Voters in Champaign and Urbana will be electing school board members in the April 9 election. Following are our endorsements in the contested races.
Seven candidates are competing for five seats on the Champaign school board, but there's not as much competition as some might think.
Two candidates — Stig Lanesskog and Ileana Saveley — are running unopposed in their quest to fill the remaining two years of terms vacated by the resignation of former school board member Sue Grey and the death of Greg Novak. The lack of opposition is an unfortunate reality in local elections, where many people often are willing to serve but not if they have to run to do so.
That leaves five candidates competing for the three four-year terms that are up for election. They are Scott MacAdam, John A. Williams III, Chuck Jackson, Lynn Stuckey and Laurie Bonnett.
All school districts face challenges in these difficult financial times, but the Champaign schools face more than their share.
Not only does Champaign face a host of financial uncertainties — the biggest stemming from the state's disastrous financial situation — but it's also grappling with how to build and pay for a new high school.
The district is in the process of renovating its elementary schools, a plan financed by an ill-advised "working cash fund" property tax increase and a voter-approved 1 cent sales tax increase for education. While those projects are under way, the board is studying an even bigger construction project that will require voter approval.
The to-do list also includes the usual requirements to provide solid educational opportunities for children ages K-12.
Overseeing a school system as large as Champaign's is a big job, and it's vitally important that school board members have the judgment to manage but not micro-manage, to spend but not overspend and to do some things very well rather than do many in mediocre fashion.
Because The News-Gazette believes they are best suited to fulfill that oversight role, we endorse Scott MacAdam, John A. Williams III and Charles Jackson. Collectively, they would bring experience and fresh thinking.
MacAdam, a financial advisor, has served previously on the board while Jackson, a technology consultant, has been an active volunteer in the school system. Williams, who is just 31, is an academic coordinator at the University of Illinois.
It's our opinion that the strengths they would bring to the seven-member board would meld nicely with the two board members (Jamar Brown and Kristine Chalifoux) not up for election and the two incumbents running unopposed for two-year terms.
Over in Urbana, voters are again confronting their biennial little-to-no-choice election for the school board. Since voters years ago foolishly approved a district system for board elections, they have endured mostly noncompetition for these important positions.
This year's election shows why voters ought to take it upon themselves to try to rid themselves of districts and embrace the at-large system that served them so well for decades.
All seven board seats are up for election but only one — District 3 — has more than one candidate running.
Veteran school board member Ruth Ann Fisher is running for re-election against challenger Regina Parnell. On the theory that every board needs some new blood from time to time, The News-Gazette endorses Parnell.
A social worker with the regional office of education, the 42-year-old Parnell is well aware of the problems confronting our public schools as well as the difficult family issues with which too many children must deal. As a foster parent and a volunteer coach, Parnell has a solid background advancing the interests of children.
Of course, the primary problem public schools face these days is financial, and Parnell will have to work hard there to bring herself up to speed. Given the vast experience on the Urbana board and administration, we trust that she can bring a fresh perspective.