Candidates for the proposed school board speak their minds

Robert Blackford/Editor
Candidates for the proposed school board speak at the WRMJ “Meet the Candidates” forum Oct. 13. From the left, are: Kay Forret, Todd Line, Mike Retherford, Steve Willits, Donald Yates, Marta Tucker, Dwight Shoemaker, Mike Hedrick, Trisha Hank and Doug Ball.

Aledo Radio station WRMJ sponsored a Meet the Candidates forum Monday, Oct. 13 at the band room inside the Aledo Junior High School. Ten of the11 candidates made an appearance at the forum. Ira Cunningham, former Aledo High School superintendent of Schools was unable to appear.

Candidates Kay Forret, Todd Line, Mike Retherford, Steve Willits, Donald Yates, Marta Tucker, Dwight Shoemaker, Mike Hedrick, Trisha Hank and Doug Ball attended and answered questions.

Around 50 people were in attendance at the meeting in addition to the WRMJ listeners that evening. WRMJ announcer Jim Taylor was the moderator of the forum.

Candidates and positions are:

Doug Ball is an AHS graduate. He has been an alderman for the past eight years. “It's a good recommendation overall said Ball. The facility use recommendation to close the Joy building came with need to add on to the buildings in Joy and Aledo. “It doesn't make sense to close one building and build on to two others.

Trisha Hank is a mother to three school age children, the wife of a farmer and a graduate of Michigan State University with a degree in marketing history. “It's easy to get caught up in the small things. The big picture is that this offers us a chance to give an excellent education for our kids. Focus on how this will benefit both districts.”

Mike Hedrick is an Aledo High School graduate who lives in the Westmer district. He has three children. Hedrick praised the Committee of Ten. “Not everyone will be pleased with everything they see.

Dwight Shoemaker is an AHS graduate who has sent two children through the Aledo School District. He makes his home in Aledo and does business there as well. Shoemaker thinks the consolidation make sense on a financial basis, that by combining the districts and bringing in the additional $750,000 incentives to consolidate by the state, only makes good sense. “This is a revenue issue.”

Marta Tucker has lived here 38 years. She has sent three children through the Aledo School system. She has a master's degree from Bradley and has been a member of the Aledo School board for the past five and a half years. She feels the Committee of Ten has provided a good template for the future board to use. “The declining enrollment has hit both districts harder than expected this year.”

Don Yates has lived here his entire life. He was born in Joy and is a Westmer graduate. He has owned Cokel's Welding Service in Aledo since 1993. He and his wife Tracy have one child. Yates supported the Committee of Ten's recommendations.

Steve Willits is a graduate of Westmer High School and he University of Illinois. He has farmed in Mercer County for 30 years. “I felt that as a boy I got a good education. I want to repay that.”

“I feel the Committee of Ten's recommendations are once that I can support.” He noted that original recommendations to close the building at Joy also included adding classrooms at two buildings at a cost of $750,000 to $1 million and that is not feasible.

Mike Retherford is a 1983 graduate of Westmer High School. He is employed by General Grind and Machine. Retherford feels that there should be no changes made in the first year from what the Committee of Ten has proposed. “I plan to keep an open mind.”

Todd Line and his wife Joyce have three kids. They live outside of Seaton. He is in the seed business and a WIU graduate. “I'm involved in 4-H and Center Presbyterian Church in Seaton as well as being a lifelong members of Mercer County.

“I support completely what the Committee of Ten has come up with.

Kay Forret has been a member of the Aledo School board since 2000. She was involved in nursing for several years prior to working for the Mercer County Health Department. She now travels to schools to speak to students about smoking. “I have no agenda, I just like being on the school board.

Forret feels that the Committee of Ten made recommendations in good faith and they need to be kept.

Doug Ball

Candidate Doug Ball noted that in the eight years he has been a member of the Aledo School board they have cut the fat in the budget as much as possible including teaching positions, field trips and supplies.

Ball said, There is a serious, serious problem with the way schools are funded in Illinois. Illinois ranks 48th in the country in the number of dollars spent per pupil. "We have a good play, a way to spread the cost out."

