Two years ago just two people sought the three seats open on the school board of Sherrard Community School District 200. One candidate withdrew, leaving the board with two positions to fill by appointment after the election.
This time around, 11 people are running for the six positions up for grabs in the April 9 election. Four are competing for two, 2-year positions; and seven people, including a write-in candidate, are running for four, 4-year positions.
Sherrard, like many other rural school districts, is plagued with declining enrollment and reduced educational reimbursements from the state and federal governments for both transportation expenses and general state aid.
Running for the two-year terms are incumbents Timothy Arbet and Bradley Boraas (appointed to his seat in October 2011); and two newcomers, Linda Koepke and Eric Hutchins. All four live in Richland Grove Township.
The four-year candidates include incumbents Janice Viernow, from Preemption Township, and Art Meyers, from Rural Township, and Charles Adams and Leslie Anderson, both from Greene Township and both appointed to the board since the 2011 election; newcomers Chris Brewer from Rivoli Township, and Dave DeBacker, from Preemption Township. The final candidate, Derek Varner, is a first time candidate from Rural Township and is an official write-in candidate for the board.
The candidates, in the order they appear on the ballot: Candidates for the 2, 2-year terms
Mr. Arbet, 53, is an optometrist at Mercer County Family Eyecare in Aledo and is a 12-year school board member. The past six years he served as board president. He and wife Lori have three children, one in college and two at the high school. He has an Associate degree in science from Illinois Valley Community College, attended Illinois State University for a year and graduated from the Illinois College of Optometry with a Bachelor's degree in visual science and a doctorate of optometry.
He sees finances as the dominant issue in the district. "The challenges are to do more with less and still maintain the quality education that our children deserve. The teacher's contract is up June 30 and the challenge is to strike a fair deal for both the teachers and the taxpayers," he added.
"I am grateful for the confidence and trust the voters have placed in me over the years," he added. "Board service can be difficult, especially in these challenging economic times, but it can be very rewarding when our kids excel both during their time here and after they graduate," he said.
Ms. Koepke, 57, is a retired bus driver for the Sherrard School District. She and her husband Dean live in Sherrard and have two children. She graduated from Palatine High School and has taken classes at Black Hawk College.
She decided to run because she cares about the students and wants the district to offer its students every opportunity it can. The key issue in Sherrard is finances, she said. The board needs "to keep this district strong through the financial difficulties this state has put us in and to remain dedicated to the staff and students of this district as I have been in the past 32 years." The other issue she is concerned with involves the amount and level of communication at the board and community levels.
Mr. Boraas, 50, was appointed to the school board in October 2011 after the resignation of longtime board member Larry Stone. He and his wife, Teresa, have four children, two in college and one a junior at Sherrard High School and another an eighth-grader at the junior high. He has a bachelor of science degree from Minnesota State University and works as an engineering supervisor at John Deere Seeding Group.
"It is my desire to support the district in teaching and providing opportunities for our students so they will be successful in school and as adults," he said.
Mr. Hutchins, 38, is on the ballot for a second time. In 2011, he withdrew after the ballots were printed. He is a 1993 Sherrard High School graduate and attended Black Hawk College and Luther College. He has two children — a fifth grader at Matherville Intermediate and a second grader attending Sherrard Elementary. He works in sales for Cumulus Radio.
Mr. Hutchins said he has a passion for the school district and hopes to make a difference in the lives of the school district's students.
He thinks that the district needs to "be creative in finding new sources of revenue for the school district." He would like to see better communication throughout the community and wants to "restore community pride."
Candidates for the 4, 4-year terms Mr. Meyers, 47, is seeking his second term on the board. He lives in Milan with his wife, Kay, and two children. He works at Nestle USA as a central region trainer. He has a bachelor of arts degree in business administration from St. Ambrose College. Mr. Meyers decided four years ago to run for the school board initially to become more active in the community.
"It is my goal to continue to offer a quality education to our students, while at the same time being responsible with the taxpayers' money. I believe that part of fiscally responsibility includes transparency to the public."
