June 5, 2020

Jennifer Miller (R): Candidate for Region 18 Board of Education Representing Old Lyme

Jennifer Miller

Recently retired, Jenn’s professional career spanned various accounting, finance and business operations management roles. Jenn has been accountable for budgets ranging from $400 to $960 MM, including technology and capital improvement budgets. As a former Army Officer, a CPA with KPMG Peat Marwick, and an Executive Director with Pfizer, working with and leading diverse teams solving complex challenges are her favorite experiences. Jenn serves on the Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut Board of Directors, as past Treasurer, and member of various committees.  Jenn’s sons graduated from our Old Lyme schools; she enjoys golf, fishing and the outdoors.

What are the three major issues in Lyme-Old Lyme Schools that you are currently aware of, which require resolution during your potential term of office?  Please list and explain each one briefly in order of importance.

I will state up front that I am going to leave out educational excellence from this short list as I do not feel that is an issue per se.

    1. Operational and capital budgeting.  Most issues fall under this umbrella, so to be more specific, the development of a forward-looking plan which encompasses our students’ needs, rising personnel costs, known facilities maintenance and technology upgrades in concert with our goals. While the current 2-3 year horizon is drafted, I believe we can do more to pull together a comprehensive strategy.  This would include input and goals from our committees, administration, community and District.  
    2. Open and transparent lines of communication.  I feel it is very important for the Board to have one voice and for all members to participate on behalf of the entire community.  I believe we can improve the conversation between the community and the Board and the administration. I want us to have a very close working relationship and dialogue with the administrators.
    3. Social consciousness.  I believe it is important to be aware, understand and address ever-changing social perspectives.  The focus on academic and athletic excellence may sometimes overshadow the social needs of some of our children. I would expect environmental and climate change /green awareness, single sex bathrooms, transgender sports/topics, apprenticeship training, virtual classes and college alternatives to be some issues which may arise over the next four years.  (nb 234)

Regarding Question 1, explain more about your choice of the issue of most importance and how you think it should be resolved.

The budget for our Region 18 schools comes overwhelmingly from Lyme and Old Lyme taxpayers as it should; it is about 70% of Old Lyme’s annual expenses.  The Board and administration worked diligently to propose a budget for this year to minimize the impact of rising health care costs. Those costs are expected to continue to rise by 8-10% a year. While we may be able to cut projects here and there a year at a time, I believe a holistic long term strategy is required.  Working together with input from our community and ideas from other school districts, I believe we can achieve a budget which maintains our academic excellence and aligns with taxpayer appetite. Choices will have to be made soon on facilities’ maintenance and improvements such as the proposed turf field. These could drive the need for a new bond issuance in 2022.  Maybe there are strategies to avoid that, maybe not, but the time to openly discuss it and plan is now, not the year before.

The development of a budget plan will have to take into account overall District, Region and community goals with regard to enrollment.  As our towns change their composition, I believe this Board could make a concerted effort to explicitly state a goal with respect to managing enrollment.  Issues to be discussed, among others could include regionalization across the state, expanded pre-K, recruitment from out of town and country, and/or a path which leads us to downsize our school system purposefully.

What do you see as the main relevant skills and character attributes that you will bring to the position if elected?

All positions throughout my career required personal leadership and diverse team management starting with my first platoon in the Army, then my audit teams as a CPA and manager at KPMG Peat Marwick and most recently through 20 years in supervisory roles with Pfizer.  For over ten years I developed budgets and managed their execution within 2% and managed the agendas and meetings of a senior executive team of 13. Over the last decade I have managed many projects, managed multiple managers of projects at once and implemented overarching strategic planning from development to implementation.  These projects ranged from improvements to processes, rewrites of policies, operational budget reductions, facility improvements and facility closures and wholesale changes in the way a business was run. I am versed in Lean Six Sigma, Complex Problem Solving, Accelerated Implementation Methodology (change management) and hold a MBA from Rutgers University. 

Personally, I am an avid listener and learner. I have already learned quite a bit about Boards of Ed since I decided to run! I address a problem believing there are multiple solutions and impacts which need to be thought through and always, always, try to draw out everyone’s input. Perspectives are so important to recognize in our discussions. Having said that, I do like to stay focused on the issue at hand.  Helping the team reach consensus, that which we can all support as a team, is critical to speaking with one voice. I am rarely stressed, pretty patient, and committed if elected.


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