Customer Service Manager & Project Manager, Motorola Solutions Inc.
Married, Mark Ponga
On the Record
What experiences do you have that make you a good candidate for office?
My husband, Mark, and I moved into the district in 1998 with our first born only 6 months old because we had heard Prairie Grove School had a good reputation and was smaller with a feel similar to a private school. Our son is now at Prairie Ridge HS and our daughters are in 8th grade and 4th grade at PG. My experiences at PG school include volunteer work to raise funds throughout the community for 56 classroom amplification systems; coordinate the necessary resources and funding to build a quarter mile walking path for the students and community; PTO president for 2 years; and many other fundraisers and service projects that gave me invaluable insight into the processes and needs of our school. As a working mom, my experiences at Motorola for the past 29 years have taught me that teamwork and teammates with diverse skills are the best way to tackle complex issues. In addition to a technical background and a career in service, I have strong communication skills; experience with negotiating large contracts; and have successfully led many teams throughout the years. I am running for office with 3 other vested community members; Laura Barker, John Bowman, and Rick Salvo.
What are your top two or three priorities if elected?
Community involvement – All community committees were eliminated and replaced with a monthly Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting, which is just another board meeting. The COW platform pushed the taxpayers away from the school. Without community committees there are no checks and balances; the board discusses issues at the COW meetings and then makes recommendations to themselves at their regular meetings. As a public body, we must reinstate community committees and work toward complete transparency. Employee Morale – It’s evident employee morale is at a all time low. Throughout the 22 months of PGTA contract negotiations, the environment at the school digressed and the first teachers’ strike in the school’s history ensued. We need our ‘school’ back – a place where everyone is on the same team. Finances – Property taxes must decrease but not just for the next year, as planned by the current board. Annually increased expenses can’t outpace the annual increase in revenue. If it does, it’ll result in a spiral affect which would cause the spending down of reserves and ultimately a tax referendum. I am in favor of eliminating mandatory increases of salaries. During difficult times, automatic salary increases aren’t appropriate. I think everyone can agree with that. Our unions have already proven they’re on board with keeping our district financially secure.
Would you support freezing your taxing district’s levy until housing prices rebound? Why or why not?
I would support freezing the taxing district’s levy but freezing it at the individual property level is what needs to happen. Freezing at the taxing district’s level is freezing the whole, not each property’s levy. Today, when a person is granted a reduction in their taxes, that reduction amount is spread across the rest of the taxing district and the result is the taxing district’s revenue stream remains the same. Those that fight for a reduction pay less and those that don’t fight pay exponentially more so the taxing district’s overall revenue remains the same. The solution is individualized frozen levies so those that fight will reduce their own levy and those that don’t fight will continue to pay at their own frozen levy level. The result would be a true freeze and a true reduction in revenue for the taxing district. During difficult times, the taxing district should realize a reduction in revenue and respond accordingly by reducing costs. Our administrators have contracts that don’t allow a reduction in salary. If they work through contract term, they’ll receive a $3,000 to $5,000 bonus. There may be a time when a decrease in salary is very appropriate. A finance committee would have challenged those decisions by the school board. We need to solve the problem, not squeeze a balloon somewhere only to have it inflate on the other end.
What one decision by the school board do you most disagree with and why?
The school board’s decision to dissolve all of the community committees and implement their Committee of the Whole (COW) meetings has had a negative trickle affect on our district and community. The government created the COW process so that an entire board could have a venue to meet with an entire committee to discuss that committee’s charter, not to eliminate committees from existence. We must re-engage the community! We need a finance committee, curriculum committee, policy committee, building/grounds committee, parent/community advisory committee, discipline committee, etc. As a board member, we need others to provide input and have committees with various levels of expertise to work together to discuss topics and address issues. It’s always better to have many resources and levels of experience when discussing issues. I believe if the community was involved at the school, especially a finance committee, they would have offered the diverse experience and perspectives our school board could have used to alleviate many months of contract negotiations with the teachers’ union. The school board spent $47,462 in attorney fees alone to negotiate the teachers’ contract. That did not include the lost productivity for teachers and administrators, administrative expenses, and the unfortunate impact of the strike.
What was the biggest accomplishment of the board in the past year?
The biggest accomplishment of the school board over the last year was the start up of the Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program. Over 10 years ago, the district transitioned from half day kindergarten to full day to enhance that level of education for our children. Due to the reduction in enrollment over recent years, the district was able to accommodate the ECE program with classroom space, teacher/assistants, and a fenced in area with playground equipment for recess, as well. The addition of the ECE program will further enhance the level of educational programs offered by our district.
Why should voters elect you to office?
I’m excited about the possibility of being a school board member. My family and I have been involved in the school and the community and feel it’s important to be a volunteer. I believe a team of business orientated taxpayers with strong family values, diverse backgrounds, and some opposing views will ultimately provide a balanced board. That is why I am running with three other residents; Laura Barker, a single mom with two girls at PG school, working in the insurance industry; John Bowman, a senior citizen, retired businessman and retiree of PG school; and Rick Salvo a father with countless volunteer hours at PG school and works in the IT industry. The four of us are professionals with strong communications skills and the confidence needed to make a positive difference for our educational system and the taxpayers. We need to position the district to help taxpayers through these tough times while continuing to improve the level of education for our children as they are our future. Some examples; investigate why administrative salaries are the county’s highest, yet we have the lowest admin/student ratio; investigate the declining ISAT test scores; work to create individualized levies; and get the community involved. Please contact us at VoteBarker3Bowman4Ponga5Salvo6@yahoo.com
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