.
However, the candidates agreed that a diverse staff is beneficial.
“Students from diverse backgrounds perform better when they see someone who looks like them in the front of the classroom,” McDavid said.
Moses, who is white, agreed.
“I love our diversity. I love that my children are in a district where they are the minority,” she said.
Few candidates had concrete suggestions about how to reduce classroom size, but many returned to the idea that making the district an attractive place will help bring in more teachers to facilitate smaller classrooms.
“They’re larger than I think anybody would want,” Olson said. “I want to put every ounce of my energy into figuring something out.”
Smith, an incumbent, noted that sitting on the board doesn’t always make these issues easier to solve.
“Nobody up here has all the answers,” he said. “When you’re on the board, you don’t necessarily have the silver bullet. ... What you do have is a collection of people.”
Time will tell how the collection of people seeking to effect policy for District 428 will change when the consolidated primary election arrives April 2.