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2017 Oswego Candidate Questionnaire: Toni Morgan, SD308 Board

Mar 20, 2017 07:30AM ● Published by Steven Jack

Name:  Toni Morgan
Employment: I am currently a third-grade teacher for Yorkville 115.
Family: My husband, Allan, is an electrical engineer and business analyst. I have a freshman student and senior at Oswego High School.
Education: I have my bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University and my masters in educational administration from California State Dominguez Hills. 
Previously elected office: none, yet
Relevant community service: Part of my church’s finance committee for 7 years, Volunteer for PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter for Kendall County and DuPage County for 5 years, Served on the Home and School Board for my children’s elementary school, Served on a variety of committees for school as well as many events like fun fairs and dances

What makes you qualified to serve on the School District 308 School Board?

Being a teacher for 28 years in five different districts has given me a great deal of perspective on educational institutions and how they operate.  I am a good listener, so I hear from many perspectives and I take them all seriously.  I am not impressed or intimidated by power so much as I am by insight and practicality.  I love competence in my dealings and try to deliver the same for those who are counting on me. I am also a parent of two children in the Oswego school district and a home owner, so I am sympathetic to the needs of families, taxpayers, and the educational system.

What do you believe is the role of a School Board member?

The board is supposed to clarify the purpose of the district, connect with the community, employ a superintendent and hold them accountable with written board policy, delegate authority, monitor performance by using trustworthy and transparent data, and should take responsibility for itself.

What are some examples of programs or departments that are currently working well in District 308?

There are parts of many departments that do an excellent job.  Some examples would be human resources for paying and assisting employees with questions, food services with offering healthy choices and taking a personal interest in students and operations for the efforts to save energy.

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?

Three biggest issues that need fixing are as follows:

Downsizing the central district office organization by consolidating roles.

Offering all that we can for free which would make the district more effective and attractive like better communication at all levels, decreased bureaucracy, genuine inclusion of the input of all stakeholders.

Transparency of student data and district spending which we could do by using technology and the district website as a much better resource for the community.

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?

Some financial relief could come from working with Village Trustees to attract businesses to relieve homeowner tax burdens.  We must also find all efficiencies possible within the current budget.

Solutions that some districts have used to address shortfalls are restructuring services internally, consolidating services with other districts, or training employees for double purposes such as food service and custodial or bus driving and custodial.

In addition, the board would have to examine carefully which staff salaries give us the most value for helping students and sort out those which do not impact students as much and are unnecessary or overpaid. 

Those decisions would be made as collaboratively as possible to ensure we do the best we can AS A COMMUNITY to keep a safe and productive school environment.

Then we need to create a culture in the district that rewards the many staff who do provide a wonderfully high quality educational environment with all nonmonetary incentives which could make a difference such as input, a true sense of community, and recognition.

Some districts turn to outsourcing, but I believe that outsourcing services is a mistake in terms of a solid, long-term solution. It might give a quick cash infusion, but after you’ve made the deal, the contractors hold the upper hand and you have lost your ability to negotiate certain terms of services your district will need. These vendors clamor, do research and customize the pitch for your district, but often don’t tell a complete story.   If I were in a situation on a board where outsourcing was voted as a solution, I would insist on looking at limiting liability, doing due diligence, running the numbers and examining contract language carefully. That is how districts who outsource minimize the ill effects.

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?

First and foremost, Dual Language does not cost more.  The district paid ECRA, an impartial auditor from Chicago, $34,000 to audit the program both financially and academically. According to their report from December of 2014, they stated, “Finance Finding: Cost variances between the DL Program and other District programs are negligible.” (pg. 4) 

Additional Points to keep in mind:

·      ALL students in DL are 308 students who must be educated in one of our schools regardless of their programming.

·      ECRA found: The numbers of classes and teachers required for the K-5 DL Program are the same as they would be for the same number of students in a general education classroom, as class sizes are comparable in the DL Program. (pg. 20)

·      Although Superintendent Wendt tried to argue that DL cost more due to the 90% rule for English Learners (EL), Illinois State Board of Education disagreed stating, “Because a dual language program is not typically self-contained. Classes have 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 as far as we can tell, any district in IL in the history of the rule.

·      Per pupil comparison done by ECRA concluded 308 spent $3,147 dollars on K-5 DL students and $4,023 on non-DL K-5 students. (pg. 20)

·      In the 2016 budget, after accounting for the $400,000+ in EL grant funds provided to the district, 308 spends 3.3% of the budget on EL programs while the EL population represents 5.5% of the population.

·      EL students in DL classrooms do NOT require an additional EL resource teacher in addition to their classroom teacher thus saving money on additional staff.

·      DL students use the same materials used by non-DL students.  An 80-20 implementation like the one re-approved after the EL task force recommendations, require that students are learning through one language or the other for each content area meaning they do not need materials in both languages.

·      Jr. High EL students who require Spanish language instruction in content areas by law, are pushed into DL Language and Social Studies classes saving the district an additional bilingual content teacher for a hand full of students.  Done this way, they are pushing DL class sizes to 30 as opposed to having tiny classes of isolated EL learners.

·      The only Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) (required by the state) alternative is significantly less effective based on national research as well as 308 data and isolates/segregates our EL learners limiting their English acquisition and cultural exposure.

·      According to ECRA “When comparing native Spanish speakers in the DL Program to other native Spanish speakers, as seen in Table 7, students in DL achieve significantly higher growth in English on ACCES” (pg. 16)

·      Students in DL do require transportation as most would even if going to their home school.  The district has never been able to show an increased cost as EL students would have to be bussed to either program from across the district.  Picking up the non-EL students on the way does not increase travel significantly. The recent expansion to Boulder Hill will decrease the travel to half of the district moving forward.

I have taught in a variety of situations and in five districts over 28 years and I know firsthand that dual language is cost effective, better for learners, and does not need to be cut.

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?

Balancing the budget in coming years depends on many factors.  If the situation is serious you make cuts which are very different than you would in a dire situation.  Therefore, what is considered off limits definitely would be decided by the direness of the situation. 

I would never support cutting extracurricular activities mostly because I believe that somehow if we are put into a dire situation, some people in our community would step up to volunteer.  The best situation, of course, is to offer pay to increase the likelihood that reliable, qualified people are running those activities.

As for other cuts, there is the need to constantly prioritize based on what is most essential.  Schools can be very good and run with a simple structure and fewer resources and they do every day in places where the school boards have no choice but to do so.

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