Parkland Incumbents team up to fend off challenger

Parkland Incumbents team up to fend off challenger

CHAMPAIGN — Two veterans of the Parkland College Board of Trustees will face an opponent come April 9.

All three are competing for two seats on the community college board.

Tom Bennett of Gibson City and James Ayers of Monticello are campaigning together as they have in previous elections. They face Sam McGrew of Champaign, a retired school superintendent and former state legislator.

Ayers is a former mayor of Monticello and an attorney there, as well as president of Central Illinois Manufacturing Co. in Bement. He was first elected to Parkland's Board of Trustees in 1989 and also serves as the chairman of the Parkland College Foundation, which raises money for the college.

Bennett, the current chairman of the Parkland Board of Trustees, was first elected in 1995. A former high school science teacher, he is an information technology systems manager with State Farm Insurance. He also has served on local school boards.

McGrew said his years of experience include working as a teacher, principal and superintendent at Fisher schools and make him a strong candidate for the board.

"I have the time. I have the knowledge and the energy to serve. I'm trying to bring a different perspective to Parkland: someone with experience dealing directly with students," McGrew said.

The Parkland district encompasses portions of 12 different counties. It receives about $19.5 million in revenue from local property taxes, about $29.4 million from student tuition and fees, and $6.5 million from the state.

McGrew said he wants to work on making the transition for students from high school to post-secondary education a smoother one. One idea is for the college to investigate the possibility of career or technical education centers, where high school students could take dual-credit classes.

Because turnout is expected to be low this election, Ayers and Bennett decided to pool their resources and seek donations from community members. McGrew also has been seeking donations.

"Historically we've always funded the campaign ourselves. This year because we have tougher competition, we thought, we have to spend more," Ayers said. They are anticipating spending about $20,000 on advertising efforts such as mailers, billboards and similar promotional efforts.

"We're trying to get the word out," Bennett said. People are busy and many do not know about the Parkland trustee election, he added.

The two have a billboard advertising themselves with former Parkland President Zelema Harris.

One of the board's duties is to hire the president, Ayers said. And he said in that area, he believes the board has hired some great presidents.

"I was on the board when we hired Dr. (Zelema) Harris. She did a wonderful job. ... Dr. (Tom) Ramage was another great hire for us. He's doing an outstanding job," Ayers said.

"We have a good board, and we are part of that good board. It's seasoned and experienced. We have a good chemistry," he added.

McGrew, who has two sons, the younger of whom graduated from Parkland on the dean's list, said Parkland is doing a good job.

"This campaign is not against Parkland or (Bennett and Ayers). I want to lead it a little differently," said McGrew, who ran unsuccessfully for the board in 2011.

McGrew said he wants to make sure the community college is doing everything it can to make sure students are successful.

In recent years, the college has launched several major construction projects, such as the Parkhill Applied Technology Center, which opened earlier this year and is focused on training workers in the automotive industry, and the $28 million Student Services Center currently under construction.

"It's a tremendous school. I've been involved with it for 18 years and have developed a passion for it," Bennett said. "We've done good things, but there's more to do," such as gathering data to help the college in strategic planning.

"There's a tremendous staff, faculty and administration. One of the keys is people working together and there's great collaboration and a board that works together. At Parkland, there's respect for each other," he said.

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