District 26 race candidates passionate on a range of topics
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Editors note: this story was changed to reflect the fact that Floyd Myers was elected to the school board in 2011, not appointed.
Finances, accountability, communication and teamwork are common themes in a campaign that brings eight candidates — six newcomers — to a race for four open seats in Cary School District 26.
Board President Chris Spoerl is not running for re-election. Incumbents Julie Jette and Floyd Myers seek an additional term against Christopher Christensen and Josh Howell, who have teamed up in the race, Bradley Slavik and a slate of three District 26 Parents with a Voice members: Jennifer Crick, Scott Epstein and Bruce Ritter. Incumbent Chris Jenner ended his re-election bid to focus exclusively on a McHenry County College board seat.
For Myers, who was elected to the board two years ago, expenditures are a major concern.
"If you look at the five-year plan, we have balanced budgets and surpluses as long as we have high-salary, experienced teachers retiring and we're replacing them with lower-salaried, inexperienced teachers," Myers said. "At the end of the models, they all show we have a deficit again."
Myers said even though the district's finances are in better shape than they were a few years ago, structural changes will still have to be made for financial stability.
Jette, who was first elected in 2009, is the only candidate to oppose the Common Core State Standards, which must be implemented in Illinois schools next year. She said the new standards equate to an unfunded state mandate and work better to prepare students in larger cities for college than those in suburban districts.
Jette is proud of what the board has accomplished in the last few years, pointing to financial benefits of a "district-friendly" teachers contract that cut a lot of employees and class offerings.
"Some of the choices for the children have been more limited but that's kind of the reality of a household too," Jette said. "You can only have what you can afford."
But Epstein's No. 1 campaign issue is repairing relationships between the school board and the teachers union that soured after that very contract.
Epstein — along with Crick and Ritter — point to accountability as another major issue.
"The board can only hold one person accountable and that's the superintendent," Epstein said. "Providing feedback and doing his review on an annual basis when it should be done would be the best place to start."
Superintendent Brian Coleman's review came several months late this year.
On the topic of school administration as a whole, Crick said there is room for restructuring at the top. She said the district should look into outsourcing or combining some administrative duties to spread the pain of budget cuts.
"The administration is very adamant about saying they took a pay freeze, which is not the same as the pay cut that transportation took," Crick said, referring to a voluntary pay cut by transportation employees.
Slavik, too, is wary of a top-heavy organization. He also said he is not pleased with the fact that the district cut "specials," including art, music and physical education, and moved too slowly to bring them back.
"I don't think there's been sufficient creativity to bring back the specials quickly and in an efficient manner," Slavik said.
The district recently announced that some specials will come back next year but not to the extent they were before the cuts during the 2010-11 school year.
Howell said the board has made a lot of tough decisions in the past three years, a fact that encouraged him to join the race with Christensen.
"We see the light at the end of the tunnel," Howell said. "We just want to make sure there's no stepping backward. Steps have been small but they've still been forward."
Christensen said he wants to continue the "excellent" work the board has done. Improving communication is one of his key issues — a need identified by all of the candidates. Christensen said the district too often has an "us versus them" feel with the teachers, the board and administration and parents and community members on separate sides.
"We need to come together as a district, all of us, to pull in the same direction for the kids," Christensen said.
For Ritter, the district must go a step further than communicating with the public but truly engage it. He wants to see several new community committees for parents, local businesspeople, teachers and staff members to research topics and present to the board of education with reports that include actionable items. He said the Community Engagement Committee has been ineffective.
"The CEC is a nice idea but when you take a look at the amount of time that's been put into the CEC, anybody would be hard-pressed to show any true result that's been accomplished out of it," Ritter said.
• To see all our coverage of the Cary District 26 school board race, including candidate bios, go to dailyherald.com.
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