Champaign school board seeks three newcomers, six in contention

By Shannon Smith

Six candidates are running in the April 5 election for three open seats on the Champaign School Board.

Incumbents Jeff Wampler and Nicole Storch are scheduled to run in the upcoming term. David Sholem, who currently holds the third position on the board, chose not to run for re-election in the upcoming term.

Incoming candidates include Savoy resident Arlene Blank and Champaign residents Randy Kobel, Barry Rowe and David Tomlinson.

Storch has been a member of the school board for the last 12 years, the longest of the current members. School Board Vice President Wampler has served a single four-year term.

Wampler said the number-one goal for the upcoming term is academic achievement for all students.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    He added that the main focus has been to close the achievement gap of low-income and minority students while increasing the test scores of other students.

    “The test scores at a lot of the grade schools for (low-income and minority) students were up and in a lot of the schools by more than double digits,” Wampler said.

    He also said that another major focus would be to keep good financial controls in place. Wampler said this is especially difficult because the district is required to meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

    “The biggest obstacle is balancing the demands of No Child Left Behind with achievement for all kids and operating within our budget at the same time,” Wampler said. “It (the NCLB) takes a lot of energy and effort and dollars to comply with.”

    Like Wampler, Blank said one of her major concerns is bridging the achievement gap between minority and other students.

    While Blank previously has not served on the Champaign School Board, she is no newcomer to the district. She worked in education for 37 years, including 29 years in the Champaign School District, and retired from the district in 2002 as assistant superintendent for support services.

    “I think I bring a lot of knowledge about public education and a lot of knowledge to the district,” Blank said.

    She said her chief concern is the district’s $5 million budget deficit.

    “I am a firm believer in the value of public education,” Blank said. “I think it’s possible to offer a very good program for students to go through without deficit spending.”

    Rowe is also a retired veteran of the district. He has worked in schools for 33 years, teaching 25 years in the Champaign School District alone. He is a former administrator, teacher and technology director.

    Tomlinson, an engineer for the Champaign fire department, also has worked in the district, teaching fire and water safety to the schools. He has two children in the district: a daughter at Centennial High School and a son at Jefferson Middle School.

    “I just decided that I could bring a fresh perspective,” Tomlinson said. “I’ve actually been very happy with the schools, and I believe public schools are the way to educate our kids.”

    Tomlinson said that he believes there are three main goals that need to be met in the upcoming term: helping student achievement, supporting teachers and support staff, and fixing the financial issues. He said that the greatest obstacle of the three would be to make effective budget cuts.

    “We need to look at other areas that could possibly be reduced in the budget,” Tomlinson said. “As (Champaign School Board) President Scott Anderson says, we need to tighten our belts a little bit. And I think we need to find a creative way to do that.”

    Kobel, assistant director of modernization at the Danville Housing Authority, also said the budget is the biggest difficulty for the upcoming term.

    “What that’s done is frozen any real ability to plan,” Kobel said. “If we don’t know how much money we have at any given moment, there is no way we can plan on what to do. It is important to fix the deficit without damaging the quality of education.”

    Kobel said he hopes to serve the community by running for the board. He has acted on a district transportation advisory committee and has two sons at Franklin Middle School.

    If elected, Kobel said he hopes to add a sense of what the school board is about.

    “I have a sense that the school board is too involved in the day-to-day management of the schools, where that is the administration’s job,” Kobel said. “By definition, a board provides governance, direction and policy.”