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Election 2013: Dan Garrett, Geneva School Board

Here's a bio and answers to an in-depth questionnaire submitted by Dan Garrett, who faces off against seven other candidates in the April 9 race for four seats on the Geneva School Board.

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DAN GARRETT — GENEVA SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATE
(8 candidates, four seats)

Name: Dan Garrett

Position Sought: Board member for Geneva Community Unit School District 304

Campaign Contact Information: dgarrett@me.com, 630-845-3043        

Family Members: Brenda, spouse; Holly, 20; Wendy, 15; Hunter, 6        

Education: Drake University 1984, 1986 Computer/Finance and MBA

Current Occupation and Employer: Vice President Investortools Sales and development of bond portfolio management, credit analysis and performance measurement software; 1986-2000 Portfolio Manager and head of municipal bonds investment - Principal Financial Group

Political Party Affiliation: None listed

What will be your single most important priority if you get elected?

Holding the line on tax rates with balanced with an increase in excellence in education. A 30% increase in tax rates while enrollment, staffing, and admin salaries are flat appears to have been based on growth that didn't happen.  However, budgets have risen while house values have dropped, Geneva unemployment doubles, and our population dropped from 24k to 21k. There is an out-of-synch relationship where we spend $10million more on education for the same number of students we had 5 years ago.

Why Are You Seeking Office?

I believe a sound education is key to success in life. My kids are in K and 9th grade, and I want them to have fine teachers and a great experience. I also want to provide guidance on how we spend our tax dollars, as we have one of the highest achievement rating in test scores but also one of the higher per capita tax rates in the area. My expertise in municipal finance and budgets adds to the vision and guidance for a great education at a fiscally responsible price.        

What sets you apart from the other candidates?        

My background as both an adjunct professor and mentor to the gifted student progam in Iowa, combined with my business experience in budgets and municipal school credit and bond markets. I think we need some expertise in bond issuance and the marketplace on the board. We have business folks, but none who have been in the municipal bond business. With over $300 million in commitments, there may be cost savings just in debt structures. Also, I have a keen interest in Science, Tech and Math keeping up with the marketplace —preparedness concerns within the Common Core are real needs. Creative use of tablets or e-teaching could greatly help our students in readiness for college or the workplace.

What is your top accomplishment of the past four years?

Knowing all my kids value a good education: The examples were seeing my daughter finish GHS, find a good college, have a career idea in mind, planning a marriage and me surviving all that. My middle daughter is doing great her Freshman year—after fixing some eye issues in middle school her reading has caught up and she is excelling in all her subjects. My son is off to a good start and loves to head off to Kindergarten—seeing him really being excited to go to school and then telling all he's learned and friends he's met give me confidence he will be a lifelong learner.
       
Describe your leadership style and how it will apply to your term in office.        

Collaborative. I like to demand high levels of interaction and share the load on information gathering. The team approach works best, but having a leader to push a decision is key. Without a leader, discussion becomes the goal and decisions are not taken often enough.

What do you think are the top three challenges facing School District 304 today?        

  1. Budget re-factoring. No growth, while budget is up 30%.  This can't continue.
  2. Re-inventing our compensation strategies to reward based on results, not seniority or continued education that isn't linked to measurable benefits to students.
  3. A long-term plan for debt restructuring and smoothing debt service payments


If elected, how would you address those top three challenges?

  1. We must re-factor our budget, meaning it has to match what our taxpayers can afford. Perhaps this has been considered by the board, but I get fuzzy answers and have many questions, as do my neighbors.  There must be a way to bridge between now and when housing values and numbers growth return.
  2. A good start was the recent contract, where a committee to study a reconstructed salary and pension plan was formed. I'd like to see a 401k contribution replace defined benefit pension
  3. A comprehensive review of our bonds, with consideration to pre-refunding or direct loans from banks to smooth our annual payments which increase $9 million over the next four years.


Issue 1: What will you do to address School District 304 debt?        

A comprehensive review of our refinance and creating pre-refunding options with the marketplace. I don't think we have explored all the options that may be beyond what our current financial adviser has recommended. I would also review the PMA assumptions in what we can afford to draw down from reserves to prepay debts. Fresh ideas from the market may help us tremendously and the exploration of those might be beyond the scope of the current board's resources.

Issue 2: What will you do to hold the line on property tax increases?        
Beyond the debt, we have to realize our growth will not return soon, but that we are spending as if housing starts and values remained on their trend lines before we built the last two buildings. We must challenge any and all budget increases from our 2008 budget of $41 million in the education fund, to the near $60 million we are at in 2012. How did that explode by 50% when our student, staff and admin folks are at the same number of people? I can't get a firm answer or information, and I've been seeking data with some details from the both school finance reports and public investment disclosures and w/ current board members. There is too much fog, which leads me to believe that with some careful fact gathering we can uncover and find ways to at least hold the line, if not cut budgets.

