GENOA – Clashes with city officials, contract disputes with food service and transportation employees and declining state funding will not deter Dale Pelley.
Pelley, the chairman of the Genoa-Kingston School District 424 board, is the only incumbent seeking re-election in a race that will seat at least three new members with five candidates competing for four spots.
The 16-year board veteran knows incumbency may not be to his advantage after a lawsuit with the city that cost residents tax dollars in legal fees for both sides, a contentious contract negotiation with bus drivers and lunch providers and last month's decision to cut 14 teachers, personnel staff and programs including freshman sports.
But at a time where the state is failing to adequately fund school districts, Pelley said he believes the correct decisions were made to avoid a roughly $1 million deficit this coming year.
Pelley noted some decisions, such as casting the deciding vote that kept bus drivers and lunch staff in the district, should assist his re-election bid.
"I'm hoping the worst is behind the district," Pelley said. "I think it's helpful to have the history to know why we are in the position we are today."
Challenger Heather Edwards said after attending board meetings for the past two years, she became concerned with the nature of cuts being made. While she understands cuts are necessary, she said programs such as music and art should be spared and equitable reductions need to be pursued.
She said when teachers are cut, administrators and staff such as maintenance employees should not be excluded.
"Cuts, when they are made, have to be made equally across the board," Edwards said. "You will never make everybody happy ... but the community should know it's not just the teachers being cut." Taunya Fischer, treasurer for Kingston, said her experience in government gives her a inside perspective that could help the board.
Fischer said one of her main goals is to improve the transparency and communication of the board with residents and to inform those residents that changes they want often take time because of how government operates.
"There are ways that the board or the school district could better express what is going on and what their intentions are," Fischer said. "It is going to be difficult; however, I do think there is a way that everyone can work together and we can all find solutions that are equitable."
Candidates Kerri Sosnowski and Kristin Brynteson could not be reached for comment over the weekend, but they did offer responses to the Daily Chronicle's Election Central questions.
Sosnowski said she understood staffing cuts are necessary but urged the future board to aggressively pursue alternative revenue sources such as grants to enhance programs and educational opportunities, especially through additional technology.
"I would rather cut positions now and save our district from having to pay interest to a bank which will only further our debt," Sosnowski said. "I guess it’s the lesser of two evils."
Brynteson is highly involved in education as assistant director of Northern Illinois University's Center for P-20 Engagement. The center supports mutually beneficial partnerships related to education and training at all levels from preschool through graduate studies in schools, workplaces and community settings.
She said pursuing innovative teaching strategies through technology and media would be important in preparing students for the future.
"As a past graduate of Genoa-Kingston, I am pleased with how the district prepared me for my future," she said. "It is the responsibility of the school board to investigate creative solutions that are in the best interest of our students."