Amongst the races lining up on the ballot during the April 2 consolidated election, the Edwards County Board of Education will have several seats to fill.
With four seats open, five people are running to earn a seat on the board. Three of them, Andrew Spray, Jo Rector and Rick Wolfe, are current board members. Of the two challengers, Brian Mewes previously served on the board, while Steve Hnetkovsky is aiming to bring a fresh perspective to board decisions.
Several candidates are hoping to help the school district in which they grew up thrive.
“I attended Edwards County Schools for 13 years, and know that for students to flourish in life that starts with a good, solid education,” said Wolfe. “I want to continue to represent the people of Edwards County and provide a fair and unbiased voice for the school district.”
Like Wolfe, Spray is also a lifelong attendee of the district.
“I grew up and attended school in Edwards County,” Spray noted. “My oldest son attends West Salem Grade School and my other son will start kindergarten next year.
“I feel that it’s importance to be involved and have a voice, as well as represent the northern part of the county on the board.”
Hnetkovsky is looking to use his expertise in the education field to bring a different perspective to the board.
“I want to become more involved in our community and our schools,” he noted. “I look forward to learning more about the issues facing our schools, working hard and serving the students and people of Edwards County.
“As a college teacher and a former carpenter and trades person, I will offer my perspective on curriculum at our schools that can help students either continue their education at a college after high school or enroll in training that will lead to a career in the trades or a technical field.”
Mewes cited his experience as a previous member of the board as part of his motivation for seeking a seat on the current board.
“The decision to run for (school board) is one not to be taken lightly,” he said. “The decisions made by this board can have a profound impact on the students, educators and community for many years.
“I hope that my experience will help with difficult decisions that lead our school district forward in educating our kids and inspiring our teachers and support staff.”
Rector hopes to improve the curriculum for the students.
“There are things that I would still like to see enacted as far as education goes,” she said. “Better math programs. Better science programs.
“I want to be sure the kids get a good foundation in grade school with their reading and their writing and their arithmetic, and for them to be able to think individually, rather than just as a group.”
Each prospective board member sees a different hurdle representing the largest challenge of the district. For Hnetkovsky, budgetary concerns top the list.
“I think the biggest issue facing the school board is how to allocate the limited funds they receive to maintain and run our schools,” he said. “The board routinely has challenging decisions to make, balancing what money should be spent to improve education and learning opportunities for students.”
One current board member is focused on education above all else.
“Education should be the first and foremost on everyone’s minds,” said Spray. “We need to ensure that all children get the best education possible.”
For Rector, simply getting the funding owed the district is a major challenge facing the district.
“The single largest issue that I see at the present moment is getting our money from the state to provided the education for our students that we would like to provide,” she explained.
Another incumbent member of the board cited the philosophical differences between the state government and the area in which the board serves as perhaps the largest issue facing the district.
“Financial concerns are always paramount, but I feel that one of the biggest issues that we are going to see in the near future are the differences between our local small town values and those of the more liberal state legislature,” explained Wolfe, “and how we will be able to stay in compliance to maintain state funding without compromising our values.”
Mewes also cited state regulations and mandates as the most pertinent challenge for the next school board.
“Having served on the board of education previously, I have seen how difficult it can be to comply with these regulations, given our limited resources,” he stated. “While these regulations are well meaning, in practice they seldom help the children they were designed to benefit, and take resources and time away from the teachers who can actually help these children.”
Monies collected through a one-percent sales tax, intended for use strictly for buildings and properties
“We need to ensure our buildings are structurally sound,” Spray stated. “There are many projects identified for both schools that will benefit all of the students.”
Mewes emphasized using the sales tax monies cautiously.
“I believe the best use of the one-percent facility sales tax is using it for its intended purpose, to maintain and upgrade our facilities,” he said. “We will need to plan for the future and allocate these funds in a disciplined and thorough process.”
Hnetkovsky has three different tiers to dictate usage of the facility sales tax monies.
