2017 Oswego Candidate Questionnaire: Dominick Cirone, SD308 Board
Name: Dominick Cirone
Employment: Senior Treasury Analyst, ULTA Inc.
Family: Wife: Rachel Children: Luca and Nadia
Education: MBA in Accounting, Aurora University; Bachelor of Science in Finance, Northern Illinois University; Bachelor of Arts in Accounting, Aurora University
Previously elected office: None
Relevant community service: Member of District 308 Finance and Operations Advisory Committee, Vice President of PTAG 308 (Partners for Gifted and Talented Education), Commissioner on the Village of Oswego Planning and Zoning Commission, Board Member Kiwanis Club of Oswego, Active Contributor for Happy Helpers
What makes you qualified to serve on the School District 308 School Board?
I truly care about our schools. I have fourteen years of treasury and finance experience, I serve on the District 308 Finance and Operations Committee, and I hold leadership roles with multiple community groups. With these experiences, I will bring a unique combination of expertise and perspectives to help navigate the next few years of budget deficits and reduce the likelihood of perpetual deficits while minimizing negative impacts on the student.
What do you believe is the role of a School Board member?
A School Board member should help direct the district by setting appropriate policies along with the majority of the board. A board member should also accept that they are not experts and need to continue learning about education in general and about specific topics as they arise. Board members should also be prepared to ask appropriate questions and require timely and accurate responses from district administrators. Board members should be accountable to the students, parents, community and front-line employees. They also need to take in as many perspectives as possible, even if they feel an issue is mundane. Board members should regularly confront their own biases.
What are some examples of programs or departments that are currently working well in District 308?
I believe we have extremely dedicated and talented staff that, if given the proper resources and supports at the classroom-level, could produce an outstanding district! Overall, SD 308 has done a good job with general education programs. A majority of students in general education classrooms are getting their needs met appropriately. Where we need to improve is in the areas of special education, with children receiving academic interventions, and also with those children who need further challenge and enrichment. This is one reason why we need to create a culture that puts schools and classrooms as the unquestioned priority.
Apart from the serious financial problems facing the district, what are the three biggest issues that need fixing, and how do you propose fixing them?
1.) Reallocate resources into the schools and classrooms from district-level administrators. I would look to right-size district-level administration to help our schools and culture. We became a top-down district, and I want to change that. 2.) Our children with special needs have had a difficult time getting their legally-required Individual Education Plans (IEPs) met over the past few years. We transitioned out of the Kendall County Cooperative quickly and without proper supports in place. Due to this, some children will face increased challenges in closing the achievement gap. We have to ensure our children with special needs are being served in the least restrictive environment possible with proper resources and supports in place. 3.) I believe we need to utilize the wealth of knowledge of the 1,000 plus educators in our district more effectively and with sincerity. The breadth of their knowledge and understanding of the issues needs to be fostered and leveraged in positive ways to help all students in the district.
District 308 is facing massive budget deficits in the coming years. Beyond tax increases, what are some specific ideas for added revenue that could be brought in to the district?
We can direct our administration to go after grants outside of the typical and widely-utilized federal and state grants. There are plenty of grants out there that were procured by teachers and have funded many projects throughout the district. I also support continued legislative efforts by the district to educate lawmakers about funding issues and potential solutions for our district. The state may not respond with a solution but there is no cost involved in trying. If we want to consider free services as added revenue, then there are entities that have approached me that offer free field trips. One of the entities was through Waubonsee Community College.
Recently announced cuts to staff have concerned many parents and teachers who have said the district should reconsider its decision to move forward with the Dual Language program instead of cutting staff. Do you support re-examining the program’s place in the district when it comes to deficit reduction?
I’m pleased that the district changed course since this questionnaire was produced, decided not to raise class sizes, and to not go through with the proposed layoffs of second- and third-year elementary teachers.
Also, we need to remember that the district recently contracted an impartial firm to audit the Dual Language (DL) program costs. According to the report from December of 2014, the results stated, “Cost variances between the DL Program and other District programs are negligible.”
Dr. Wendt ignored the audit opinion and used the argument that DL was more costly due to the 90% rule for EL learners. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) disagreed with Dr. Wendt’s assessment, stating, “A dual language program is not typically self-contained. Classes that have English-learners (EL) and non-EL students, the 90/10 rule generally does not apply in those cases.” DL has never been cited by ISBE for noncompliance due to the 90% rule in 308 or any district in IL in my research.
We need to listen to ISBE and make DL class sizes the same as all others. This solves any relevant cost issue forever. This solution lowers already negligible costs, expands opportunity, and increases expected outcomes.
We need Board Members who will work to find these kinds of structural solutions for short and long term success, rather than always cutting and diminishing educational outcomes. We all need to understand that something dear to you and your children may be targeted for cuts at some point. I will be a board member that will take a different approach. I will conduct research, reach out to the community, and do everything I can to find cost-effective solutions. This is exactly what I do for a living. I find efficiencies that either have no impact on operations or ends up improving operations. I will proactively search for efficiencies in the system to save ongoing expenses, prevent cuts and improve the long-term prospects of the district’s finances and educational outcomes.
When it comes to balancing the budget in the coming years, is there anything off limits when it comes to cuts? For instance, would you support cutting any and or all extracurricular activities?
There are plenty of items I would consider off limits. That is why I would like to look at everything now so we can find how to provide better outcomes with more efficient delivery. In particular, our special education population is currently underserved. So any further deterioration of any special education program would be off limits. I would look for cuts at the district administrative level first. I believe we need to allocate as much of our resources as possible into the schools and classrooms to minimize impact on the whole student. Also, extracurricular activities are very important for our students to have a well-rounded education and for their overall child development. Research shows that physical activities and extracurricular activities improve overall educational outcomes.