Ms. Viernow, 71, is running for another 4-year term after serving for the past eight years. She and her husband, Jerry, have three adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is a 1959 graduate of Sherrard High School and graduated from Illinois State University in 1963 with a bachelor of science degree in education. She retired in 2003 after teaching elementary school in the Sherrard School District for 33 years. She has served as the board secretary for the past two years.
Mrs. Viernow said her experience as an educator has helped her make some difficult decisions. "I have the time that is required to be a school board member because I am retired." She said she feels the key issue is "to try to provide the students a quality education while receiving less and less financial support from both the state and federal government."
Mr. DeBacker, 46, is new to the political arena. He and his wife, Missy, have three children. He works as a farmer, mostly with hay and cattle. He is interested in the position to be a voice for the teachers, support staff, students and parents of the district. "These are the people that make the whole thing work and their input, concerns and ideas need to be heard," he said.
He is concerned with the financial issues facing the state and school districts and knows there are some tough decisions to be made in the future. "Through all this we must find a way to keep all our teachers, student programs and extra-curricular activities intact."
He also weighed in on the busing issue: "We should keep our busing in house to better serve our students and parents," he said.
Mr. Adams, 52, of Viola, was appointed to the board in July 2012 to replace Bruce LeBlanc, who moved out of the district. He works as operations manager at Brown's Forest Home Farms in Aledo. He is a graduate of Winola High School, and he and his wife, Carrie, have four children.
He is concerned with morale in the school district. "I would like to see the administration, teachers and non-certified staff work together to improve morale amongst all," he said.
He is running for the first time for office and would like to continue to give back to the community by serving on the school board. He sees fiscal responsibility as the key issue and believes in being "fully transparent with the taxpayers' money." He also said he feels "passionate that the students continue to receive a quality education that prepares them for the next level of education."
Ms. Anderson, 39, lives in Viola and is seeking election for the first time, although she was appointed to and has served on the Sherrard board since April 2011. She and her husband, Dave, have two children.
She works at Black Hawk College as vice president for finance and has a bachelor of business and MBA from Western Illinois University. She is an Illinois certified public accountant. "I strongly believe education is the single most important investment an individual can make in themselves and taxpayers can make in our children," she said.
"The two issues facing the majority of public school districts in Illinois are achievement results and funding," she said. "Sherrard has a long history of providing quality educational opportunities for our students, but current economic issues in Illinois such as pension reform and education funding are presenting challenges we must address in a responsible manner," she added.
Ms. Brewer, 39, is a first time candidate. She and her husband, John, have two children. She works as the animal control officer for the Mercer County Animal Control office in Aledo and lives in rural Rivoli Township. She decided to run because she feels that people who complain about a situation need to do something about it. She is running to be "a part of the solution."
"I cannot be part of a change unless I am willing to put forth the effort. We as a whole need to come together and make progress for our children and their future," she said.
She said she sees the hardships that schools have suffered because of funding issues as a problem that needs to be well-researched before any changes are made.
Mr. Varner, 38, lives in rural Milan and filed as a write-in candidate. He and his wife, Angi, have two children. He is a 1992 graduate of Rock Island High School and is the owner of MVP Auto Center in Milan. Mr. Varner has a degree in automotive collision repair and refinishing from Wyoming Technical Institute.
He feels his business experience and mindset would be useful on the school board, dealing with upcoming economic decisions. He is interested in promoting communication between the school district, parents and students.
"I feel that by planning ahead for future needs of the district we can to continue to offer an excellent learning environment for our children. We have a wonderful area to raise a family and by keeping communication open between schools and parents, we can offer a more inviting place for new families to come," he said.
He notes that as a write-in candidate, the voters must write his name in on the ballot, as well as coloring in the circle.
Have coffee with the candidates
A meet the candidate coffee will be held in the Sherrard High School commons area from 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 3, sponsored by the Sherrard Education Association.
The Sherrard school district is mainly rural, with several small towns scattered throughout its approximately 178 square miles in both Mercer and Rock Island counties. Schools in Mercer County include two elementary schools, one in the village of Sherrard and one in the village of Viola, an intermediate school (for 5th and 6th grades) in the village of Matherville. The joint junior-senior high school is located in rural Rock Island County just about a mile northwest of the village of Sherrard. The district’s current student count is just less than 1,600.