Meet your candidates: Profiles for the April 2015 local election

In January, the H-F Chronicle sent questionnaires to candidates seeking local governmental offices in the April 7 election. Candidates were given a chance to express their opinions on the most important issues facing the governmental entities they hope to serve, and their goals.

Their responses were edited for grammar and clarity. They were asked to keep their responses within a 250 word limit in those sections.

Residents can hear the candidates discuss major issues at candidate forums being hosted by the Homewood-Flossmoor Area League of Women Voters:

  • Flossmoor School District 161 forum was held Thursday, Feb. 26.
  • Homewood-Flossmoor High School forum is 7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, March 19, in Room E-1 at the high school, 999 S. Kedzie Ave., Flossmoor.

District 233 (Homewood-Flossmoor High School, 4 seats):
Debbie L. Berman
John Farrell
Don Popavak
Jody Scariano
Tim Wenckus

District 153 (Homewood K-8 schools, 4 seats):
Steve Anderson

District 161 (Flossmoor K-8 schools, 3 seats):
Cameron Nelson
Michelle Hoereth
Cassandra Lickert
Merle Huckabee
John Simmons

Village of Flossmoor (3 seats):
James Wilder
James Mitros
Perry W. Hoag
Dennis White

Village of Homewood (3 seats):
Karen Washington

Village of Homewood Clerk (1 position)
Marilyn Thomas

H-F Park District (1 seat):
Deb Dennison

Homewood Library (2 seats):
George Bouchie
 


District 233 Board of Education:

Debbie L. Berman
Education: A.B. Brandeis University, summa cum laude w/high honors in Economics; J.D. Harvard Law School cum laude
Occupation: Attorney
Current employer: Jenner & Block LLP
Family: Husband, Elliott; Children: sophomore at H-F and 7th grader at Parker
Incumbent? Yes, five months

Most important issues:
I want to help ensure that H-F continues to provide all of our students with the opportunity to excel in academics, extracurricular activities and athletics. This means that we need to continue to offer high quality academic instruction across the board ranging from special education to the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and more. We are the only public high school in northern Illinois to offer the IB program, other than Chicago Public Schools. Offering the IB diploma option gives our students an advantage in the college application process. We also are working on a Fine Arts Academy that will provide unique opportunities for our artistically talented students which we hope to rollout in the next 12-18 months. We have upgraded the Culinary Arts Program so that students will be prepared to get a food safety certification. On the extracurricular front, H-F has amazing depth and breadth in the activities it offers so that all students can find the right extracurriculars given their interests ranging from debate to Model UN to underwater robotics to athletics to Spanish Club to a new Economics Club that is starting a new business.

Goals:
H-F is one of the crown jewels of the Homewood-Flossmoor community. At the end of my term on the school board, my goal is to have contributed to setting the policy and strategy to ensure that H-F not only maintains its stellar reputation, but is positioned to enhance and grow it. To achieve this goal, we not only have to deal with the immediate issues facing the district, but we need to look to the future to try to determine where we need to be in three or five years to remain competitive so that we can begin the planning now. It takes an extraordinary amount of resources (financial and time and effort) to launch new initiatives, such as the IB program or the Fine Arts Academy, so we need to plan ahead to ensure that we have those resources available. As an attorney, I am trained to think strategically and identify potential issues and risks. These skills will help me, the rest of the school board and the administration to accomplish this goal.



John L. Farrell

Education: Ph.D.
Occupation: Psychologist - office in Homewood
Current employer: Self
Family: Married; five sons, two daughters, 11 grandkids.
Incumbent? Yes.

Most important issues:
The number one goal is to continue the excellence in teaching and student services our students currently enjoy. I like the school's financial outlook, its relationship with its staff, its renovation program and its commitment to have a 10-year plan.

Goals:
I am currently working on a committee of staff members to put together more programming focused on "healthy decision making." I am also planning to speak to athletic directors in May about helping athletes feel "good enough" about their efforts regardless of successes or outcomes. More goals will develop where my skills as a psychologist make a difference.



Don Popravak

Education: B.A., communications, DePauw University
Occupation: advertising and marketing
Current employer: not listed
Family: Married, four sons.
Incumbent? No.

