Incumbents tout achievements; challenger raps communication

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — Independent School District 834 candidate Amy Burback faced a tough task during Wednesday’s candidate forum at Boutwells Landing Town Hall.

Burback is the lone challenger to incumbent board members Kathy Buchholz, George Dierberger and Mike Ptacek in the Nov. 6 election. Voters in ISD 834 will selection three board members from the four-person field.

At Wednesday evening’s forum, the three incumbents all touted the work they have done as sitting school board members, from budget cuts to curriculum and policy changes.

While Burback agreed with some of the board’s decisions, she was critical about how the board communicated those changes to the community, especially after voters rejected three board levies in the 2011 fall election.

She called the board’s communication to citizens about some issues inconsistent or non-existant.

Buchholz, Dierberger and Ptacek all defended the school board’s communication with families in the district.

“Communication is always a challenge,” Ptacek said. “If you want to find out what the school district is doing, you’ve got to work. It takes an army to pass a levy.”

“It’s a very high priority to me to be out in the community,” Buchholz added.

And Dierberger noted that the board cut more than $6 million for its budget earlier this year “in a transparent process.”

“All of those meetings were open by law,” Ptacek added. “They weren’t very exciting.”

Both Dierberger and Ptacek said the board had two goals when considering budget cuts.

“One of our top priorities was protecting classrooms,” Ptacek said.

“We had two criteria. Nothing was sacred and we had to protect the classroom,” Dierberger added. “The good news about that process is that we’ve identified (future) cuts.”

“We do need to cut between $2 million and $4 million next year,” Buchholz said. “We would get community input to help us with that project.

The incumbents also discussed curriculum and class changes designed to provide 21st century learning to students.

Dierberger cited $1 million in donations to the district to implement STEM classes throughout district schools.

“I think it’s one of the most significant decisions the board made,” he said.

Buchholz said she achieved one of her goals when the district dropped Keyboarding from the curriculum.

“Are we teaching things that are relevant,” she said.

And Ptacek said he wants district school curriculums to focus teaching students transferable knowledge.

“What I hear in the workplace is they want people with skills,” he said.

The three incumbents also talked about students’ successes through advanced placement classes. But Burback, who once worked in college admissions, said AP classes do not fit all students and the district must realize that not all high school graduates go to four-year colleges.

“Ten years ago, we saw high school graduates unprepared (for college),” she said. “Frankly, it hasn’t gotten better. It’s not a magic formula. They (students) need to love to learn. Not everyone should leave our high school and go to college. I think it’s great to have a high graduation level, but we need to send them to the right place.”

The other challenge the incumbents said faces the school board is the district’s growing student diversity.

“We have challenges. Guys, the demographics in the district are changing. We’ve got some wonderful challenges,” Dierberger said.

“We’re spending more time in the community,” Buchholz added. “We are trying to make an effort to get out in their community instead of asking them to come to us.”

Although Burback agreed that the district’s student population is more diverse, she said that teachers and volunteers sometimes don’t see the diversity in the classrooms.

And that is another challenge for the board, according to Ptacek.

“We need to put teachers in the classrooms that look like the kids,” he said.