All five candidates attended – incumbents Katie Bailey and Keith Terry and challengers Eileen Budde, J.B. Rees and Richard Rykhus.
The questions covered a broad range of topics, including the magnet schools, the Superintendent’s contract, bullying, the achievement gap between African American and white students, and teacher-hiring practices. Distinctive views among the candidates surfaced in response to questions about the magnet schools and the Superintendent’s contract.
The Magnet Schools
Four of the candidates supported the proposed plans to change the focus of Bessie Rhodes to a “global studies” school and to enhance the focus of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School as a “literary and fine arts” school. See accompanying story on page 27. Mr. Rees said he thinks the schools should be neighborhood schools.
Mr. Rykhus said he thought providing choice for families through the magnet schools was important. He views providing exposure to global studies as a great way to build global citizens, which is part of District 65’s mission statement, and he supports the renewed focus of King Lab. He added that King Lab has led the way in including students with a disability into the school. “There’s a clear path forward for the magnets,” he said.
Mr. Rees said, “I think the long-term vision of District 65 is to go back to neighborhood schools. …That’s what I think where the District should be going.” He added, “I’m not a big fan of global studies. I think kids should learn about our country first.” He said he thought there should be longer school day, the curriculum should be more rigorous, and maybe uniforms should be required.
Eileen Budde said magnet schools are important because they provide parents with a choice and they enable the District to balance student enrollment at the attendance-area schools. To carry out that function, Ms. Budde said the magnet schools need to have interesting, creative programs to draw students from overcrowded attendance area schools to the magnet schools. She added, “I love the global studies mission [at Bessie Rhodes] … and would like to see if we can expand that to other schools.”
Ms. Bailey supported re-magnetizing the schools both because it is part of the District’s five-year strategic plan and because “they are used to manage enrollment, and if you don’t have a draw, they’re not able to do that.” She added, “It’s a benefit to offer parents options. I like that we’re a School District of options.” She said the Board asked the administration to provide cost data and an evaluation plan to implement the proposals.
Mr. Terry said when he became a member of the School Board four years ago, he called for re-magnetizing the magnet schools. He said this is called for by the District’s five-year strategic plan, which he said was built by the community, is visionary and helps to guide the District. He said he plans to vote for the proposals presented for the magnet schools.
Rolling Extensions of the Superintendent’s Contract
Mr. Rees said he would not have supported the one-year extension of the Superintendent’s contract last June (which extended the contract to a five-year term). He said he did not necessarily have a problem with giving superintendents extensions, but would like a more performance based contract. He said if the Superintendent wanted to extend the contract in 2015, it would be fine to consider it at that time.
Ms. Budde said she would not have supported a one-year extension of the Superintendent’s contract last June because of the economy and she did not think a fifth year was needed. She said the contract should not extend beyond the four-year term of Board members. She added that the contract did not include enough “measurable upward feedback goals,” such as how the Superintendent was performing in terms of teacher satisfaction and parent satisfaction.
Ms. Bailey said she voted against the one-year extension last June because it came up for a vote less than one year after a prior extension and she did not think it was necessary. She added that there are times when a five-year contract may be necessary, such as where the District is going through a great transition, or where it is used as a benefit or a recruiting tool.
Mr. Terry said five-year contracts are given to superintendents by many school districts. He said student achievement has been improving, the District is financially sound and the Superintendent has implemented many innovative programs. He voted for the one-year extension because he wanted to tie the superintendent’s contract to the five-year strategic plan and to the upcoming contract negotiations with the teachers. He added that the Superintendent has not had a salary increase in the last two years.
Mr. Rykhus said he opposed the one-year contract extension last June because it was given at time when there was proposal to lay off 30 teachers and provided a “very poor symbolic message,” and because it was financially irresponsible to do so. He added that a superintendent’s contract needs to contain clear performance measures. He said the Superintendent’s current contract contains “good process measures” but not “outcome measures.” He said, “What I really would like to change in our District is the rigor in which we measure success in our District and how we go about measuring that.”