O’FALLON – Dr. Ann Collins, assistant professor of political science at McKendree University, moderated the O’Fallon School Districts 90 and 203 candidate forum, sponsored by the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce and the O’Fallon Weekly, on Thursday, March 16 at O’Fallon City Hall.
District 90 Board of Education candidates, from left: Jason Boone, Quennetta Chambers, Curt Iffert, Matthew Lloyd, Steve Springer, John Valentine, and John Wagnon. John Rosenbaum was unable to attend. (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)
District 90 candidates went first. Eight candidates are running for four seats. Candidates are challengers Jason Boone, Quennetta Chambers, Curt Iffert, John Rosenbaum and John Valentine, incumbent board members Matt Lloyd and Steve Springer and incumbent School Board President John Wagnon.
Jason Boone graduated from O’Fallon schools and returned to O’Fallon in 2001.
Boone mentioned that he is supportive of Laverna Evans’ open concept schools and offered to explain that position to attendees. Boone been in the PTO and the advisory board at Laverna Evans and is a part of the Carriel Boosters club, as well as active in the O’Fallon Rotary.
“A lot of people when I was growing up in the area inspired me to a life of service,” Boone said, and noted he hoped to inspire further service mentality in students.
He also openly talked about being supportive of consolidating local school districts that feed into District 203, which include O’Fallon Districts 90 and 104, and Shiloh District 85, and also that he hoped the County Schools Facility Sales Tax measure would pass.
Quenetta Chambers has children that attend Marie Schaefer and holds Master’s Degrees in Speech/Language Pathology and Educational Administration, and has been in O’Fallon for ten years.
“I’m running because I’m a mother, and there’s nothing more important to me than my children. I feel that my role as a parent is to raise successful adults. A necessary component of that is a quality education. They’re the motivation for my candidacy,” said Chambers.
She mentioned keeping up with changing educational standards while dealing with funding issues, and that she has an understanding of what decisions the board makes. Chambers also said she wants to keep quality of education high while keeping the burden off of local taxpayers.
John Valentine thanked volunteers for being involved in the boundary and redistricting efforts for all the time put into helping the board come to that decision.
An Air Force Veteran, he has a STEM background. He and his wife volunteer at the schools in STEM efforts whenever they are able, and said he felt that STEM and the arts had taken a back seat in the district, and he wanted to bring those types of activities from after school clubs back into the classrooms. He praised teachers and said he understood that burgeoning class sizes don’t always allow for all types of content in the classroom, and he looked forward to hopefully working with school board and city officials to achieve the best for O’Fallon schools.
Incumbent board member Matt Lloyd said he feels indebted to O’Fallon for the gifts it has bestowed upon his children with the successes they’ve achieved both inside and outside of school.
A 25 year Air Force Veteran, he said he felt that service was ingrained in him and that O’Fallon had a special passion towards school issues and many residents serve. He’s also involved in several sports and scouts.
“I hope to help the board maintain the fiscal discipline we’ve shown. We need to live within our means. No one wants to raise their taxes but they want the best educational experience for their children,” said Lloyd.
He emphasized a desire to stay on the board to continue helping the fiscal discipline and to help establish a vision for where the district is going to go after this most recent boundary patch expires.
Incumbent School Board President John Wagnon started off by discussing his Christian beliefs, his upcoming marriage anniversary, and his children, including his family’s desire to adopt their two year old foster son. Wagnon has been an O’Fallon resident for 13 years, prior serving in the Air Force whose last post was Scott Air Force Base. Wagnon also has a background in computers and technology, and never held public office before being elected to the school board.
Wagnon said he wanted to tell attendees why they needed to keep him around.
“We need to be responsible with the taxpayer money that we get, so if we get more taxpayer money that’s great, we need to spend that wisely. If we don’t, that’s great, and we need to spend what we have wisely,” he said.
He gave himself some credit for growing the working cash fund to it’s current balance over $1,000,000, and said the board has done a good job of hiring great staff. Wagnon also noted that several activities have been brought back to the districts, they’ve kept fees low, seen the students achieve success in increased standardized test scores and band and athletic performances.
Steve Springer and his family have been O’Fallon residents for 28 years, and now has a grandson at OTHS and a granddaughter about to start at Laverna Evans. He’s running for his third term after serving the board for eight years.
