GEORGETOWN — The school district is going through some financial challenges, but six candidates are seeking four seats on the school board to try to help continue to guide it into better times.
Three four-year seats on the Georgetown-Ridge Farm School Board will be up for election on April 9, as will one two-year seat.
The two-year seat is currently held by Phil Hummel, who was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board in 2012. He is not seeking re-election to the remaining two years left in that term, and is instead seeking one of the three four-year seats in this election.
Sandi Doggett is unopposed for election to the two-year seat.
The seats held by board members Carla Pollman, Lisa Coburn and board President Cheryl Kestufskie are all up for election in April. Of those three, only Pollman is seeking re-election.
In addition to Pollman and Hummel, three newcomers are seeking to be elected to the three four-year seats — Mindy Herrin, Theresa M. Bogard and Diane E. Dawson — making it a five-way race.
There are seven seats on the school board. The three seats not up for election this month are held by Lori Key, who was elected in 2007, Kevin Latoz, who was elected in 2011, and April Evans, who was appointed to the board in March.
In December, the school board voted to address a $1.1 million deficit in the $10 million district budget by approving a 14.03 percent increase to the tax levy, and voting to close Ridge Farm Elementary School at the end of the school year.
Superintendent Jean Neal has said that although general state aid payments are arriving on time, the state is late in paying the district for expenses like transportation, special education and early childhood education. The late payments are causing a cash shortfall for the district, and she does not know when to expect the payments.
Board members voted in early March to issue $1 million in tax anticipation warrants — money that is borrowed from a bank and then repaid as tax revenues are received by the district — to help the district meet its three payrolls and a large insurance payment in March.
On Aug. 7, the board voted to issue $850,000 in tax-anticipations warrants. Those warrants have been repaid.
At 3 percent interest, the district will pay almost $60,000 in interest payments for those two short-term loans.
Neal is hoping to eliminate the budget deficit over the next three years. Closing Ridge Farm Elementary and increasing local property taxes are two methods the board is using to meet that goal.
Board members will have to look at ways of trimming expenses and raising revenues, and will also have to negotiate a new contract with the members of the Georgetown-Ridge Farm Education Association, to replace the contract that will expire on June 30.
Here is a look at the candidates who are opposed, all of whom are running for the three open four-year seats:
Occupation: Director of Assessment and Assistant Professor at Lakeview College of Nursing
Other political experience: None
What experience makes you a good candidate: I worked with Georgetown Ridge-Farm Youth Football Organization from 1996-2006 to help provide a safe sports program for area children. I serve on the college of nursing's administrative team to help make decisions for the benefit of the institution and the students we serve. I am responsible for managing and maintaining a budget for my office that has been consistently within or under budget since I assumed that role.
What are the most important issues facing the school district: Currently, with the crisis of state funding, creative budgeting is necessary to bring the school district out of its deficit and maintain a budget that is fiscally responsible. Grants and other types of funding may be needed to help subsidize the cost of technology or other issues. Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is another concern. Negotiations with the employees' union are also important, to ensure quality benefits and incentives for teachers to remain in this district, but the contract should ensure that the current deficit doesn't increase.
Are you an incumbent: Yes; eight years' experience on the board
Other political experience: None
What experience makes you a good candidate: In my eight years on the board, we have faced some serious issues. My decisions have always been in the best interest of our students, staff and the community as a whole. I feel that my experience aids me in knowing where to go for the answers that affect the outcome of every decision the board has made, and will face in the future.
What issues do you see as the most important ones facing the municipality/school district:
The general lack of state funding is the biggest problem facing our district. Boards are forced to make huge, sometimes unpopular, decisions on how to cut expenses while maintaining the integrity of education. Unfortunately, I do not expect any relief to these problems. We will have many difficult decisions to make in the future.
Are you an incumbent: No
Other political experience: Election judge for more than 12 years, and elected precinct committee person one year
What experience makes you a good candidate: I have run a successful small business, and have more than 30 years experience volunteering in the community and fundraising for our kids in the district.
What issues do you see as the most important ones facing the municipality: Balancing the budget, upgrading textbooks, computers and materials are the most important issues.
Occupation: Self-employed professional organizer
Are you an incumbent: no
Other political experience: Alderwoman for the City of Georgetown for 8 years, overseeing the city's finances, streets and alleys department, buildings and grounds committee and the water project
What experience makes you a good candidate: I have run my own business, Diane E. Dawson Interior Rearrangement & Design, for 18 years; prior to that, I served as a manager / trouble-shooter / coordinator for a material handling and installation company
What are the most important issues facing the school district : With the cuts the state has made in budgets for the downstate schools, the school budget is in a constant state of adjustment. The cuts that have been made are a hardship to many. With less funding anticipated, there is more work for the board. School officials need to address the safety of our students and staff, and need to work on improving communication to the community.
No information provided