Editor’s note: The Urbana Daily Citizen surveyed candidates for the Graham Local Schools Board of Education. Six candidates are running for three seats, including Toni Kite, Leslie Maurice, Alan Mitchell, incumbent Ryan Pine, Brittany Todd and David Uhl. The Daily Citizen is printing the survey reports from the candidates in alphabetical order of the candidates’ names for six publication days. Answers for each question were limited to 100 words or less and some have been edited to conform.
My family is invested in Graham and seeing it thrive. I am a 1994 graduate of Graham, my wife is a 1995 graduate, and we have three daughters in Graham Schools. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Education. I am in my 20th year of teaching and a current Graham board member. Graham must continue improving academically, maintain opportunities for students to explore career, military, and college pathways while providing a reasonable level of services for its students. Education is key to ensuring that our students are prepared for success and they are key in our community’s survival.
1. What type of tax increase do you favor, if any, to address the district’s recurring operating money challenges?
I favor a tax that our community will support. The board needs to find a better way to get more voter participation in its surveys to make this decision in the future. I personally supported an earned income tax since our current source of local funding is a property tax. School property tax collections are limited by House Bill 920 which reduces millage as property values grow. School income tax revenues are not limited by this factor and allow revenues to grow with expenses. However, we must listen to the voters and propose a levy that voters will approve.
2. What caused the current financial problems, in your opinion?
We have a stagnant revenue that will not support the level of education that our community desires. Personnel and facility expenses, state mandates, and community expectations have increased over time, but the district’s local tax revenues have not maintained pace with those increases.The board created a strategic plan with various stakeholders, spent some of the cash reserves toward those goals, demonstrated academic progress, and proposed levies to support that progress. Financial crisis will be avoided by adjusting expenditures. The question is whether we want to continue to sacrifice a quality education or sacrifice essential services to achieve financial stability?
3. What expenses would you prefer to reduce with or without any additional taxes being proposed?
I prefer cuts that don’t have direct, detrimental impacts on student achievement. The primary job of schools is to provide a quality education. Students are at the center of our district’sspending decisions, so the reality is that there are very few areas in our budget to reduce expenses without impacting students. Our classified staff has taken the brunt of most recent cuts. However, a variety of circumstances over the last few months have impacted our budget in a positive manner so the board will continue to evaluate and adjust expenditures to provide the best services possible for students.
4. What’s the top strength of Graham Local Schools?
The people of our community is its strength. Small, rural communities struggle to compete with larger urban areas for job creation. This creates a community where people make a conscious choice to stay here or to return here to raise a family surrounded by the values that smaller communities offer. The relatively quiet and grounded nature of Graham is attractive for generations of families, like ours, to live here. That is a strong reason for our schools to provide a quality education and a strong reason for our community to support those endeavors, the community’s future depends on it.
5. What is the top weakness of Graham?
Graham is a consolidation of villages. Its events and facilities are one of the few options for our community to come together as a whole. This may sound like a strength for our schools, but we have many residents on the geographic borders of our district that are closer to neighboring districts and towns. This makes effective communication very difficult and makes it especially difficult to build or maintain relationships with residents that do not currently have family members in our schools. The board has tried to improve communication through the TeleGraham, use of social media, and website updates.