DIXON – As pointed out at Thursday’s candidates forum, the 1 percentage-point sales tax increase on next week’s ballot has to pass before the school district receives any of that money.
Six candidates are vying for four seats on the Dixon School Board, and there’s no guarantee when they are elected that the additional $1.2 million of annual sales tax revenue will come with them.
Last November, 58.9 percent of county voters rejected the tax, which would have led to the construction of a $10 million to $15 million sports and activities center.
The school board has since said that money would be used for maintenance of facilities.
All six candidates support the sales tax, saying the revenue is needed to make up for the district’s loss of $700,000 in general state aid.
But what if the referendum isn’t approved? How will the district address educational needs as state funding continues to dwindle?
Incumbents Woody Lenox and Pam Tourtillott are among the six running, along with the recently appointed John Jacobs and three newcomers, Jon Gieson, Josh Arduini and Terry Shroyer. Each of the four available seats carries a 4-year term.
Board President Tom Balser did not seek re-election, meaning that at least one new member will win a seat on the school board.
Lenox favors making reductions and cutting costs that don’t dramatically hinder the educational quality that, he says, the district has a mission to provide.
Trimming the fat wherever it can “without falling off a cliff” is how Tourtillott described what the board has done in her 4 years and what it must continue to do. She said the board has not “riffed” a teacher in her time.
Jacobs admitted the district is operating at “the skin and bones” right now, asking, “What’s left to cut?” He said the board will eventually be faced with looking at cuts to teachers and staff.
Shroyer said he would hate to cut teachers or staff and would do all he could to see whether the board could manage its budget by not replacing those who retire or resign, or replacing them with younger teachers at a lower salary.
Arduini said he would like to see the community get more involved, including fundraisers, to help pay for educational needs.
“You have to live within your means,” Gieson answered simply.
What can the board do to prevent another strike?
The Dixon Education Association went on strike on Feb. 28, canceling 9 days of classes. Contract talks lingered for almost a year.
Gieson said he didn’t want to place any fault, but he would do all he could to push talks, especially when they had gone 9 to 10 months without much done.
Better communication from both sides was suggested by Arduini. He said the board needs to make more visits into classrooms. Also, he was skeptical of the role the board’s attorney played in contract negotiations.
Shroyer doesn’t know how much control the school board has over contract talks, and without inside information, he said, he doesn’t know where the breakdowns occurred.
Sitting on the board during the strike, Tourtillott said the decision to strike lies with teachers. She said all the school board can do is to safeguard finances, and the future of the district, against the immediate gratification of raises.
Jacobs said it’s up to the board and teachers to discuss the tougher issues first, adding that he would not allow 3 months to go by without negotiations, as occurred over the summer.
Lenox said he couldn’t guarantee against another strike, but said he would do all he could to prevent another one. He said the board’s attorney had helped the board to understand the ramifications of difficult decisions.
If the 1 percentage-point sales tax does pass, what should the funds be used for?
The 1 percentage-point sales tax is expected to generate $1.2 million a year for the district.
Tourtillott, Shroyer, Gieson, Arduini and Lenox all put building upgrades and maintenance as a top priority for use of those funds.
Jacobs said some of the money should be used to build a $3 million to $4 million sports complex similar to Westwood Sports Center in Sterling, and the rest to go for building upgrades. Also, he favored transferring extra funds to help other accounts.
Tourtillott, who was not able to attend Thursday’s candidates forum, said the money should be used for building upgrades, with an eye on buying land for long-term goals of possibly building a kindergarten through 12th-grade campus or a sports and activities complex. She said such a complex is not a priority.
Shroyer said it’s only appropriate for those funds to go to school buildings only, since that is what voters are being told.
Meet the candidates
Name: Jonathan Gieson
Family: wife, Linda; two children, 14 and 16 years old; two stepchildren
Education: Bachelor's degree in agriculture from Southern Illinois University
Occupation: Owner of Gieson Motorsports in Rock Falls
Government experience: None
Name: John Jacobs
Family: wife, Jane; children, Braden, 14, and Grant, 8
Education: Bachelor's degree in accounting from Illinois State University
Occupation: Owner and operator of Jacobs Construction
Government experience: Appointed school board member for 3 months
Name: Woody Lenox
Family: wife, Rhonda; 23-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son
Education: Bachelor's degree in education from Illinois State University; graduate work at Northern Illinois University
Occupation: Technical coordinator at KSB Hospital
Government experience: Five years on school board
Name: Pam Tourtillott
Family: three children, ages 8, 12 and 17
Education: Attended Sauk Valley Community College and National College of Education (now National Lewis University)
Occupation: Retail manager at Shopko
Government experience: 4 years on school board
Family: Three sons
Education: Dixon High School graduate
Occupation: Works for Dixon Park District
Government experience: None
Name: Josh Arduini
Family: wife; 4-year-old daughter, and 1-year-old son
Occupation: Salon consultant
Government experience: None