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School board candidates outline goals, priorities in forum

The 2019 Consolidated Election is Tuesday, April 2 – less than one week away.

With six candidates on the ballot for the board of education, the Tuscola Education Association and the school board co-hosted a two-hour Meet the Candidates public forum at the East Prairie Middle School gymnasium Sunday, March 24.

The forum included statements from candidates (listed in ballot order): Darold Spillman (incumbent), Margie Carter, Ian Rominger, Khristi Boyer (incumbent), Bob Devlin, and Brad Ingram.

The six candidates had the opportunity to introduce themselves before answering seven questions for which they had the opportunity to prepare answers prior to the forum.

Two of the seven questions and the candidates’ responses are summarized below.

What are your goals for the first year?

Spillman: As a current board member Spillman hopes to continue work to put into place trauma informed practices.

“We are hearing more and more that children are not the same as when we were kids,” he said, “and teachers are having to deal with more and more in the classroom that they haven’t had to deal with in the past.”

Spillman hopes to provide teachers and staff with professional development opportunities and training practices “to help the teachers help the students to help all of us.”

Also, Spillman has suggested the community begin researching ways to organize a Douglas County Vocational Center that would require a countywide initiative to provide vocational classes and training.

Carter: In her first year, she hopes to continue supporting the Tuscola Kindness initiative that has “the ability to focus on the mental health of our students and teachers.”

Carter also noted that she hopes to change the culture of the board meetings to provide a more open dialogue between the community, and especially with the teachers.

“We need to be able to engage with the public and the teachers,” she said. “If they come to the board with concerns they need to be addressed, we need to listen, we need to think about what they’re asking, research the concern, and decide based on what we know is right.”

Finally, she hopes to help form a solid relationship between the board and incoming Superintendent Gary Alexander.

Rominger: He says his focus is on expanded technical education opportunities. He noted the Post-Secondary Workforce Development Act that has an outline that would be beneficial to Tuscola students who would be prepared to enter into jobs that are in high demand with a high wage.

“I know this is important because I’ve lived it,” Rominger said.

He also placed a priority on engaging the public with the educational system, particularly when the board is considering major changes.

“When ever the community unites behind the best interests of our children we create a powerful force to not only accept change but to embrace it.”

Boyer: She says she is most eager to offer training and supports for the staff. Boyer noted a staff survey allowed the current board to learn that the teachers felt they needed more training to better provide social and emotional support for the students. Boyer said she hopes to provide trauma induced practice training.

“Over the past few years, our students have been entering the schools with significant behavior challenges that our teachers and staff have had to respond to with increased frequency, which when we have to stop our teaching to help the kids refocus and restructure the room we are losing teaching time.”

Devlin: One of his top concerns is the fact that man teachers are paying out of pocket for classroom materials. He said he his top goal in Year one would be to work within the budget to find room so that classrooms can be funded without teachers paying out of their personal funds.

He also noted that boosting test scores should be a goal for the district.

“We need to be competitive with other surrounding communities as Champaign-Urbana grows,” he said. “…If we want to keep our community flourishing we need to continue to bring in young families who are looking to improve the overall community.”

Ingram: Student safety should be a top priority for the district with a focus on having a trained professional in the school buildings whose job is centered on school safety, he said.

“It’s not only about safety and security, it’s safety and understanding how we can address and understand every child in the school district based on what ever needs they might have,” he said. “If we can’t see and understand each child and their needs as a district from the day they walk in the door to the day they graduate then we are already starting out with a disservice.”

He also hopes to ensure that in the coming year Alexander is adjusting well within his new office.

What are some specific areas in our district that you see need to be addressed or improved by the board?

Spillman: Over the last eight years, Spillman said, the district has worked to “shore up” the buildings within the school district. Spillman says the structure of the buildings has been preserved, but he hopes to focus on the interior of the buildings with a focus on the classrooms and science labs over the next 10 years.

He also hopes to focus much of the board’s energy on the Douglas County Vocational Center to provide students who are not college bound with the foundation on which to build a successful career.

