John L. Kirkton
March 29, 2011 6:46PM
John Kirkton, candidate SD 228. | Supplied photo
Updated: March 29, 2011 6:46PM
Office Sought: School Board Member, Bremen Community High School District #228.
Name: John L. Kirkton
Address: 15133 LaPorte Avenue, Oak Forest IL 60452
Date of Birth: December 13, 1953 (currently 57 years old)
Home Email: email@example.com Work Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please keep this confidential)
Website: I share www.greatslatefor228.com with two other current District 228 School Board Members (Bill Browne and David Mensing) and a former Board Member (Sharon Rybak). All of us are seeking to be elected to the Board on April 5, 2011.
Tinley Park High School (1972)
University of Illinois-Urbana (1976), B.S. in Business Administration with high honors.
IIT/Chicago-Kent College of Law (1979), J.D. (law degree) with honors.
Occupation/Employer: I have been employed by Law Bulletin Publishing Co. (Chicago) as a department manager since 1982. Law Bulletin, which has been in business since 1854, provides numerous publications, products, and services to lawyers in the Chicago area.
Please list all sources of income: Law Bulletin Publishing Co. (above). I have no outside legal practice.
Spouse, spouse’s employer: My wife, Sue Kirkton, is currently unemployed. She had worked for Forest Ridge School District #142 as a Health Clerk (most recently at Hille Middle School) for ten years until the district eliminated the position at the end of the 2009-2010 school year.
Children, age of children, children’s employer (if applicable):
Andrea Kirkton (23) graduate of Oak Forest High School. Andrea is employed as a CNA by The Seniors Club Ltd., an adult daycare facility in Tinley Park, where she works with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
Jim Kirkton (21) graduate of Oak Forest High School. Jim is currently attending Illinois State University (Normal), where he is an English Education major with an expected graduation date of 2012.
Please list any relatives, including in-laws, who are employed by a government agency at the federal, state, or local levels. What are their job titles and with what agency are they employed? My younger sister, Mrs. Carol Gockman of Blue Island, is a technology teacher at the Illinois School in Park Forest, IL.
What other elected offices have your sought? What year? I have run for only one elected office, and that was when I sought (and was elected to) the School Board of Bremen Community High School District #228 in 2007.
Have you ever been arrested or charged with a crime? If so, for what? What was the disposition? No arrests.
Do you have any criminal convictions on your record? If so, for what? What was your sentence? No convictions.
Political (elected or significant appointment) experience: My only political experience derives from being elected to the School Board of Bremen Community High School District #228 in 2007. I have been honored to serve as the School Board’s vice president since 2009.
In your view, what are the two most important issues facing your constituents? How would you address those issues? As a member of the School Board I have two main constituent groups: the taxpayers and the students.
The taxpayers, I believe, want the School Board and the District’s administrators to ensure that District 228 is financially stable and that every tax dollar is utilized for maximum student benefit—keeping costs down while providing a high-quality public education to the students. After all, we are educating their future neighbors, customers, and employees! Since 2007, our goal as a Board has been to prudently trim the District’s expenses wherever possible without negatively impacting the students. By good fiscal management over the last four years, we have increased the District’s financial profile score while at the same time reducing the District’s overall tax rate and maintaining an A+ Standard & Poor’s bond rating. At times, we have spent money to save money—such as the recent renovations that were done at the four buildings. By replacing drafty windows, leaky roofs, aging boilers, and inefficient electrical fixtures, it is projected that the District will save over $150,000 in energy annually. In addition, we have applied for significant grant dollars to help defray the costs of these renovations and other projects. We have also taken tough—but honest and fair—positions during contract negotiations with the unions representing the teachers and support staff, acknowledging that we have limited financial resources.
