Oswego Election 2015: Brent Lightfoot, Candidate for School District 308 Board
Name: Brent Lightfoot
Employment: VP Advanced Advertising, Allant Group
Family: Wife, Cate and three daughters. We have one child at each school level, 4th grade, 7th grade and 10th grade.
Education: BA in Telecommunications from Michigan State University
Previously elected office: I’m a current member of the Oswego 308 Board. I have also been elected to our HOA, and school PTA. Professionally I’m a past President of the Media Research Club of Chicago.
Relevant community service: I volunteer my time as a softball coach. Last year I was head coach of a 14U team and an assistant coach of a 10U team. In the last three years I have also logged 157 sessions as a US Swimming Certified Official.
What makes you qualified to serve on the School District 308 School Board?
I have shown my ability to ask questions, guide discussion and explore options that might not be first presented. For example when the district was looking to build a new transportation center, I was not sure it would be the best use of funds. The end result was that we spent far less by buying an existing building. The same result was achieved for the maintenance facilities.
What do you believe is the role of a School Board member?
The role of the school board member is to provide governance at a high level. The Board adopts a budget, sets goals for the district, approves policies and employs a superintendent to run the district. The board members also need to listen, ask questions and seek additional information on various subjects. One of the best things about sitting on a board is that you are constantly learning.
What should be the No. 1 priority for the next School Board?
The top priority needs to be ensuring financial stability. Without this we will not have proper resources to increase academics. If nothing is done, our current bond and interest payments that total $34M per year will grow to $40M+ by 2020. The reason for the increase is the way the original construction bonds were structured.
That increase, if left unchecked, will increase tax rates. The board needs to have a number of options on the table and then engage the community for feedback. Do we let the tax rate go up? Do we refinance a portion of the debt? Do we take the money out of the class rooms? Or are there other options such as the $49M the state owes the district in construction financing?
What are you plans to help repair broken relationships between the district and parent groups, including BPAC and Special Education?
The BPAC is being reformed by the administration to ensure that it is in compliance with the state requirements. I would expect that once it is in compliance the administration and BPAC will work together and restore trust. The hard part of this change is that many caring and concerned parents feel left out because their kids are not EL students. This I think can make a case for a future group that could help with the piloting of world languages.
In the face of dwindling state education dollars, what can and should be done to ease the District 308 property tax burden for local homeowners?
The finance committee has started work on a total debt reduction plan and we need to finish that work. As I stated above, we have many options including state owed money ($49M), refinancing, debt pay down, non-traditional revenue or even a sales tax. No one answer is the solution, so let’s come up with multiple options and talk about the positive and negative aspects of each. This should result in a multi-tiered solution that the community can support.
Many teachers and administrators have left the district in recent years. What should be done to improve employee retention in the district?
No one likes the loss of a great teacher or administrator but there are many reasons for the losses. Some are seeking more pay, some are making family related decisions or career advancement decisions. While we are a large district, if someone has a goal of becoming a JH principal we only have five of those positions and the right one might not be open. I think part of the solution is to better understand the financial part. We can’t afford to be a high paying district, however being at the bottom can exacerbate the issue. Let’s start with defining admin positions in a salary range so we have flexibility and clarity. Then we can compare those ranges to other area districts and update as needed.
Should every elementary school in the district be home to all-day kindergarten classes?
I think that placing full day kindergarten in every school is a good idea and we currently have the space to do it. However, I’d like to do two additional things. One, ensure that everyone understands that making this move will require a boundary change. Second, this would be a good time to increase the curriculum at the kindergarten level. I’d like to see more advantages to the full day program vs. a half day curriculum.
Is there any place in the district for a two-way language immersion program, now or in the future? Yes.
What level of participation should the community have in drawing new school boundary lines?
First I don’t think changing the boundaries for next year is on the table, the kindergarten question needs to be answered first and the boundary decision should not be rushed. I have been the district for 16 years and have seen two models, one where the admin presents some options to the community for input and then the board takes action. The other, used in the most recent change, where a large committee of community members, teachers, admin and parents work as a group to make a recommendation.
The feedback I got from some of those committee members was that some ‘better’ options were not even considered simply because it would cause even more kids being moved to different schools. Whatever methods are used, we should always include community involvement. The hard part is the emotional response when faced with the prospects of a different school, the non-emotional part is ensuring that we are effectively using the buildings.
How would you rate the job performance of the current district administration? Please explain.
I think we have some great administrators in the district. The board’s job is only to rate the superintendent, it is his/her job to evaluate the others. I feel that we have a great administrator running the district and he is the right person to make the changes needed to increase academic achievement. He also understands that the communities and boards goals of being mindful of high taxes. At the same time we need to remember that he is human and not every project will be without bumps.
The achievement gap between students with IEPs and non IEP students continues to widen in the district. In your opinion, why is this happening? What should the district do to close that gap?
Not only is the gap growing, but the percentage of kids with IEP’s is growing exponentially. Some of the things the district has been doing are not working. This is one of the reasons why 308 is looking to bring special education teaching in-house. Under the current system with the co-op, it is harder or impossible to change the way we are teaching.
The special education audit recommends that we move away from a 1980’s model of pulling kids out, moving to a push in model. The district is looking at achievement from several student groups, low income, minority, special needs and more. If we are to increase achievement for the district it will come by making changes and improvements at all levels, for all kids IEP or not.
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