Teutopolis voters on Tuesday will choose members of the Unit 50 school board. Candidates say crucial issues are the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and financial management. Also on the ballot is a measure to change how school board members will be elected in the future.
There are four candidates competing for three seats on the board. They are:
- Erin Ordner, 43, a team lead for Q-Centrix, a company that manages medical chart data systems. Ordner is an incumbent seeking reelection.
- Brandon Pals, 27, a field agent with the Knights of Columbus.
- Michael Ritchie, 75, a retiree who has worked as a high school math teacher and coach who has worked for schools in the Chicago suburbs and Lakeland College.
- Courtney Tegeler, 43, the director of operations program management at Midland States Bank. Tegeler is an incumbent seeking reelection.
Though four people are running, Ordner is essentially guaranteed to win. Teutopolis Unit 50 requires that no more than three board members can come from the same township range, a geographic area used as an administrative division. Pals, Ritchie, and Tegeler all come from the same township range and one person already on the board is from the same range, meaning only two of those three can be elected.
When it comes to the effects of the pandemic, the four candidates agree that in-person instruction should be a priority, but vary in their view of state guidelines. Both incumbent candidates defended the district’s response to the pandemic.
“I think everyone has learned so much about having emergency and continuity plans in place for the go-forward,” said Tegeler. “I think the district has done as good as could be expected at finding creative ways to make a positive learning and social/emotional environment for the students.”
Similarly, Ordner said that in-person instruction has been a “huge priority” to the board’s decision making process and has taught her and the board about planning for the future.
“As always, we need to be as frugal as possible to ‘save for a rainy day,’ because if COVID-19 has proved nothing else, it has taught me that you never know what might happen,” said Ordner.
The two new candidates show a sharp contrast to each other in this area, with Pals being very critical of state guidance.
“I would offer to send the federal government the $248,716 earmarked for ‘COVID Relief’ right back to where it came from and open the schools up immediately without restrictions,” he said, referring to federal funds released to school districts through the bill that passed congress in December.
“Students back in the classroom is of great value,” said Ritchie. “Clearly, the guidelines from the state must be followed for legal reasons.”
The current state guidelines allow school districts to offer in-person learning. Teutopolis has offered a blend of in-person and remote instruction all year, with provisions made for school closure if necessary. The district has offered full day instruction since Mar. 8. They have had 2.8% of students learning remotely as of Mar. 17, well below their 8% level for taking action to mitigate community spread. (Five students were learning remotely by choice about two dozen students were in required quarantine or isolation.)
When asked what their personal priorities for the district were, the candidates gave a variety of answers.
Ordner said she wants to balance finances, academics, and sports. Pals said he wants to lower property taxes, monitor student performance, hire good teachers, and maintain the religious morning program offered. Ritchie said he wants to clear a path for an end to remote learning. Tegeler said she wants to maintain a strong curriculum and professional development for staff while staying on top of new instructional methods and tools.
In addition to voting for candidates, residents of the Unit 50 district will also be asked to change how school board members are elected. A “public question,” similar to a referendum or ballot initiative, will ask residents whether school board members should be elected “at large,” as opposed to the current system where members are limited to three per township range.
A vote “YES” on this initiative would mean board members can come from anywhere within the school district. A vote “NO” would mean board members would be capped to three per township range.
The question is being posed because filling seats on the board can be challenging, particularly since some of the more rural township ranges have fewer people interested in the school board.
“I have mixed opinions regarding the township range issue,” said Ordner, who’s seat is essentially guaranteed because of the current rules.
“While I am a little concerned that the board may be filled by people all living in one township range, I am hopeful that this will not happen and we will still have a board composed of members from throughout the school district,” Ordner later added.
Tegeler, the other incumbent, similarly did not have a strong opinion on the matter.
“This is an interesting issue as I can really see positives of either direction,” Tegler said.
Both new candidates, Pals and Ritchie, support the initiative.
“I feel that the ability and desire to serve on the board of education is of greater priority than geography,” said Ritchie.
Election day is Tuesday, April 6 and early voting is available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday. More information about voting, including a specimen ballot and information about how to find your polling place, can be found at co.effingham.il.us/clerk-recorder/elections.
A complete copy of the candidates’ responses to the candidate questionnaire can be found at the EDN website, effinghamdailynews.com.