As to the students, I believe that the primary issue is maximizing the students’ overall high-school experience despite our financial constraints—maintaining a broad spectrum of top-notch academic and extracurricular offerings, and providing the supports that are necessary to achieve academic success that will carry them into the future. I’ve read some newspaper articles that suggested that advanced placement (AP) classes could be eliminated as a budget-balancing measure. In contrast, District 228 is seeing increasing numbers of students include rigorous AP classes in their schedules, meaning that more students will be college-ready when they graduate. Since 2008, the number of AP class enrollments has increased by over 60%. Some schools have responded to funding problems by dropping the fine arts and athletics. Again, District 228 has continued to offer these opportunities to its students. In my view, we should not discontinue programs without first exploring every reasonable alternative. In addition, I am proud of the many initiatives that are being implemented in District 228 to address failure and underachievement, such as the Freshmen Learning Centers, which will be in place District-wide next fall. These Centers are the direct result of Superintendent Bill Kendall’s face-to-face interviews with students who had struggled academically. I am firmly convinced that we are moving in the right direction regarding student achievement.
Please explain something significant you would like to accomplish within the next two years if you are elected to the office to which you aspire. I would very much like to see District 228 continue to expand the use of technology in the classrooms to enhance the learning process for the District’s students and, at the same time, reduce the District’s expenses. Within the last few years, the District has begun using tutorial-based software to assist some students, installed electronic “white boards” in many classrooms, completed a server virtualization project, and upgraded the PCs that are in use across the District. At the same time, the District has deployed software that assists the teachers and administrators in more quickly assessing student performance so that additional educational supports can be utilized if necessary. All of this has been accomplished with a very modest technology budget that has actually been reduced each of the last three years! However, the District’s students currently learn primarily from printed textbooks—which are very costly to replace. Consequently, our students are often using textbooks that are several years old and have gone through an expensive annual rebinding process to keep them usable. District 228 is now investigating the feasibility of using e-books through IPads or the students’ own personal wireless devices within the next few years. These e-books would speed the process of providing the students with more current textbooks for their studies, may be available at a lower cost than printed texts, and would eliminate the annual “rebind” expense. Of course, paying for the additional investment in District technology (e.g., upgraded wireless service) will require some creative thinking by the administration and the Board because our financial resources are limited. But this initiative is something that I wholeheartedly support, and that I believe should be a high priority for the District.
Please explain how you believe the office you’re seeking can help in creating local jobs. District 228 employs hundreds of teachers and support staff (many of whom live in the Southland) at its four high schools. But in addition, the District is a major consumer of various products (e.g., cleaning supplies) and services (e.g., pest control) which can be secured from local sources. I believe that it is important to support local businesses whenever possible with the understanding, of course, that we are required by law to purchase from the lowest cost responsible bidder.
Do you believe the current way Illinois pays for education is working? If so, why? If not, why not? What would you change? In my opinion, the way that Illinois currently pays for education is not working. According to Article X of the State of Illinois Constitution, “A fundamental goal of the People of the State of Illinois is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.” Further, the Constitution says, “The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.” However, the reality is that the State contributes only 31% of District 228’s FY 2011 revenue when both general state aid and restricted state grants are combined. Another 4% comes from the federal government, largely in the form of restricted grants for services to low income students. Real estate taxes and other local sources account for a whopping 65% of the District’s revenue. And that is despite the presence of tax caps that limit the growth in the District’s real estate tax levy to the rate of inflation. Essentially, the local taxpayers have been forced to make good on the State’s promises. Additionally, due to State revenue shortfalls, school districts across Illinois have had to struggle with reduced State reimbursements for certain mandated expense items. For example, I estimate that District 228 will spend nearly $10 million in the next year on mandated special education, yet the District will be reimbursed by the State for only a small percentage of that expense. Despite this, the District has been very forward-thinking in its programs for special education students—recently constructing a new facility at Bremen High School where these students will acquire essential real world life skills. Similarly, student transportation is a required expense, and costs District 228 more than $3 million dollars every year. However, in the Governor’s most recent proposed budget, the State will reimburse the District less than 50% of that expense. On the one hand, the Governor’s proposed budget trumpets an increase in the “foundation level” funding that the State provides to the District for the education of each student. However, due to less publicized cuts in the State’s reimbursement rates for various items, the net financial effect of the proposed State budget to District 228 would be close to a wash. In addition, the District is faced annually with the inevitable increases in various expenses, such as health insurance, just as any large employer would be. As a result, we are being squeezed financially even though we have reduced the District’s discretionary spending for three straight years! How has District 228 responded to the State education funding shortfall? So far, the District has—through good fiscal management and judicious short-term borrowing—largely avoided making the kinds of cuts in our operating budget that would negatively impact the students. If our goal as a school board is to ensure a high-quality public education to the students of District 228, I do not believe that there is a reasonable alternative to the course we have taken. But if the State continues to struggle financially, and does not provide sufficient support to education, students will almost certainly suffer in the future.
