Clarion

School Board Candidate: John Keen

Courtesy of John Keen

Alleigh VandeMerkt, Staff Reporter

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Below are the unedited responses from school board candidate John Keen to the RBHS Clarion school board candidate survey.  All candidates were given an opportunity to respond to this survey.

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What issue needs the most improvement at Riverside-Brookfield High School and why?

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my qualifications. I was once a writer for this student-produced newspaper.

The fact that we are having a referendum in April shows that education costs in excess of tax revenues is the major issue facing RBHS.  This same problem affects our Illinois state government and our federal government.  Since neither will be able to bail out our great school, our community taxpayers will decide the level of support.  The new school board will have to spend money wisely and prioritize expenditures no matter what the referendum outcome.

How do you plan to improve this issue if elected to the school board?

Many students at RBHS have taken economics.  This class was not available when I was a student here, which shows one way that our school has improved. I was fortunate to study this discipline in college.  Economics provides a framework for analyzing this issue. We need to rank proposals comparing costs and benefits, including opportunity costs and hidden benefits.  This can be termed smart spending.  The current proposal (if the referendum fails) is to dramatically cut sports and extracurricular activities.  From attending the community sessions, I am not sure how this proposal was developed. An equally valid starting point is to assume that we are efficiently spending our money now “at the margin”, and therefore to cut all activities by a set percentage, and prioritize from there.  I believe the board has to consider multiple alternatives.  This means that the board has to ask detailed questions of the administration and listen to taxpayers, teachers and parents about alternative courses of action.

From the recent debate about medical care reform, there was talk about “bending the cost curve”.   The board has to think in a similar fashion.  What are other ways we can cut costs?  Consolidation of the elementary and high school districts, as recently mentioned in the Landmark, is a reasonable proposal to investigate.  Businesses and corporations do this all the time.  Besides eliminating overlapping positions, we could probably achieve efficiencies (hidden benefits) in the whole education experience for students.  We might get more by spending less.  This would allow lower taxes or money for even more breadth of education opportunities.  The board needs to think outside the box.

We need to fairly compensate our teaching staff for the excellent results RBHS has achieved.  However, your parents will tell you that salary and benefits are only part of the equation that draws and keeps them at their jobs.  RBHS has a unique size and other positive cultural and community attributes that we should maintain and improve when possible for an attractive and positive professional environment.

Education provides positive externalities, which economists call a “public” good.  This means that the community as a whole is taxed to subsidize education (which otherwise would be under produced) due to the benefits society achieves from an educated population.  However, this argument only goes so far.  We only force you to attend school to a certain age.  The extent of the subsidy is also open to debate. For example, a participation fee for sports and clubs is reasonable.  Furthermore, students will reap most of the benefits from their education, as well as bear the burden from not taking advantage of the educational opportunities presented to them.  So take advantage of the great learning opportunities at RBHS.

What is your relevant experience prior to running for the school board?

Before medical school I worked as an economist and a ratepayer advocate for the State of California Public Utilities Commission, so I have professional experience applying economic principles.  I believe a board member has to act primarily as a taxpayer advocate, since they essentially pay for and are “shareholders” of the school.  Parents are the customers, and educated students (each graduating class) are our product.  The administration and dedicated teachers and coaches and support staff are of course essential for the mission of maintaining the high quality of education now available at RBHS.

I work as a radiologist, a doctor who examines medical images and acts as a consultant to other doctors.  Besides teaching doctors-in-training, my daily job involves asking questions, thinking about alternatives, and looking up information when I am not sure of the answer.  The same attitude applies to the role of a school board member.  Sometimes I need to do significant research on a medical question.  As a health economist, I have written multiple scientific abstracts and papers on cost-effectiveness in radiology, including informed decision-making in screening mammography and medical radiation.

A concept called evidence-based practice has become important in medicine the last two decades.  Practitioners require scientific evidence to guide treatment decisions.  We can apply the same principle to education policies.

Why do you want to serve on the school board?

I want to maintain a high quality education for all students at RBHS in light of the economic challenges that we face.  RBHS can be the best school of its size in the state.  Certain procedures need improvement.  The District Goal Area 5 to communicate better with parents and the community needs implementation.  This goal should be the top priority of the new superintendent.  For instance, we should inform parents about topics such as proposed changes in class rank policy or the academic calendar.  The administration should prepare a summary sheet on these issues, which should be emailed out to all parents to solicit input before the board votes.

What do you believe you will be able to contribute to the school board?

I will bring my strong economics background and expertise to our budget issues.  I am running as a team with Garry Gryczan, who as a business consultant has a strong financial background.  Next, there are health related initiatives for our students that might benefit from physician review.  Finally, as a scientist I will ask questions and request evidence to support any significant policy change.

What sets you apart from any of the other candidates running?

All the candidates have excellent qualifications.  I am the only alumnus of RBHS running for the board.  Being a Bulldog gives me a unique perspective and appreciation for RBHS.

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School Board Candidate: John Keen