October 01, 2023


Joseph Lackner, St. Charles School District 303 BOE election questionnaire

St. Charles School District 303 Board of Education election candidate Joseph Lackner

Full Name: Joseph “Joe” Lackner

What office are you seeking? School District 303--St Charles

What is your political party? none

What is your current age? 50

Occupation and Employer: Partner, Management Consulting at Ernst & Young

What offices, if any, have you previously held? School District 303-St Charles; School Board Member & Vice President of School Board

City: Saint Charles/Campton Hills

Campaign Website: https://www.facebook.com/JoeLacknerforD303

Education: University of Chicago AB

Community involvement: D303 School Board, BSA Troop 13

Marital status/Immediate family: Married, Four Children: 1 D303 Graduate; 3 currently enrolled in D303 schools

Why are you running for office?

A solid educational experience is the foundation for a modern, responsible, free citizen. Data shows that educational attainment is the great leveler; it is the path to social and economic mobility for people from all circumstances. D303 is a diverse community with varying needs and the board plays a special role in ensuring that D303 is equipped to inspire all young people to become engaged, fulfilled citizens. As the son of a teacher and the husband of a teacher I believe this to my core. We owe D303 students--and ourselves as a community--the benefits of great schools. This is why I’m running.

There is broad community agreement on the importance of school and frequent disagreement on the schools’ priorities. Making decisions about D303′s $200M annual budget—$800M over a four-year term—is an incredible responsibility. In my short time on the board, I have helped the board ask better questions about how this money is spent and helped the board make better decisions on behalf of the community. I would like to continue this service to the community by maintaining the calm, mindful, and analytical approach to the hard tradeoffs that I bring to the board.

What makes you qualified for the office you’re seeking?

The board serves four primary roles: 1. serving as a representative for the community while deliberating on the critical issues with which the citizens have entrusted board members, 2. articulating the community’s educational goals through statements of purpose and policy, 3. charging a professional school administration to work toward the achievement of district goals within existing policy, statutory, and legal frameworks, and 4. providing governance and oversite to the school administration through policy and budget decisions.

D303 is a large, complicated entity afforded a substantial budget of taxpayer dollars and entrusted with, in many ways, the hopes and dreams of our diverse community. Managing it well is very difficult; managing it to the full satisfaction of all constituents is impossible. I bring to the board the experience of an executive who has led large successful teams embedded within complex, often bureaucratic organizations. I bring the experience gained from more than 25 years as a management consultant helping large complex companies to identify improvement opportunities and to drive the decisions needed to capture those improvements in ways that balance the needs of multiple constituencies. I combine this with a passion for student success that comes from a father of four D303 students. I bring a studious, objective demeanor. I recognize the emotional weight attached to decisions impacting students, teachers, and the community at large. At the same time, I know that difficult trade-offs are necessary and communicating effectively about these trade-offs is the only way to build buy-in around hard decisions.

Have you sought and/or received any training to run for your local school board? If so, from whom?

I have completed ISBE required training on several topics including board efficacy, Open Meetings Act compliance, and Mandatory Reporter training. At the same time, I have completed self-study through Illinois Association of School Board materials on School Finance to better understand the Account-specific management of school finance (ie, Education Fund, Capital Fund, etc.) as the statutes that guide school finance create a unique environment for how funds come into the district and how funds can be spent by the district. My study here has also allowed me to better understand the complex relationship between the D303 budget, the Tax Levy, and the ultimate delivery of monies to the district.

Would you propose any changes to the curriculum? If so, what?

D303 Schools are very good. They need to be better. The numbers of students who are performing below grade level are unacceptably high. And, when the board talks about improving one grade level’s reading proficiency by 10 percentage points, we’re talking about helping 100 more students get to grade level. The Board’s role is to push the district to help more students succeed.

