CHAMPAIGN — Candidates for the Champaign school board spent Thursday answering a variety of questions — explaining their opinions and philosophies on updating the district's facilities, the board's role in passing referendums, reductions in state funding and much more — as they participated in the PTA Council's candidate forum.
Five people — Laurie Bonnett, Chuck Jackson, Scott MacAdam, Lynn Stuckey and John Williams III — are running for three available four-year school board terms. Incumbents Stig Lanesskog and Ileana Saveley are running for two available two-year board terms. Saveley was out of town and didn't attend the forum.
The election is April 9.
The candidates perhaps differentiated themselves the most with their views on what to do about updating the district's facilities, including how to deal with the possibility of rebuilding Central High School.
Bonnett said she likes the idea of building a new Central and moving Edison Middle School to the old high school, but she's especially concerned about transportation issues that a new high school might bring up. She likes the idea of Champaign's two high schools sharing athletic facilities.
Lanesskog said he'd like to keep Central as centrally located as possible and would like to see the district's two high schools share more spaces for specialized learning.
Jackson said he doesn't support any of the options that have been presented as a part of the district's Future Facilities process.
And Stuckey said she'd like the district to wait to see what could happen with rural districts that may not survive the economic challenges in the next 20 years.
"That could impact what schools we need to build and where we build them," she said.
She said she also believes that the district missed opportunities to deal with its facilities during its "Great Schools, Together" strategic planning process several years ago.
Williams said he doesn't believe the process has included enough research and is concerned about transportation to a site on the outskirts of town.
MacAdam said he doesn't feel qualified to judge the options but believes the high schools should remain independent.
Another question asked candidates how they'd go about rallying voters to pass referendums in the future.
Jackson said he doesn't think it's the board's job to convince voters but should instead let the community know about problems and ask for input in how to solve them.
"Our job is to present the issues and then to listen," he said.
MacAdam had a similar answer, adding that the community needs to know about problems with the district's facilities.
Lanesskog said the facilities issue, in particular, has been discussed for a long time, and the board needs to put a proposal on the table for the voters to weigh in on.
"Ultimately, it's up to the voters to decide," he said.
Stuckey said she believes voters would support a question on the ballot to give the district more money to operate, if it comes to that, but believes the district needs to present better plans in order to pass a referendum for building new facilities.
Williams said he believes it's a matter of getting the word out, not only about the district's needs but also the good things happening in the schools.
Bonnett said the board needs to educate community members and build trust with them, and believes the board needs to simplify its approach when doing this.
"We really have to simplify what we're asking community to support," she said.
What to do about the state's precarious financial situation was another frequently mentioned topic, and candidates talked about how they believe the district should respond.
Williams spoke about his hope that the district can forge strong relationships with community business partners.
"We need to be able to tap into their resources and their brainpower," he said.
MacAdam had a similar answer.
"I think we need to look at the business community," he said, adding that the district also needs to be aggressive about applying for available grants.
Bonnett said she'd like to see diversification in the district's investments, and Jackson said dealing with such challenges should be dealt with by thinking creatively.
Lanesskog said any cuts would have to be made carefully, openly and publicly, and Stuckey said she wonders if the district won't start accepting students whose home districts no longer operate and pay tuition to attend school in other districts.