Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

March 27, 2013

Jasper school board candidates debate finances, class size

Jackson Adams
Effingham Daily News

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Finances, transparency and independence were the main topics discussed by candidates at Jasper County School Board candidates debate Monday night.

Sitting board members Holly Farley and Vice President Gordon Millsap discussed topics with newcomers Mandy Rieman, Jed Earnest and Andy Pullen at Newton Community High School cafeteria. The candidates are vying for three open positions on the board.

In her opening statement, Farley acknowledged the financial trouble the district faces but said she wants to look forward to other opportunities for the students.

"Everyone seems to be focusing on current money and financial issues and that's understandable, but I believe as a school board member, you need to be interested in all parts of the job, not just financial," she said. "I feel that it's very important we change with the times and develop new curriculums that are new and different at all levels of education for our kids and give them the best education we can offer."

When asked what they would like to accomplish if elected, Pullen, who also ran for a seat on the board in a previous election, said he would hope to gain further information about the decisions the district is making.

"I think I would like to be that voice to ask a few questions before we vote," he said. "We've got to do these things, folks, that's all there is to it. You're going to have to ask questions. We're not all going to gather around the campfire and sing 'Kumbaya.' That's all over. We have no money. That money's going, folks, rapidly. Just look at districts around us and the teachers they're letting go. We're not really facing that pain."

Millsap said he hopes to remain on the board to continue moving the district forward.

"My goal is to keep working with the current people who are on the board, because we all get along together and look toward the future," he said. "And we've already made some of the cuts that these other districts are making. Those cuts were made a few years ago, and they weren't easy then and they're not easy for these other school districts."

One of the main topics was the question of where future cuts could be made, especially as they pertained to class sizes. Pullen said the district's best hopes to save money would be making cuts among administrators.

"You've got to start at the top," he said. "There are some administrators sitting here that aren't going to like to hear that. You've got to get more out of your dollar. That's all there is to it, and that's where it has to start."

In his second time running for the position, Earnest said class size is always important and maintaining a beneficial size should be one of the highest priorities for the district.

"Class size should always be an issue," he said. "One teacher to a 20-student classroom is going to do a better job of teaching than one teacher to a 30 or 35 classroom. This school district is in no other business than to educate kids, and class sizes will always be an issue in any decision you make."

Rieman said that while cuts are necessary, the main focus should be to avoid making cuts that would directly affect students.

"In a hopeful world, you wouldn't have to make cuts," she said. "I agree, I think the last place it should come from is our teachers and kids and if there's any way to refocus and come up with a plan, it's not to take it away from our kids."

Jackson Adams can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 131, or jackson.adams@effinghamdailynews.com