Two campaigning to lead Champaign school board

Two campaigning to lead Champaign school board

CHAMPAIGN – There's a mini-election campaign going on in Champaign school board circles – members lobbying fellow members to gain support for their bid for the board presidency.

"It's a campaign among seven people, and there's a lot of persuading going on," said Margie Skirvin, the more experienced of the two candidates who want to replace Champaign dentist Scott Anderson as board president. Anderson will step down as president in March with a year left to serve on the board.

Dave Tomlinson, a Champaign firefighter who has served on the board for a year, is also campaigning for the position.

"I think the district needs a person in that position who's very public," Tomlinson said. "I have a background in public service, a strong affinity for the teachers and staff, and I think it's important to have continuity. I'm not up for re-election until 2009."

Arlene Blank, a former district administrator, said she's supporting Tomlinson.

"I think I can do more as a regular board member than as president," Blank said. "I have the experience and background and as a board member, I can use them the way I want to."

Nathaniel Banks, who's up for re-election next year and wasn't available for comment, said at the meeting Monday he's not a candidate for the president's job. Minosca Alcantara and Reginald Alston, whose seats will be up for election in March 2007, were appointed to the board last year to fill vacancies.

Skirvin served a term on the board from 1997 to 2001, was defeated for re-election but was elected again in 2003. Her term also expires next year.

She said experience is a strong suit.

"There are so many complexities," Skirvin said. "There are a lot of difficult issues in our district. We've had the consent decree and No Child Left Behind. There are a lot of goals to be met and deadlines that come up quickly."

She said the upcoming $66 million building bond question on the March 21 ballot is among the most immediate issues facing the board.

"It's been nine years since we passed a building bond referendum, and I was on the committee that helped pass it," Skirvin said.

She said getting a grip on school finances is a daunting job that requires experience. Skirvin said she was "horribly embarrassed" by the district's fall from financial grace in 2004 when an accountant discovered a $4 million shortfall.

"We can't afford to make any mistakes," she said. "We've used up all our good will and we have to be doing everything right. The hardest thing is to get the confidence of the people."

"I'm new, but I honestly think the best person for the job is a strong leader, and I've been able to do that," Tomlinson said. "Teamwork and compromise are strengths Scott had. He listened to all viewpoints and made sure the superintendent, board and staff were all working together. It takes eight people, seven board members and Superintendent Culver, to run operations."

Tomlinson said he believes his easygoing manner, his sense of humor and his interest in diverse points of view will be strengths.

"The stakes are very high with the referendum and student achievement, and if we work together, we can only be a success," Tomlinson said.

Skirvin, who was active in local and state PTA circles before she was elected to the board, also endorsed a team approach to the job. "We're starting to get there. Every year more buildings get it, and what I've seen has made me passionate about the schools."

Anderson said the board will reorganize after its March 13 meeting. Members will vote for a new president, and other officers will be named.

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