“The best use of these funds…is to use them first to repair priority maintenance needs like structural and mechanical systems at (each school),” he said. “Next, improvements such as painting and floor covering repairs or updates should be made.
“Finally, renovations or adding new computer labs and technology infrastructure, as well as laboratory space.”
Hnetkovsky further noted his support for the current board’s policy of using facility sales tax monies to pay off bond debt in increments of $100,000 per year, citing it as a means to reduce property taxes each year.
Rector hopes to safeguard the sales tax monies from projects she feels are less than necessary.
“Upkeep, as far as the code regulations and that type of thing,” said Rector. “I’m not in favor of any sports complex or any big addition down to the football field other than to have a decent place for people to get their refreshments and go to the restroom.
“I really don’t have too much in mind other than the building projects that we need to do.”
Wolfe also called for the sales tax to be used for regulatory upkeep.
“Since the one-percent sales tax can only be used for facility and property maintenance, the obvious answer is to keep both school facilities in good condition,” he noted, “compliant with regulations and most importantly safe for students and faculty.”
In terms of balancing fiscal responsibility between the Albion and West Salem facilities within the district, one current board member feels as though need should outweigh location.
“Regardless of location, the needs of each school are most important and should be addressed accordingly,” Spray said.
For Rector, the way the board is currently distributing its attention has been working for the district.
“I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that at the present time,” she stated. “I don’t foresee a great need to change the way that it’s being done.”
In Wolfe’s estimation, the needs of each facility should dictate how the board distributes monies toward each location.
“I believe wants for either facility should always come secondary to the needs for each location,” he said. “The one-percent sales tax allows an excellent source of funds for both needs and wants, but the needs of both locations should be the board’s primary concern.”
One candidate doesn’t view the district through such a geographic division.
“I don’t think of our district in terms of Albion or West Salem,” Mewes stated. “We need both facilities to accommodate the children in the district, and our decisions should be based upon how (to) meet the needs of these children.”
Hnetkovsky will base decisions on funding for each building upon the safety and needs of the students.
“All the schools in our district should have access to the same quality of instruction, curriculum, attention to building maintenance and facility improvements and opportunities for students,” he stated. “With limited budgets and many needs and wants at the schools in our county.
“I will make decisions based upon the safety of our students, and how does this want or need help accomplish the mission of our school district, which is encouraging lifelong learning and to help the students to become productive members of society.”
With the state of Illinois passing laws that may negatively impact the district, such as the $15 minimum wage increase, each prospective board member has a different take on how to handle the potential problems these can create.
“That’s going to impact our janitorial services, our teacher’s aides, our cooks, that type of thing,” she explained, singling out the minimum wage hike. “It’s going to be a dramatic increase if it comes about as it has been enacted.
“We’ll have to budget more for salaries than we have been in the past.”
One incumbent board member is confident the district can handle the challenges state legislation will throw its way.
“State funding and budget concerns are ever present in the educational arena,” Wolfe stated. “Our district has weathered financial issues in the past, and with our quality administrators at both schools we will continue to do so.”
Hnetkovsky suggested there might be some wiggle room regarding some state requirements.
“I’m a property owner and a taxpayer in Edwards County, and I will look for all other alternatives for funding before asking for the tax burden to increase for taxpayers in our district,” he said. “A tactic our school board has used in the past is to delay or take no action on state requirements that don’t meet our needs or values.
“I support this approach when appropriate.”
The former member of the board noted that an approach of only worrying about things that one can actually manage is the way to handle state requirements.
“As in many aspects of life, we need to focus on what we can control,” Mewes explained. “We may have some difficult decisions to make in the future, and we need to plan for them accordingly.
“The solution for the problem of state and federal overreach, unfunded mandates and fiscal mismanagement will take people getting involved and making appropriate choices when voting.”
For Spray, reliance on current school administrators and fiscal tools such as the facility sales tax is the best method for navigating state mandates.
“Our school district and administrators have been fiscally responsible,” he said. “The one-percent sales tax has helped offset expenses that would have been pulled from other parts of the budget.
“We will continue to evaluate all options and make decisions where necessary.”