“I have pushed over and over and over to ensure that expenditures never exceed revenues, especially in the education fund,” Springer said, mentioning that shortfalls have put pressure on the district making it harder to keep a balanced budget, and that he’s pushed to keep bond payments from bringing about higher tax payments.
“The community doesn’t need another tax added, especially taking into account the recent Dierberg’s one percent tax and the possible county public safety tax,” Springer said in reference to his lack of support for the county schools facilities sales tax.
Curt Iffert and his wife of nearly 20 years have three daughters in District 90 schools. Iffert said taxes are a concern in O’Fallon.
“Although District 90 has one of the lower property tax rates in the area, it’s still higher than I would like to see,” said Iffert who supports the county schools facility sales tax to provide property tax relief for residents, what he says is his largest concern followed closely by class sizes and curriculum resources, citing outdated and poor quality textbooks.
With an electrical background, he wants to visit facilities and see if there’s a way to save energy costs, wants to look further into school consolidation, including having an updated feasibility study and wants a class size reduction study.
All District 90 candidates thanked watchers and attendees and asked for their votes. John Rosenbaum was not in attendance.
District 203 Board of Education candidates, from left: Lynda Cozad, Steve Dirnbeck, Laura Jacobi Van Hook, and Brett Schuette. Keith Richter was unable to attend the forum.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Nick Miller)
In District 203, there are five candidates for four open positions. Candidates include incumbent board members Lynda Cozad, Steve Dirnbeck, Keith Richter and Brett Schuette and challenger Laura Jacobi Van Hook.
Brett Schuette began the forum for District 203, and said he seeks reelection saying “I want to keep O’Fallon the best schools in the Metro East and I personally believe in giving back to the community.”
Aside from his day job with the American Cancer Society, Schuette volunteers for several organizations around town including Big Brothers Big Sisters, the O’Fallon Food Pantry and serves in the O’Fallon Rotary.
His three pillar platform includes holding the schools to high academic standards, maintaining school safety and financial responsibility.
Schuette mentioned that if property taxes get raised, people could leave O’Fallon but also noted that district reserves will be drained by 2021 if nothing is done. He urged people to vote for candidates with long term planning and fund experience.
Steve Dirnbeck and his wife have been O’Fallon residents for 14 years. Steve is a former OTHS math teacher and served as a coach for multiple sports. He ultimately became principal of OTHS until his retirement in 2009.
Seeking reelection, Dirnbeck said his top priority is to “do what is best for each of our students,” noting fiscal challenges to the district. He continued to say “As a board member, I will do all that I can to ensure that we keep excellence at OTHS.”
Laura Jacobi Van Hook
Dr. Laura Jacobi Van Hook, a former teacher and school counselor, mentioned that of her four children, three graduated from OTHS. She is an adjunct professor at Lindenwood University in the Education Department and was appointed by the Illinois State Board of Education to the School Counselor Committee for Illinois Licensure Testing System. She also worked at OTHS as Director of Guidance, meeting with parents and learning their needs and desires.
Jacobi Van Hook said she wanted to encourage open and honest communication all the time, not just when cuts are on the table.
“We’re faced with doing more with less,” she said, as she discussed being able to plan for the impact of budgetary cuts and her ability to bring clarity to budget cuts and concerns.
Incumbent School Board President Lynda Cozad, who has served on on the board since 2004, said “During my tenure, the board has faced some of our biggest challenges ever, some of which were out of our control.”
Cozad discussed drastically lowered EAV, higher amounts of free and reduced students and “most recently, the loss of over $1,000,000 due to the Disabled Veterans Property Tax Benefit.”
Cozad pointed to efforts to keep things running smoothly, and said O’Fallon ranks in the top seven percent in schools for the state and bottom three percent of schools for cost of education.
Cozad wants to propose to expand the finance committee to include feedback from work teams that will offer input on the future of the district, encourage the development of resources in an easy to understand format for the community to have better insight into the issues facing OTHS and to ensure OTHS takes a leadership role in influencing legislation.
All candidates thanked watchers and attendees, and asked for their votes. Keith Richter was unable to attend.
The next debate forum will be between O’Fallon mayoral candidates at O’Fallon City Hall on March 23 at 6:30 p.m..