We hired a new Superintendent in July of 2022 to address academic underperformance. One of the Superintendent’s first recommendations to the Board has been that the elementary literacy curriculum was sub-standard. The Administration--with Board support--is addressing this right now. Deeper study has concluded that the district lacks consistent, leading-class curriculum in several places. The Board’s primary challenge will be to help administration identify priorities for change and to support teachers through transition to new, better programs. The consideration of an appropriate high school program is critically important in this process. High school serves as D303′s “capstone” academic experience for students. Creating a clear view of high school success provides a focus for how to structure the district’s curriculum--from pre-K forward--in a way that allows D303 to provide students the most options as they graduate and select their own path.

Are LGBTQ students treated fairly in your district?

I recognize the unique and influential role that the school system plays in the conveyance of cultural norms and expectations. Schools are one of our most well organized and long-standing formal social structures. If we aspire to a vision of our world that includes the recognition of each individual’s positive value, then we must also seek to create a school environment that focuses on human dignity and delivers on this message.

One pressing issue facing the board is the continued examination of the school’s role and responsibility in society. This is a multi-faceted challenge as our broader society works through a continuing re-ordering of its economy from a focus on ‘things’ to a focus on ‘information’. During this transformation, we must acknowledge that social norms demand respect for every individual’s ability and right to contribute regardless of origin, background, or condition.

Preparing students to thrive requires the board to set a high standard for the knowledge-content that is covered through the district’s curriculum and a high standard for the social environment in which that content is delivered. The board must set the right pace for the adoption of the “new” while creating a stable educational environment around which students, teachers, and the community at large can rally.

What is your assessment of how Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is handled in your school district?

D303 recently completed an ‘equity audit’ to review how well the district meets the needs of all students. There are clear findings in this report and in the administration’s own annual Student Achievement Report that show there are sub-groups within the district with real improvement opportunities. For example, latino students, low-income, and English language learner subgroups have lower percentages of on-grade-level performance on Illinois Assessment of Readiness. The district can do more to help more students in these groups to succeed.

The district has recently adopted “dignity” as the theme to drive the development of a respectful, inclusive school culture across the district. This concept recognizes a that, regardless of what makes people different, respect for each person’s human dignity is at the heart of an effective community environment.

Do you believe the district needs to make any changes to improve DEI in your district?

See previous answer.

Are teachers in your district paid adequately now and in retirement?

Highly qualified, highly engaged teachers drive the most positive student outcomes. And, teachers are the largest item in the budget. The most important way the board can balance fiscal responsibility and educational outcomes is to ensure that D303 has the best teachers, that it helps teachers continue to grow their professional practice, and that it supports teachers with curriculum and tools that allow them to bring their best every day. The Western Suburbs is a competitive market for teachers. D303 must remain competitive in terms of teacher pay--and it has a competitive total compensation and benefits package. At the same time, D303′s revenue is essentially fixed (it is pegged by law to the lower of the pace inflation or 5%). Therefore, it is critically important that the district exhibit real discipline in determining how many teachers it requires, in the efficacy of the programs that teachers are deployed to deliver, and in focusing on helping teachers to be highly engaged in student outcomes.

Would you support changes to teacher pay scales? If so, how?

The overwhelming majority of D303 funding comes from local taxpayers. State and Federal sources contribute very little to D303′s funding. Large-scale change to teacher to pay must come with some concurrent change to school funding formulas and mechanisms.

What is your assessment of the district superintendent’s compensation?

D303 is one of the 20 largest school districts in Illinois. With nearly 12,000 students, more than 1200 employees, and 16 school buildings, it is a complex organization. And, the Superintendent is charged with delivering a dramatic improvement in student outcomes. The compensation is competitive; it is important to recognize that the Superintendent’s performance goals (as included in the contract) are specifically linked to the Board’s expectations for improvements in student success.

Would you make any changes to how the district superintendent is compensated?

II would make no changes in the compensation at this time. The most important factor in changing the compensation is the Superintendent’s track record in delivering on the ambitious performance goals that the Board included his contract.

