The News-Gazette posed questions about school district finance, communication, school facilities and more to the five candidates running for three four-year Champaign school board terms.
Below, you'll find their answers, as well as more information about them.
Incumbents Stig Lanesskog and Ileana Saveley are running for two available two-year school board terms. Because they are running unopposed for those seats, they were not included in the questionnaire.
Name: Laurie A. Bonnett
Address: 1205 W. Daniel St., C
Occupation: Chief of staff to state Sen. Michael Frerichs
Political experience: Ran a successful campaign for the 1 percent tax referendum for Unit 4, worked in Springfield for Senators Mike Frerichs and Kwame Raoul, and currently work in the district office in Champaign for Senator Frerichs.
Why are you running for school board?
My professional career has always been about helping others and these past five years have only strengthened my desire to participate in a meaningful discussion and work for a larger purpose. As my youngest moves through his last few years in the Unit 4 schools, I am focused on leaving the schools in better physical shape; the budget sound and equitable; and the educational programming looking towards the future for our children.
State and federal funding for school districts is a constant uncertainty. How should the school district deal with these financial challenges?
Most certainly before we move forward with any further financial commitments, we need to have a very real idea of pension commitments and who's paying for what. I understand that focuses change, but it is my hope and I believe many leader's in Springfield's focus, is to put a plan for paying down our state's pension debt and creating a plan of action keeping us solvent moving forward. Having said that, we must not over extend, we must not operate in a box. Being creative with our resources, partnering with community members and not letting other entities control or set our destiny is how we continue to build on our successes.
The Champaign school district is in the middle of a campaign to create a plan for what to do with its aging buildings, including Central High School. In your opinion, how should the school district prioritize these projects?
One of the great pieces of data from DeJong Richter is the ages of kids for the next 20 years based on historical data from hospitals. When you have facilities that are not in good repair and cost us money; when you have over-crowding; when you have facility and program inequities; when you have education partners that are not keeping current with their payments it is not a simple response. What's important? All of these issues are important. The question is not how the district should prioritize these projects. The question is what is the community willing to do and pay for. That's the question I'm suspecting this exercise with the consultant is preparing us to answer.
Superintendent Judy Wiegand has emphasized that she wants the school district to be transparent and a good communicator. How would you, as a school board member, connect with the community you represent?
I think communication is imperative for any member of the Unit 4 team. There are many issues we face as a community. Current and future board members must always look to engage our community in dialogue — in whatever method works best. Social media is an excellent way to connect with many citizens. Being available to meet with people and having regular informal discussions to hear people's concerns and answer questions is something I am committed to do. We must meet the community on their terms in the space they are most comfortable and available.
Transparency and communication are words we have been hearing a lot with respect to Unit 4. As with everything else, actions speak louder than words. Communication is not just broadcasting your message; it is a back and forth where people have an opportunity to know what is going on and ask questions and hear honest answers. That is something I am very committed to bringing to the Unit 4 school board.
Name one other issue that's important to you, and describe how you'd resolve it.
Building trust is one of the most important issues for me. Trust is to an organization what oil is to a car's engine. It keeps the moving parts from seizing up and stopping forward motion. Right now Unit 4 school board is on the cusp of making a lot of major decisions that will affect the future of our community and our schools for years to come. We must be operating from a place where the board values the trust of the community and actively works to earn and keep it. I would set the standard for trust as the board must keep its word on policy and promises. The board must tell the truth, not always an easy thing to do but it is at the heart of most matters concerning the school district, and finally it must be transparent. Unit 4 must be willing to give access to information without hesitation to the public. These ideas are ones I hold dear and feel that if everyone is working together to achieve this standard, it will be the way Unit 4 moves forward successfully.