Issue 3: How would you approach collective bargaining in the next teachers union negotiations?

That's three years away. I would heavily rely the salary review committee's input. This was formed in the fall 2012 negotiations, and should greatly help with laying the ground work for a smoother conversation in 2015. My approach would be more information disclosed to the general public on current salaries, included the suggestions that result from that committee's work.

Communication seemed to help, but it came late in the process this last round —the public's awareness on the step/lane methodology and salary levels helped everyone better understand and support their respective positions and find a fair solution while avoiding loss of teaching time.
       
Issue 4: Outline what you think should be done with the Coultrap property during the next four years. Be specific.

Based on what I know, I would agree with green space for at least the next few years. I like the ideas of documenting and preserved what items we can, including the cornerstone, bricks or building name for some memorial on that site.
       
Issue 5: What do you think should be done with the Fourth Street property during the next four years? Please be specific.        

We do need continued office space for the administration. Past studies of the use of Fourth Street with renovations, sale and move the staff elsewhere, etc. would have to be looked at before I could take a position. I do think we should have a 10-year plan with 10-year cost of maintenance on an older building, so we have good information to make a planned financial choice from several options. Some comments were made at the Coutrap forum 1/14, that deferred maintenance made the razing of the building the only option—I'd like to say Fourth Street had all the options explored and available.

Issue 6: What would you do to address the issue of enrollment bubbles in School District 304?

I think Mary, and the members of the recent boundary committee, have a good handle on the problem. It's a tricky balancing decision, especially with the housing future, mainly focusing to our west where we all know is the most likely growth. My first step would be to absorb all the information already collected by that committee to do some of my own analysis.
       
Issue 7: Is School District 304 as transparent as it should be? Why or why not?

No response.
       
Issue 8: What do you think of the so-called "Enrollmentgate" issue? Should it be further investigated?        

No. I understand what happened, and it's not a deception or shady ulterior motive.

Issue 9: What do you think of the TaxFACTS citizens group? Has it been a help or hindrance to progress?        

I think they have really brought forth a lot of good questions and educated a lot of stakeholders in the process. Better education is a good thing, right?

Issue 10: How would you rate the performance of District 304 Superintendent Kent Mutchler?        

Kent is a quiet guy, so hard to gauge attending board meetings, and he isn't as visible as our last superintendent. That said, I can't argue with results of great academic performance, great teachers of my kids from every subject, and a great reputation from what I understand from other districts and colleges. From my perspective, pretty good, but not much to go on other than a snapshot.

Issue 11: Would you be willing to spend more money on technology in schools? Why or why not?        

Yes. I think it saves money to invest in wise capital items. In order for us to give the best education, we have to use the best tools. Teachers at GHS are about to launch a more team-oriented Planned Learning Communities—where collaboration and sharing of ideas is key. I think the best way to deploy will probably be electronically between teachers on these teams, as well as to the students in new teaching techniques, content or approaches.

Issue 12: Do you think educators and administrators in School District 304 are appropriately compensated? Why or why not?        

Yes. Better than most compared to state averages and some of the information shared at the Illinois School Board Association. We pay better than average, because we have teachers that are better than average, and our students performance backs that up. In fact, compared to other school conditions and the support we give with teachers aides, training, education tuition, clean and safe environments, innovation in technology—I think 304 is an excellent work environment, with excellent benefits and intangibles.

Issue 13: What does School District 304 need to do to improve academic performance?

Integrate technology, teacher collaboration to get best-of practices (the new PLA's are a big step), review the budget and redeploy spending where we see boosts to academics and reduce funding to areas to hinder academic performance.

Issue 14: What are your thoughts on the Common Core curriculum and upcoming changes in ISAT evaluations?        

These have many benefits, and will create challenges in the transition. The complaint of lack of foundational knowledge from both colleges and businesses is real and needs to be addressed. The ISAT evaluations will be an adjustment, but in my opinion the transition the old "exceeds" now being "meets" is not a big deal. Also, "Core" doesn't not imply only—our students excel because they don't stop at foundations—teachers and students tend towards way beyond average.

Asking for teacher, parent and student feedback will be keys to success. This is one area for being mindful of over communication being best.

Issue 15: Do you think sports or extracurricular activities should be on the table as possible budget cuts?

Yes. Per my budget comments, where programs don't advance excellent performance in academics, or social and emotional development, then something else may be a higher priority. I've known folks who would not be as successful in life were it not for the high school sports, choirs, band, drama or other clubs they participated in or helped lead. But everything has to be on the table when budgets have jumped 50%.

Please add any other information pertinent to your campaign.

No response.

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