Ball noted that the biggest savings in consolidation will be in personnel and transportation. "We will also receive $1.8 million in the state to make the consolidation happen."

Ball said, "From the start we said there would be a name change and a new mascot and personnel. Ball noted that the Committee of Ten recommended that the Joy building be used for the new junior high.

In his closing remarks Ball thanked WRMJ for sponsoring the forum adding, "I will work hard for the district."

Trisha Hank

Trisha Hank would like to see additional upper level classes as well as additional sections of current classes added to the choices for the students. "Right now students must choose between accounting and chorus." Hank noted that college recruiters feel students are currently lacking in writing skills. Hank added that the board has discussed adding a curriculum council and a curriculum director.

Hank sees a major positive for the new district is the first-class staff that will be put together in the new district. "We need to tell our success story. We can't be afraid to pat ourselves on the back and make ourselves attractive to families looking to come here. Hank feels this will make this a long-term success for the new district.

Hank asked the voters to focus on the revenue that will be generated, $1.8 million. "We should become a magnet to young families and other students."

Hank believes the board should make the decision on the new name of the district. About the Joy building staying open she said that any responsible board member will make the right decision. She noted that both districts lost more students this year than was anticipated. Westmer's enrollment dropped by 34 students while Aledo's dropped by 12.

Hank commended her fellow candidates telling the audience, "I pride myself on having common sense and being involved in the community." She has been on the school board for one and a half years. 

Mike Hedrick

Mike Hedrick feels the new district's main goal should be to solidify the district's core classes - English, science and mathematics. Hedrick added,  "Not every child is going to college but every child is going to be somebody and do something with their lives. We need to continue to improve our curriculum wherever possible."

Hedrick believes the board should be fiscally responsible as well as improve the curriculum.

Hedrick believes the new district should look for new ways to produce energy such as wind farms and geothermal heating. He believes the new district will save money through the rerouting of buses and a reduction in administration fees.

Hedrick said, "There is no room to close the Joy facility. We may have to look at it seven or eight years down the road."

In closing Hedrick said, "We have a great 11 people for seven positions. I feel this (the consolidation) is best for the kids." 

Dwight Shoemaker

Dwight Shoemaker reminded listeners of retired teacher Bob Hoffman's remarks "We are not meeting the needs of students who want an education in the trades." He would like to see the district offer advanced placement courses noting that some student have 20-30 hours of college credit when they leave school.

Shoemaker stressed that in the future education dollars should not be used for economic development. "As far as the subsidy window, my position is that it's closed."

Shoemaker believes the voters should look at the consolidation as a revenue enhancement. "This is a chance for more revenue." Shoemaker was pointing to the $1.8 million the consolidated district will receive from the state.

Shoemaker pointed to Southern as an example where closing a building was one of that district's mistakes.

Shoemaker said the new district will have a new name. He believes in the Committee of Ten's reccomdendation that the Joy campus should remain open. 

In closing Shoemaker said, "I finally learned we need more discussion on major decisions. You don't win a lot of friends (being on the school board) but it is rewarding."

Marta Tucker

Marta Tucker feels that curriculum is one of the most important things facing the new district. She approves of the reccomendation of a curriculum director and the addition of a curriculum council. She would also like to see the gifted program brought back and perhaps the addition of a foreign language class at the junior high level. "All students need good communication skills."

Tucker believes the new board needs to work with the community. "It's important that we are financially stable. She suggested the board could consider establishing wind power to offset energy costs and be beneficial to multiple organizations in the future.

Tucker said that it will be less expensive for the districts if they consolidate as well as an increase in revenue. "Cost savings shouldn't come at the expense of our kids."

Tucker called the name and color change as "essential." As for the Joy building Tucker said, "We don't have a lot of options. Enrollment is declining. In one, three or five years we will somehow have to decide on whether we want to operate four or five buildings."

Tucker said, "I want our kids to have the best education possible." Tucker said it is not always a satisfying job being a member of the school board, but it does have its rewards such as the opening day of school.

