What you need to know about the April 2019 election
Name: Brandt L. House
Occupation: Commercial Pilot
Position Seeking: District 203 Board of Education
Campaign website: Facebook: Vote Brandt House for District 203 School Board
Why are you running and why should people vote for you? I’m a lifelong learner with a passion for education and its role in changing lives. As the son of a single teenage mother with an absentee father who has spent more than half my life incarcerated, I know first hand how education can change a student’s trajectory and life. In my current term on the District 203 school board my passion has inspired me to influence change that benefits all of OTHS students. It is my desire to continue to build on the many successes I’ve been a part of these past four years: - Feed the Future -- providing nourishing meals for students in need on Friday afternoons - After School Transportation (2019-2020SY) providing students access to extracurricular activities - Added academic programs like Advanced Placement and other curriculum changes improving the participation in college readiness classes - Diligent oversight of district use of taxpayer dollars - Presenting a diverse and nuanced perspective unique to our legacy board members resulting in in-depth review and exploration of district operations and philosophy - Challenging the “we’ve always done it this way” philosophy and achieving success in new areas
What are the most important issues the school district faces, and how would you approach them? Transparency: Transparency is a key component to trust in our community. We have to continue to reach out to the community and deliver an accurate stream of information that engages parents and the larger community. This engagement cultivates a positive relationship with the community and can result in greater trust and confidence for the district’s stakeholders. I have encouraged our district leadership to reach out to OTHS parents and community organizations to develop positive dialogue; as a result of this outreach, parents have volunteered their time to work with students in after school programs and one community church is collaborating with the administration for a mentor program for OTHS students. Community trust is imperative in a successfully run school. I will continue to encourage open communication with OTHS stakeholders to ensure we maintain the trust of the community. Teacher Shortage: The current teacher shortage in Illinois (and across the country) negatively impacts the opportunities District 203 is able to provide its students; it presents the case where students are, potentially, turned away from a class their interested in if we do not have enough teachers to fill the number of sections required to accommodate all interested students. I will continue to challenge District 203 administrators to present recruiting initiatives that incentivize talented educators to join our district. In 2018, I testified in front of the IL House of Representatives Elementary & Secondary Education: Licensing, Administration, and Oversight Committee on the impact of the teacher (as well as, substitute teacher) shortage on District 203. I will continue to lobby our state representatives to consider policy that streamlines licensure of paraprofessionals whom have completed all the academic requirements and are currently supporting the education of our students on a daily basis in our classrooms today. Program Oversight: One of the primary roles of the school board is ensuring school activities are conducted consistent with the values, beliefs and priorities of the community. Last year’s controversy re: the OTHS baseball coach and the program highlighted program oversight as an area of improvement for oversight. Whether it’s taxpayer dollars or parent booster club funds, it is imperative the board conduct oversight processes that ensure program activities are conducted within the boundaries established by school board policy. Periodic audits of program activities may be one component to ensuring the integrity of these programs.
Under what circumstances would you vote to raise property taxes? While we do not currently have much margin for raising property taxes in District 203, I do believe any suggestion of the sort should be part of a well thought out long range plan vice a reaction to short term challenges. I would expect a proposal to raise taxes to be one that demonstrates a value investment creating long term benefits for the district, the students, and the community. It was with that thought in mind that I recently proposed, and the board accepted, a strategic review of the goals and needs of all areas of operation within the district, which I expect will result in more focused decision making, planning, and, ultimately, the best use of taxpayer dollars supporting the district. This approach to district planning would give me the confidence that any proposal to raise taxes has met a thorough review process and is consistent with the board’s goals. FYI: The results of this strategic review will be planned for the fall of 2019.
What are your goals for the district/what do you want to accomplish? Strategic Planning: One of my goals is to encourage the board to take a strategic planning approach to the distribution of district resources and short range decision-making. One of the first objectives would be to right-size the OTHS cash balance, currently sitting around $10.3M. These are taxpayer dollars in savings intended, in part, to supplement the school budget in the case of a state aid shortfalls, for example. Right-sizing this account would mean determining the likelihood of a shortfall, the minimum operations the district would support in that case, and ultimately the contingency cost of supporting those operations. Surplus funds in the account, if any, could then be used to support other projects within the district. Whenever possible the district should minimize the holding of taxpayer dollars in “savings”, and approach would ensure that. The subsequent objectives would include identifying and prioritizing short and long range district needs. This commitment to a strategic planning approach to spending results in more proactive distribution of district funds and minimizes reactionary spends. Diversity and Inclusion: District 203’s Strategic Plan list “closing the existing achievement gap for under performing student sub-groups” as one of its goals for student achievement. While the district works diligently to implement initiatives focused on closing the achievement gap, the fact remains that minority under representation in OTHS programs such as Honors and AP and over representation in non-college readiness classes are significant barriers to closing the gap. In the past 3 years, as chair of the OTHS Achievement Gap Committee, I’ve been impressed with the administration’s response to the committee members’ input and ideas as they have implemented initiatives with the potential to result in more diverse classrooms representative of the district’s student population. In the past 2 years, Mayor Roach and Chief of Police Van Hook have made deliberate efforts to demonstrate diversity and inclusion in their respective areas of influence, City Hall and OPD. Our community responded passionately to another school board member’s racist comments that lie 180 degrees from the values our diverse community represents. And I will continue to build on our recent successes to ensure OTHS is a leader in the educational community as the district continues to work toward diversity and inclusion in all aspects of its academic programming.
What is your position on the proposed increase in minimum wage for teachers in Illinois? IL Teacher Minimum Wage Increase: I am in favor of teachers receiving a fair wage for their commitment and contribution to the world in the effort they put into each and every student they inspire. A minimum wage increase is important to 1) appropriately reflect the value of the work our teachers do in our communities, and possibly more importantly 2) to address the existing teacher shortage (which continues to trend in the wrong direction) which necessitates direct action that encourages retention of our current teachers and those inspired to enter the teaching profession. As I have stated with the District 203 Board of Education and our state representatives, we cannot rely on money for the long term solution to the teacher shortage. It is important that we have “all hands on deck” in developing creative solutions that address 1) a depleted teacher pipeline, 2) excessively challenging teacher placement test (Illinois, specifically), 3) alternative candidate pools (e.g., those looking for a 2nd career), and 4) teacher licensure alternatives. One of the reasons I encouraged the District 203 board to take a strategic planning approach to the OTHS future (10-20 yrs out) is because issues like the teacher shortage warrant more than a reactive approach. We can make the decision now to invest in addressing the depleted teacher pipeline or invest in an academic environment with an even more distressed teacher population (imagine a classroom of OTHS students receiving instruction via “Facetime” from a teacher in Bloomington, IL), but it would be irresponsible to invest in both. I am in favor of the teacher minimum wage as it is long overdue, but it is only one step in addressing the looming challenges over the horizon. (Incidentally, we’re still waiting on the impact a raise would have on District 203, but based on the bill’s current schedule, OTHS may be minimally impacted: 19-20SY = $32,076; 20-21SY = $34,576; 21-22SY = $37,076; 22-23SY = $40,000 (source: STL Disp).