Most important issues:
State funding of education; residency issues; board ethics; fiscal responsibility and debt; wasteful use of tax dollars; superintendent compensation; academic issues

Goals:
It’s imperative that we immediately address ALL underperforming students; improve their academic skills which in turn will raise our overall ranking as a school. Ranking is only one of the issues we face. The community must demand change now for excellence and return our beloved H-F High School to its previous academic levels of success! H-F has fallen from a ranking of 91 to a current ranking of 312 among all Illinois high schools based on its most recent 2014 Illinois School Report Card test scores. The 2014 School Report Card listed that 53% of the H-F students were not ready for college, which is absolutely inconceivable for a suburban school district such as ours. Furthermore, our “per pupil in classroom instruction expenditures” are now $9,380 per student, the highest in the south and southwest suburbs, which is an increase of 62.2% per student since 2004. However, the increase in spending has not made an impact on the majority of students’ academic performance. This is not an acceptable situation and if elected I will demand answers and solutions. I will demand that our superintendent take immediate action to reverse seven years of academic underachievement for the total student population that has occurred. Obscene superintendent compensation must end now! I will demand that all future superintendent pay be directly tied to specific academic performance and achievement levels. The continued lack of fiscal responsibility with your tax dollars by the current school board is deplorable. More information at www.donpopravak2015.com.



Jody Scariano

Education: B.A., English, Augusta State University
Occupation: Retired

Family: three children, all H-F graduates.

Incumbent?
I am an incumbent. I have served 16 years. Eight of those years I was president of the school board, 2003-2011.

Most important issues:
I will continue to work with all of my fellow board members on the future of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, focusing on finance, personnel, planning, technology and a continuance of excellence for all students.

Goals:
My goal has always been and will continue to be to provide the very best education for all H-F students, to continue H-F excellence, to continue to maintain a balanced budget and to continue my track record of community involvement.



Tim Wenckus

Education: M.S., Chemistry, DePaul University
Occupation: Manager of Materials Development (Office of Engineering)
Current employer: Rexam
Family: Married with three daughters; two are at H-F and on is at James Hart
Incumbent? Yes, I have served since September 2013 when I was appointed to the board.

Most important issues:
Students – Always look to expand and improve the academic offerings to our students. An example would be the addition of Mandarin Chinese this year. Also, we need to support a diverse array of activities that demonstrate a holistic approach regarding education to the students. Examples of these kinds of programs are Snowball, REBE/REBT, Fine Arts and STEM, to name just a few.

Budget - Continue the tradition of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility. Our finance committee works very well with H-F’s accomplished business management department. We have a AAA Standard and Poor’s bond rating. Only 69 (or 2% of) schools in the nation can say that and HF is one! Our proactive approach has enabled H-F to sustain this rating year after year. This will only strengthen the partnerships we have with our community by showing we are cognizant not only of the students and staff but of the taxpayers as well.

People - HF's strongest assets are our people. Inside the school, these are the caring teachers and staff charged with developing and mentoring our kids. Development and training are key to maintaining our blue ribbon status. Outside the school, we strengthen partnerships with our community.

Goals:
I can summarize my priorities in three main goals:
1. We must maintain our strong academic expectations, civic responsibility and personal growth of our diverse student population.
2. Demonstrate fiscal discipline and work within a balanced budget year in and year out!
3. Continue to develop our very strong and capable staff and administration.


Wayne Holloway – did not respond
Jennifer Hoesktra – did not respond
Nora Beverly – did not respond
 



District 153 Board of Education:

Steve Anderson

Education: B.A., University of Iowa; M.B.A., DePaul University
Occupation: Finance Executive
Current employer: Capital One Financial
Family: Married with four sons, ages 15, 13, 11 and 9.
Incumbent? Yes, 8 years.

Most important issues:
I want to leave the school district better than I found it. To do that we need to permanently fix the structural deficit surrounding our financial picture. I also hope to improve the science, technology, engineering and math options at the schools to focus students' skills on the jobs of the future

Goals: See above.


Alexander Bosch – did not respond
Ashanti Bethea – did not respond
James Schmidt – did not respond
 



Village of Flossmoor Trustee:


James B. Wilder

Education: B.S., Tennessee State University; M.S. Roosevelt University
Occupation: Retired Executive (Chief Operating Officer)
Employer: Formerly worked for Harcourt School Publishers, Orlando, Fla.
Family: Married for 50 years, two adult children
Incumbent? Yes! I have served for six years.

Most important issues:
During the next four years there are several goals: 1. Water Main Replacement for water main improvements over the next eight years. 2. Completion of a 192,940-square-foot Meijer Store and Gas Station/Convenience Store. 3. Maintaining the village's sound financial practices and policies that have been praised by Standard & Poor's (S&P). In 2009, S&P upgraded the village's bond rating from AA to AA+. It is important to demonstrate that we are good stewards of what has been entrusted to us.

Goals:
If elected, my goal for the next four years would be to maintain the high standards outlined in our Annual Operating Budget. That is, "enhance the Village of Flossmoor as a first-class family-friendly community.”