Do you support the current superintendent? Please explain.

Yes. D303 hired a new Superintendent in July 2022 after an exhaustive national search for a candidate who can dramatically alter the percentage of students who are succeeding in D303. The Superintendent’s early work has identified real improvement opportunities. He and his team have started to address elementary literacy and they are providing the Board with regular reports on student outcomes.

Should schools in your district adopt and teach sex education according to the National Sex Education Standards? Please explain.

No. ISBE asked local school boards to adopt these standards and more than 70% of districts in Illinoisrejected them. D303′s current Board and Administration agreed that ISBE’s recommendation was ill-fit for D303 and that local control over sex education curriculum remains important.

The use of the word “National” in the title of ISBE’s standards is a misnomer. These standards are in not endorsed by the US Department of Education, they are not mandated by any federal order or regulation, they are not sponsored by any federal agency. The use of the word “National” is an attempt to lend legitimacy to the point of view of a small set of special interest groups who have underwritten the development and promulgation of these standards.

What is your assessment of how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled locally?

I was appointed to the D303 Board during COVID to complete the term of a board member who resigned. It was a tumultuous time filled with fear and frustration. The convergence of public health guidance, government legal orders, and local desires to do the best for students and teachers created a very difficult environment to manage.

Teachers, students, and families managed through the ever-changing process and procedure changes well.

The district did a good job in managing changes to the physical-plant/facilities that were recommended by Public Health agencies recommended--air handlers, enhanced cleaning, etc.

The district could have done a better job in communicating about those parts of COVID reaction was mandated by state government and which elements were local decisions.

What did you learn from the pandemic?

One key lesson learned is that communication between schools (board and administration) and families is critically important to maintaining trust. Ineffective communication and lack of openness increased fear and frustration.

We know that remote learning was far less effective than in-person learning for delivering academic success and social development for students. The guiding principle must be to ensure the best positive outcomes for students.

Are voters that support your district taxed at an appropriate level?

Property taxes in D303 communities are high and the majority of D303 funding comes from local tax payers. The communities that make up D303 value quality schools because we all want to invest in students and their futures. And, tax payers know that good schools contribute to a positive community environment and to both stability and growth in home values. On the other hand, it is critical that the D303 Board continuously earns the community’s trust by showing that the schools are using the money dedicated to the schools in a way that matches community expectations and values.

Would you support any plans to raise taxes in the district? If so, what should the additional revenue be spent on?

D303′s current budget is more than $200M each year. This is a substantial sum and must be used prudently. At the same time, this budget is mostly consumed by the district’s operating budget. Before the schools ask for more, it must convince taxpayers--every tax year, every day--that dollars invested in D303 are driving positive outcomes for students.

D303 facilities vary in age with its oldest having been built in 1928. Some have ADA compliance issues and others are ill-fit to deliver an effective classroom experience for students. At some point in the future additional capital will be required to modernize D303′s fleet of buildings. At the same time, D303 must show the community that it is effectively utilizing today’s fleet before asking for capital to change the fleet.

Would you support lowering taxes in the district? If so, what programs or services in the district would you cut?

I would support lowering taxes. As the development of new homes slows and reaches a natural limit based on geography, there will be an opportunity to match the budgets to stable student populations.

D303 provides an excellent and diverse set of experiences for students today across core academics, the fine arts, engineering, and other programs. These are the foundation of the strong schools the community requries. On the other hand, we must recognize that some programs have either failed to deliver on their expected ends or have become less impactful over time. It is up to the board to continuously assess the costs and benefits of individual programs that have been added to the district to determine if these continue to warrant funding.

Will you accept the voters’ decision in your race on Election Day?

Yes. How can it be otherwise?

What is your position on open, transparent government?

Openness and transparency are paramount in government of the people and for the people. There are no national security exceptions for School Boards.

Do you support the Freedom of Information Act and citizens’ ability to freely access government records?


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