The candidate forum Thursday night to introduce candidates before the April 5 election focused around one hot topic: District 709’s $12.5 million referendum, which will also be voted on April 5.
District 709 Board President Tom Neeley, along with the candidates, sat in on the forum and explained the referendum, which would add classrooms and gymnasiums to Lettie Brown, Lincoln and Grundy elementary schools.
“As a board of education, we’re focused on the students. There’s a lot that goes into making our schools a success. Thinking about our facilities, that’s just part of having a great school,” Neeley said.
Neeley said in 2008 the district came up with multiple options for the future of the schools, and the option they chose will help the district meet the state mandate of PE five days a week for elementary school students, and will put more classrooms into each school, which will fix the problem of students currently being taught in hallways.
As for the concern of Jefferson school, current board member John Applen, who represents the unincorporated area of the district and is running uncontested, said, “The basic needs of Jefferson have been addressed. Proper learning can take place there and we will continue to do so. We are fiscally conservative and we’re thinking these things through.
“We will continue to attend to the needs of Jefferson.”
School board candidate Adam Boeker added, “Where I live, my children will go to Jefferson. I will want to continue the upkeep and value of Jefferson.”
All four school board candidates, Michelle Bernier, Boeker, Doug Riddle and Tim Taylor, said they were on board with the referendum.
“No one likes to have their taxes increased, but two years ago would have been worse and I contend that two years from now it might be more expensive,” Bernier said. “Also, children out in the hallways is not conducive to learning.”
Also open for questions were the village board candidates, Dan Acton, Randy Belsley, Tony Huette and Stephen Newhouse, along with library board member and uncontested candidate Gary Mort.
They fielded questions such as the role the village board should play in local economic development projects and whether they support Mayor Norm Durflinger and the current path he is taking the village.
All four candidates, who are vying for three seats on the board, said they believe economic growth is the right direction for Morton to head in.
“It’s very important for the community to have a strong business base, but I’m conservative on that support without being frivolous on funds,” Belsley said.
“The village board has two responsibilities — to represent the citizens and to think in terms of the community,” Newhouse said.
He said economic development is important for Morton to reduce taxes and maintain infrastructure.
Page 2 of 2 - “We have to support economic development,” Huette said. “Morton has roads, sewers, water to take care of. If we don’t have a lot of money coming in to help that, it gets hard.”
As for supporting Durflinger on the current path Morton is heading, all said they approve of the village’s path.
“I think the board has done a good job,” Acton said. “I do disagree from a social perspective, with the liquor expansion, coming from conservative values I didn’t feel that was needed.”
A question from the audience for the school board candidates asked how they would try to stay away from “group think,” meaning members of the school board tend to agree on subjects.
“I guess I would like to see improved communication with the public,” Taylor said.
Current board member Riddle said, “You do see agreement on a lot of votes and that shows consensus on subjects. I have stood up for issues in the past that I believe in.
“I think it’s a good thing to show unity and support by having a consensus.”