What would I change? First, I would ask our State representatives to put aside political agendas and work together to identify other possible revenue sources to fund education—sources sufficient to provide significant relief from such heavy reliance on local real estate taxes. For at least 20 years, I have heard talk of reforming the method by which education in Illinois is funded without seeing any concrete action. Second, I believe that it is fundamentally unfair for the State to impose expensive mandates on the school districts, but fail to provide funding mechanisms for the mandates, thereby digging the District’s financial hole deeper and putting upward pressure on real estate taxes. For example, the State requires schools to provide driver’s education services, but caps the amount that we can charge the students. When salaries, car leases, gasoline and supplies are considered, the District’s costs for offering driver’s education far exceed the fees that we charge. Third, I would ask for the continued patience and understanding of the local taxpayers, who must know that failing to properly educate our students is not an option. At this time, real estate taxes are the only reliable source for funding public education in Illinois. Fourth, I would ask the unions representing the teachers and support staffs across Illinois to negotiate in good faith with their local school administrators and school boards to keep salaries and benefits at levels that can be met in the future. I have no intention of portraying these parties negatively. Our teachers and support staff are highly qualified, hard working, and very deserving of the dollars that they earn—but personnel related costs constitute roughly 70% of District 228’s expenses. Any serious attempt to reform education funding without also examining the expense side of the equation is not logical.
Would you make any changes to the budget of the governing unit to which you are seeking elected office? If so, what? I voted “yes” for the District 228 budget because I believe that it strikes the appropriate balance between cost cutting and moving the District forward academically. For example, some school districts simply “RIF” all non-tenured teachers at the conclusion of each academic year to trim costs. I believe that this does both the non-tenured teachers and the District a disservice, unnecessarily disrupting the teachers’ lives and eliminating a great source of new ideas from the District. Instead, the District 228 administration has carefully “sectioned” to ensure that the number of teachers is more precisely matched with the number of students—a tricky proposition when you must commit to retaining teachers in the spring and actual enrollment will not be known until the next fall. The result is that although District 228’s projected enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year is higher than the enrollment was for 2008-2009, the District expects to utilize fewer teachers—without slashing academic or extracurricular programs or “ballooning” class sizes. Are we continuing to look at ways to be more effective and creative in using the tax dollars that we receive? Constantly! For example, we recently began building the administrative and physical infrastructure in the District so that we now have the capacity to meet the needs of more special education students within our schools rather than utilizing out-placements to other facilities. That program alone is saving the District hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Given that the District’s special education population has increased from 588 students in 2001 to 947 in 2011, our timing is excellent! Would I prefer that District 228 did not have an operating deficit at this time, even though it is manageable? Absolutely! However, I am not a proponent of discontinuing crucial technology upgrades, or letting the schools slide into disrepair, or cutting the District’s class offerings to only the bare academic core as a budget-balancing measure. Instead, I believe that the teachers, support staff, District administrators, and the School Board must search for workable financial solutions together in the spirit of cooperation that has characterized District 228 for the past four years.
Are there any other issues you want to bring to the public’s attention? If so, what? In conclusion, I am running for a second four-year term on the District 228 Board of Education because I want to help maintain the forward momentum that we currently have in the District. This Board has been committed to conducting the business of the District with openness and professionalism. I believe that problems are solved through communication and compromise—not confrontation—and by striving to do the right thing rather than settling for the easy answer. If I am re-elected, I pledge to represent the District with dignity, honesty, and transparency—doing what I believe is in the best interests of the students (first and foremost) and the taxpayers.