James C. Mitros

Education: B.S, Management, Purdue University Calumet
Occupation: Sales and manage family-owned rental properties
Current employer: Zegers Inc.
Family: Married with three daughters and one son.
Incumbent? Yes, I am an incumbent Trustee and I've served as a Trustee for 20 years

Most important issues:
I would like to maintain and improve our current level of village services (Police, Fire and Public Works). Taxes are too high and we continually battle the need to raise taxes against the need to maintain city services. By keeping tight control over spending, our bond rating has improved over the last few years allowing us to borrow at lower rates. This directly correlates to the excellent financial management and control by our staff and board. We’ve had a lot to be proud of over the past few years: we’ve updated our sewers and removed all the ash trees in town. We have a new Metra station and have renovated the viaduct. We are currently replacing our water mains in the oldest sections of our system. All this happened in a depressed economy and the future looks bright. Last year we began work on Meijer’s, the biggest commercial development Flossmoor has ever had.

Goals:
My personal goals are maintaining or improving the excellent services we provide our citizens. We will always strive to have the best trained and equipped police, fire and public works departments. All our departments, including the village manager’s office, are in existence to provide services to our citizens and they all need to be the very best.

We need to continue the updating of our old infrastructure while maintaining the day to day operations of running a village like Flossmoor. We need to be a good partner with Meijer’s and continue to see the remaining out lots are developed with good business partners to provide the best amenities for our citizens. We need to seek new business opportunities for future development on the remaining property.

We need to continue to assist small business and attract new residents to our incredibly beautiful village. I will strive to use future revenues resulting from commercial development to reduce the tax burden on our citizens.



Perry W. Hoag

Education: J.D. University of Illinois; B.A. University of Illinois
Occupation: Attorney
Current employer: Cameli & Hoag, P.C.
Family: Married with one daughter, a University of Michigan junior and one son, a Parker eighth grader.
Incumbent? Yes, I have served continuously since 1994.

Most important issues:
I believe that the Village of Flossmoor is in a strong position due to the leadership of the board over the last 20 years. Our services for police and fire protection, maintenance of streets and infrastructure, water service, planning and zoning, code enforcement, cultural activity and financial and general administrative services are outstanding and second to none.

Goals:
My goal will be to maintain our outstanding services and sound financial and economic status.
 



Dennis White

Education:  M.B.A., University of Chicago; J.D. Northwestern University; B.S., Mechanical Engineering, University of Illinois
Occupation:  Attorney
Employer:  Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Family:  Married with one daughter, 11, and one son, 9.
Incumbent? No

Most important issues:
The most important issues I hope to address involve property values, property taxes and public safety. The aforementioned issues are interrelated. To the extent violent crime rates remain low in Flossmoor, Flossmoor's government is transparent and efficient, and we can reduce the number of foreclosed homes in Flossmoor; our property taxes should stabilize, property values should increase and Flossmoor should be viewed as an excellent place to live.

Goals:
From a goals perspective, I would like to facilitate development of a strategy to reduce the number of new foreclosures (through increased awareness of potential programs that can help people remain in their homes) and the amount of time foreclosed homes remain on the market (working with realtors and finance companies to increase awareness of available homes and ways to finance the acquisition of such homes); tweak the village's zoning code to facilitate responsible economic growth, especially near the new Meijer store expected to open in 2016; and examine the village's purchasing processes and procedures to explore opportunities for increased utilization of local vendors, as well as women- and minority-owned vendors.
 



District 161 Board of Education:

Michelle Hoereth
Education: B.A., Economics, Howard University; M.A., Urban Planning, Rutgers University; M.Ed., Educational Policy, University of Illinois-Chicago; Ph.D. Candidate, Educational Policy, UIC
Occupation: Urban Planner
Current employer: Illinois Facilities Fund (IFF)
Family: Married with four sons, ages 13 to 23 months.
Incumbent? No

Most important issues:
・Making sure we are being fiscally responsible in uncertain budgetary times without compromising the quality of our education. If cuts are needed, we need to make sure they do not negatively impact instructional learning, including the arts, or our teachers’ abilities to do their jobs well. 

・Overall, we have a high achieving district, but that can only be maintained if we have high expectations for all students. Our students should be challenged and we should be focused on continued growth for all students, including students with special needs. There are many levels between our high learners and those who need additional support. We must meet the needs of our students at every level. 

・Accountability: Are we creating real measures of success that go beyond simply creating and implementing a new change or policy? We need to make sure we are engaged in reflective learning and assess what’s working, what’s not, and ways to tweak and make our programs work better. We also need to make sure we are reaching out to teachers, parents and students as part of this process.

