The financial challenges facing local school districts because of reduced state funding are on the minds of each of the candidates in the Herrin and Murphysboro school board races.
Murphysboro District 186
Murphysboro native John Corley said financial problems are not limited to Murphysboro schools, but are a state-wide problem with few easy, local solutions.
Corley, who holds two bachelors degrees and a doctor of chiropractor, said his 12 years of higher education have shown him the the value of education.
"I went to a lot of schools and know how important education is," Corley said. "It's what helped me start my business from scratch and work from nothing to what I have now."
Ken Carr is also concerned about budget uncertainty, but is disturbed by the way the school board decided to turn the grade schools into attendance centers.
"I'd like to see more transparency in the board, where the board will involve more teachers and the public as well as parents about what is going on," Carr said.
Carr, who retired after 30 years with the SIU Student Health Center, served on the Murphysboro School Board from 1978 to 1985.
"That was a long time ago, and I'm retired now and I have lots of time on my hands to really study issues and help with communication of parents and teachers," Carr said.
David Beggs recognizes the financial restraints the state has placed upon the district, but questions the board's approach to dealing with the reducing funding.
"They're eliminating curriculum and when teachers retire they're just not replacing them. That's a huge concern, so classes are getting larger for the teachers that are left," Beggs said. "It seems to me on the lower end they're compounding the problem with class size, but on the administrative end, they bring in more administrators."
Beggs retired from the Department of Human Services after 28 years of service, giving him a familiarity with the workings of unions.
"I know about unions," Beggs said. "I was in a union for 28 years. I know how they work. I know how they're supposed to work."
Kristi Miller also said the district faces financial challenges and suggests a county-wide income tax hike instead of a property tax increase to help solve the city's funding problems.
Miller, who already serves on the school board, said she has made it her practice to reach out to employees and the public for their input.
"School board decisions should not be taken lightly, and input from faculty, staff, and the public have to be balanced with the needs of the district," Miller said.
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Kevin Beavers and Rick Runge are also on the ballot for the Murphysboro Unit 186 school board. They are the only candidates running for the two open Murphysboro Township seats.
Herrin Unit 4
Like other school boards, finances top the agenda for candidates of the Herrin 4 school district.
Robert Jilek, who is running for his second term on the board, said the board has attempted to reduce the district's financial woes by eliminating upper level curriculum for classes with only a few students.
"We've never reduced the work force, but we didn't always hire back into positions and cut spending," Jilek said. "We had a little fluff in our budget, and we were able to get rid of some of the excesses."
Jilek has 20 years of experience as an auditor and said performing auditing services for community colleges, SIU and school districts has been a big part of his practice.
He hopes the school district can become better unified.
"There seems to be not a lot of unity between teachers, employees and administration," Jilek said. "Hopefully, that will get worked out, get everybody on the same page and have a measure of measure of trust and work toward same goals."
Crystal Lukens is a former member of the school board and remembers a "constant financial battle" with uncertainty at the state and federal level.
In addition to having children who have been students in the school district, Lukens said her work as coach and athletic director and her husband's experience coaching various sports helps her "know the insides of things that go on" in the district.
"Some of the problems are bigger than the local school district, so it's not necessarily something we can fix ourselves at the local level, but continuing communication and providing information to voters would help people understand what their school and district looks like," Lukens said.
Jimmie Loyd said the district is not only facing financial difficulties, but will experience a turnover in administration in the near future and wants to be "a part of that process of picking new administration."
Loyd, whose wife has taught in the district for 22 years and whose two kids attended school in the district, said administration needs to make sure teachers have what they need to do their job.
"You have to support your teachers," Loyd said. "The goal is for the kids to learn, but you have to give teachers the tools they need to teach our kids."
L. Kathleen DuVall Woodcock is running unopposed for an unexpired two-year term and Evelyn “Susie” Etherton is running unopposed in the unincorporated area of the Herrin Unit 4 district.