Carter: She hopes to build on the successful programs already in place within the district to build relationships with the teachers to improve the culture districtwide.

“Teachers need to feel comfortable coming to the school board with their ideas, alternate teaching methods, need for supplies, all of that, and they need to feel comfortable, not fearful in doing that,” Carter said. “If you don’t have the budget to accomplish that, then who are you serving?”

Rominger: The top area for improvement on Rominger’s radar is the ability to attract and retain quality teachers and staff. Rominger said since 2010 enrollment in Illinois teaching programs is down 56 percent.

“It’s not about money, it’s about respect for the profession,” he said. “We need to use every form of media that we have to celebrate the successes of our teachers to inspire our young people to join the ranks. All of us as stakeholders need to support our teachers with our trust, with our respect.”

He also noted that the board should partner with city officials to promote the city of Tuscola as an attractive place to build a career and a life.

“We want them to ‘Think Tuscola,’ because we are in competition with other communities for the best educators and for those families to move to town.”

Boyer: The top three areas Boyer hopes work through are safety, curriculum, and building improvements. For safety, Boyer hopes professional development will allow teachers to feel more confident in the case of emergency.

She noted that the teachers have worked to align with the current state standards, though she believes it is past time for the board to look at the curriculum to make updates to allow for a smooth transition between grade levels and buildings.

Also, interior building improvements need to be made a priority including classroom renovations and science lab updates, she said.

“This will not happen over night and will require a plan that is thoroughly thought out to be accomplished,” Boyer said.

Devlin: With student safety in mind, Devlin hopes the board sets a discipline policy that is consistent throughout the district so that teachers, students, and parents are aware of the process.

Also, as the maintenance funds free up from the exterior work, the interior work needs to be accomplished to make the school buildings enticing for new residents.

“Walking around some of these hallways, it’s a little depressing,” Devlin said. “It’s very dated, and if we’re going to compete, we need to make our schools more enticing.”

Devlin also hopes to fund curriculum updates that will best serve the students.

Ingram: Upgrades for equipment and curriculum to better serve the teachers and students are on Ingram’s priority list, as well as opening the line of communication between the school and the community, and specifically with parents. Ingram also suggested the board having a better presence within the buildings including making appearances during teacher institute days to gain feedback from teachers and staff.

Also, he said he would like to see a school resource officer working for the district.

“Most people probably think it’s just having a cop on duty,” Ingram said. He suggested that a school resource officer could help combat crime within the school, decrease bullying, reduce drug use, and help with development of students’ character.

Polls to open 6 a.m. April 2
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. April 2. Grace period registration and voting will be open until Election Day and can be completed at the Douglas County clerk’s office on the second floor of the Douglas County Courthouse. Early voting is available for registered voters from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in the county clerk’s office.

The Tuscola Board of Education consists of seven board members elected to serve, without compensation, for overlapping terms of four years each. Four seats will open this year.

Board members Tim Mooney and Toby Ring are opting out of reelection. Mooney, current board vice president, has served the Tuscola school board since April 2011, while Ring, current board secretary, has served since 2015. In contrast, current board members Boyer, current board president who was elected in April 2011, and Spillman, who was also elected in April 2011, are throwing their hats in the ring once again.

Board members Cathy Mannen (Township 15 N Range 8 E), Martin Marx (Township 16 N Range 8 E), and Rick Quinn (Township 15 N Range 8 E) will continue their terms that will expire in 2021.

Ingram, Carter, Rominger, or Devlin would be newcomers to the board if elected.

The Tuscola school district is made up of eight Township and Range areas. These areas within Tuscola school district are not equally populated or sized; however, these areas will become important come Election Day as each area can have no more than three representatives serve on the school board.

Only one candidate, Ingram, lives outside this area, while each of the other five candidates live within it. Excluding Ingram, only two of the remaining five candidates can be elected to the board.

The most populated area is Township 16 N Range 8 E, which spans from Route 36 north to the county line road and includes most of the city’s residents. This area is only allowed three representatives, and Marx currently fills one of those seats. That allows only two from this area to be elected in April.

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