Don Yates

Don Yates said he felt all the candidates were on the same page about maintaining the current level of curriculum at each school noting he would like to see more upper level courses in math and chemistry offered. "We need to think about some of the trades we could offer. This slipped away about the time I graduated."

Yates said, "If you can increase the population, you can increase the jobs. A good way to do that is to create jobs."

About the facilities Yates said, "We need to continue to use the facilities we have as long as possible. We can close a building down the line if we have to. He noted that by 2012 17 Aledo and three Westmer teachers will be retiring. There is room to save money there and by the new district owning its own buses using the Westmer bus barn.

Yates said, "We have to have a new mascot and colors, look at the different ideas and see a way to combine the artwork. About the Joy building Yates said, "There is no other way to go than to keep the building open. I don't think we can do without it."

Yates encouraged the prospective voters to look at each of the district's websites. "It's all laid out there in detail," said Yates. "Before voting 'no' understand how its going to work. I think it's the best thing we have to offer the community."

Steve Willits

Steve Willits suggested contacting people at General Grind and Machine and John Deere to see what would benefit the students and go from there, in relation to creating coursework for non college students. "I think the consolidation should be a viable school district." Willits added,

"Midwest Living listed Mercer County as one of the best counties to live in. A consolidated school district is the best hope for a prosperous Mercer County. Willits suggested the new district can save on administration overhead as well as kitchen staff. "We will have duplication of classes. Maybe we can offer more for the same dollars. We can eliminate two bus routes. There is quite a lot of savings."

Willits believes the students should select the new mascot and colors. "The Committee of Ten recommends using the Joy building as classrooms and there are three gyms there. I feel honor bound to use those recommendations."

Willits said that since he joined the school board he felt the district needed to consolidate. "There are problems to overcome. I would like to see this to fruition."

Mike Retherford

Mike Retherford said that the new district needs advanced classes but noted that 44 percent of their students don't go on to college. He stressed a need to look at trade skills such as welding, drafting, plumbing and woodworking.

Retherford agreed with Shoemaker. "I don't want to spend our tax dollars in bringing business to the area. The board needs to be frugal with its dollars. I think we are making the right steps. We are stepping in the right direction."

Retherford noted that the new district can save with cuts to administration, secretarial staff, unit office positions and bus transportation positions. "I'm not saying a school wouldn't be closed with declining enrollment."

Retherford believes the district should have a new name, new colors and that the student body should be involved. He believes the Joy building should stay open adding, "For how long, I don't know."

Retherford thanked the Committee of Ten for its research. When I came on board three years ago I was in favor of this. It's in the best interest of the kids."

Todd Line

Todd Line wants to stick to the basics of math, science, social studies and literature as well as nurse's studies and hopefully a statistics class. "When I went to college I was pretty overwhelmed." Line added, "All of these kids are our future."

Line noted that the consolidation process has already begun. "The boosters and the kids are interacting with each other. It's time for the parents to join together. Our hands are tied with what the state does."

Line said there were costs to be saved in administration and teachers retiring.

About the future of the five buildings in the district Line said, "No one can predict what we are going to do. No one can forsee what will happen." 

Line said he believes the new district should have new colors and a new mascot. I think it should be decided by the kids and be original. Line said, "I believe the Joy facility has to stay open for many reasons."

Line said, "I don't think we can thank the Committee of Ten enough. The hard work has just begun for the new board. Seven people will have to do that. We have to work for the taxpayers and for the kids."

Kay Forret

Kay Forret would like to see more in-depth education for the kids. "They need something to fall back on, a way to make money while going to college."

Forret said, "I go to all the schools. All the kids here are wonderful." Forret recalls going to one of the schools early and the principal knowing all the names of the students who came to the office. "We can't ask for a better place to raise our kids.

Forret said "There is a big savings in busing and moving the unit office into some of the district's new space. "If we work together we can pass this and stay in good shape."

Forret said there would definitely be a new name and a new mascot of the district's consolidate. She believes the Joy building should stay open.

In closing, Forret noted that this is one of the most important decisions voters will make in their lives. "It will have an effect on us for years to come."