Goals:
My goal is to make sure we are making smart policy decisions and engaging in honest dialogue that helps identify problems and solutions. We’ve had significant changes over the years that impact both students and teachers. I want to make sure we are being reflective, highlighting lessons learned and using those lessons to make better decisions. Our schools are the bedrock of our community so I want to make sure we not only maintain our status as a high performing district, but also create a school environment that is flexible to the needs of all students. We should provide opportunities for all students to excel far beyond our expectations.

Our schools must continue to get stronger so our children are well prepared for high school and beyond. My goal is to build on our relationship with our high school and work to make sure our programs are better aligned. Not every board decision will be easy and no single decision will please everyone, but my goal is to make sure we are good listeners and are responsive rather than reactive. Our processes should be clear so the board’s commitment to providing high quality education to our students is never questioned.



Cameron Nelson
Education: B.A., Psychology, University of Illinois; B.S., Mechanical Engineering, University of Illinois; J.D., Chicago-Kent College of Law
Occupation: Attorney
Current employer: Greenberg Traurig, LLP
Family: I have a 6th grader, 4th grader, 3rd grader, and soon-to-be-kindergartener.
Incumbent? No.

Most important issues:
The most important issue in our school district is a lack of leadership both from the board and the administration. Our district administration withholds crucial information from the board, does not provide direct answers to simple questions, and waits to bring issues before the board until the last minute in order to minimize discussion and back the board into a corner. Our board has allowed this to occur for years, repeatedly voting "yes" when they should have said "no." For example, the district is spending an extra $400,000 on transportation this year because the administration chose to change school start times -- and then withheld information about the additional costs associated with those school start times for several months. Similarly, each year the administration makes sure that it asks the board for more iPad money before it provides any reporting on whether iPads are improving student performance (they aren’t). The administration also sits on test results for months before reporting those results to the board. These are just a few examples of the many ways the current board has failed to exercise any control over an administration that is actively withholding information.

Goals:
First, I will promote a change in board policy making board meetings more accessible and useful. This will include videotaping board meetings, and making presentations and materials available to the community 48 hours in advance of any board meeting to enable more substantive participation.

Second, I will encourage our other board members to stop approving spending that the administration cannot link to specific improvements in student outcomes.

Third, I will hold the administration accountable when it fails to meet its obligations to keep the board informed of crucial facts.

Finally, once we have eliminated the deficit, and spending on programs which are not helping students, I will encourage the Board and administration to support and expand elective STEM, Arts and Reading programs that allow children to grow beyond the limits of the achievement groups to which they have been assigned.



Cassandra Lickert
Education: B.S., Psychology, University of Michigan; 1993 — UCLA, M.D. degree 
Specialty in Pediatrics, Allergy & Immunology
Occupation: Physician; Senior Medical Liaison in Managed Care and Health Economics and Outcomes Research (HEOR)
Current employer: Actelion Pharmaceutical Inc., US
Family: Married with a daughter, 7
Incumbent? No

Most important issues:
1. Maintaining the quality of education within the district. 2. Maintaining the stellar reputation of District 161 by upholding the policies that are designed to improve our school performance. 3. Building upon the communication between the school district and the community.

Goals:
I have lived in this community for nearly 13 years. If elected, my goal is to represent the entire community, serving as its voice by listening carefully, asking questions and making sound judgments. I intend to take the information that I receive and disseminate it to help educate the community. I hope to provide to the community a better understanding of the role of a board member.



Merle Huckabee

Education: A.A., Health Administration, Prairie State College
Occupation:  Executive Administrative Specialist
Employer:  University of Chicago
Family: Married with two daughters; one is an H-F graduate attending Chicago State University and the other is a fifth grader at Flossmoor Hills School.

Most important issues:
Some of the important issues facing School District 161 in my opinion but not necessarily in this order are:

  • The school district under the current administration has rung up a tab of over $1.5 million, creating a serious budget deficit;
  • The administration is looking to get everything rubber stamped without opposition;
  • There are no checks/balances of SD 161's administration;
  • Most parents feel there is a lack of trust and credibility  of SD 161's  administration;
  • We have a gap between school administration and parents;
  • No  working relationships between the school district's administration and state/federal legislators;
  • The administration of District 161  acts as if it has no accountability or responsibility to the stakeholders of this community;
  • We must ensure that the curriculum utilized is preparing our children to enter and exceed the standards of H-F High School.

Goals:
If elected, I understand and think it's important that everyone acknowledges that change isn't going to happen instantaneously. My goals are many. One of my goals is to continue to advocate for our children as I did when I challenged the school district on safety issues and encouraged it to seek Safety Hazard Studies from IDOT so our children wouldn't be forced to walk down perilous roads while charging parents for transportation that should have been provided at no cost due to these hazards. While my fight was for nine families, the results    benefited over 40 families in the Village West community so they would not be charged for bus service. 

Another goal is to encourage and help the school district's administration to build relationships with our state and federal legislators so they can work together on funding issues that impact our schools. Another goal is to encourage school board members to hold the administration accountable for their actions because they have a responsibility to the stakeholders in this community to put the interest of our children first. Since our school district is now heavily in debt, my final goal is to work with other school board members and the administration to get these debts reconciled and further spending monitored. We all must work together to bridge the gap that exists between parents and the administration.



John C. Simmons

Education: B.A., M.B.A., Saint Xavier University
Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) Charterholder
Occupation: Investments
Family: Married with two daughters
Incumbent? Yes; have served since 2007

Most important issues:
The most important issue facing our district (and many other districts) is how the state of Illinois will work to address its woeful state of public education funding--this is a problem many years in the making and it is unlikely that it will be solved quickly. However, it is vital that the state should begin down a different path very soon.

Several other important issues are: the move to the Common Core standards; the new PARCC test and the format and environment in which it is offered; the appropriate integration of technology in and out of the classroom as one way of improving the educational experience of students; and the mandated move toward an educator evaluation process that incorporates student growth.

Goals:
A primary goal is to work to continue to ensure that often scarce resources are appropriately allocated within the district in order to provide the best educational environment and opportunities for students.


Gregg Lunceford – did not respond
 

Village of Homewood Trustee:
 

Karen Washington
Education: Ph.D, Curriculum and Instruction
Occupation: Deputy Director
Current employer: Illinois State Charter School Commission
Family: Married with and two daughters
Incumbent? I was appointed to complete the term of Tom Kataras in Fall 2015 after having served as village clerk.

Most important issues:
The Village Board has worked diligently at developing our village economically: This effort has been extremely productive and I will work to help to continue this development. However, I would also like to decrease the number of empty buildings: the result of businesses that were unable to remain open.

Increasing the number of Homewood residents who proactively provide input about present and future endeavors within the village is important. Participation on Village committees is crucial for keeping a finger on the pulse of our village and for sharing ideas about moving forward.

Goals:
My goal is to encourage a higher level of proactive resident participation through various strategies that would be appropriate for our community.


Jay Heiferman — no response.
Lisa Purcell — no response.



Village of Homewood Clerk:

Marilyn Thomas
Education: B.A., University of Illinois – Chicago; M.A., Governors State University
Occupation: P.R. specialist
Family: Married with one daughter
Incumbent? Yes, appointed to fill a vacancy in October 2014.

Most important issues: not applicable; I don't have voting power.

Goals: My main role is to keep accurate minutes from village board meetings in a timely fashion. I will do my best to meet these obligations.



H-F Park District Commissioner:

Deborah A. Dennison
Education: University of Illinois, College of DuPage
Occupation: Administrative Assistant- Homewood Public Library; School Crossing Guard, Village of Homewood
Family: Married with four children
Incumbent? No.

Most important issues:
As a longtime resident whose family has been active in and benefitted from the H-F Park District’s fine pools, parks and programs, I feel an obligation to maintain the high standards of our outstanding park district. I seek board service not with any particular issue in mind but with a commitment to address any issues that arise during my term―fairly, responsibly and in the best interest of the community.

Goals:
My goal is a singular one: to carry out the park district’s mission “To improve the quality of life for the residents of the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District community through exceptional recreational opportunities, facilities and parks while practicing environmental stewardship.” The Board of Commissioners and staff have done an excellent job of accomplishing this in the face of aging facilities and an increasingly challenging economic environment. My goal as an incoming commissioner is to work collaboratively with staff and fellow commissioners to continue on this path and ensure that the park district remains vibrant in the years to come.



Homewood Library District Trustee:

George E. Bouchie

Education: B.S, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tulane University
Occupation: Engineering/Environmental Consultant
Current employer: CBRE
Family: Wife and three children
Incumbent? No, but served as Homewood library trustee from 2007 to 2013

Most important issues:
Expanding the library's role as a source of information, education and entertainment; promoting the free flow of ideas; opposing censorship.

Goals:
To continue responsible management of available funds and staying on budget while enhancing the library's responsiveness to evolving community needs.


 

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A great community deserves a great newspaper. The HF Chronicle was created in June 2014 as an online publication. In December 2015 we began monthly print publication, too. Our mission is to chronicle the life of our community — news by, for, and about the people of Homewood and Flossmoor, Illinois.

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P.O. Box 461
Flossmoor, IL 60422