The Jasper County Unit 1 Board of Education election is approaching and six candidates are running for the four positions. The six candidates are Bill Meinhart, Jason Kuhl, Jerry L. Earnest, Jon Fulton, Melissa Stanley, and write-in candidate Rob Street. A write-in candidate must have their name spelled correctly on the blank line and the oval filled in for the candidate.
The following questions were presented to all six candidates. Four returned answers by the deadline given. The candidates were also given an 80 word limit for each question.
1. Please tell a little about yourself, your experience, and the factors determining your desire to run for School Board?
Bill Meinhart - After graduating from NCHS and completing our careers elsewhere, my wife and I decided to return here to rural life and family. Being a part of terrific local activities (Honey Do Ministries, Master’s Hands,
Student Mentoring, Youth Soccer, and Youth Sunday School) has allowed me to see kids and families in this community grow and serve. I would consider serving as a School Board member an honor and a valuable way to partner with the community and schools to continue to make a difference in our student’s lives.
Jason Kuhl - 1994 graduate of NCHS, BA in Administrative Information Systems. Wife, Marie, and daughter Grace (14). Lifelong resident, raised on a farm in southern Jasper County. Co-owner of JJ Outlet and KS Distribution in Newton. Past president St. Thomas school board. Past Grand Knight Newton KofC. Member Latona Church of Christ. I’ve also coached JR High softball and scholastic bowl. I believe that instead of questioning decisions made in any environment, it’s more important to get involved and offer solutions.
Melissa Stanley - I reside with my husband (Ben) of 21 years in Newton along with our 4 kids. I owned my own business for over 10 years and also work in the County Clerk's Office. I have a passion for our community and our children. The children are the future of Jasper County and they deserve the best education that we can provide. As a board member I enjoy school finance, governing, and school law.
Rob Street - I am a construction superintendent currently working on the University of Illinois Business Instruction Facility and Memorial Stadium Performance Center. I have lived in Jasper County my entire life. My wife and I have two children. I am currently a member of the Jasper Unit #1 school board. I am running for the school board in hopes to continue working on bettering our schools for our students, employees, and community.
2. What do you think is your most important purpose or role as a School Board member?
Bill Meinhart - Come alongside the Superintendent and Leaders in our schools and challenge them to develop innovative plans to enhance the educational opportunities for all our students; focusing on enabling students to compete in an ever-changing workplace. Ensure the school district is providing these challenging and diverse educational opportunities while maintaining fiscal responsibility to Jasper County residents.
Jason Kuhl - The best education that we can afford should be made available to our students. There is a distinct balance between attaining this goal and acting as responsible stewards of public funding, with the largest source being Jasper County taxpayers. We have staff, faculty, and administration dedicated to providing superior education. Our agriculture driven community is capable of doing more with less. This farm-minded efficiency can serve us well while facing the financial obstacles that JCCU1 faces.
Melissa Stanley - To make sure that we are doing what is best for all the children in the community and everyone that directly affects their education. While doing this also keeping in mind that there is a budget for the district. I feel that as a school board member we need to be at as many events that involve our children of Jasper County, supporting everything they do. Whether it be an Illinois State Scholar, Band competition, sporting event, FFA, or CEO event are just a few.
Rob Street - I believe being able to come together to openly discuss financials, day to day business of the district, disciplinary items and personnel is our role as board members. It is important for the board to seek opportunities for our students to continue being successful after graduation and to assist our personnel to make this possible.
3. What steps do you think the Board must take to ensure the financial viability of the District?
Bill Meinhart - The Superintendent and Administrators are doing a great job prioritizing spending within the school district while continuing to provide great educational opportunities for our students. The School Board must continue to critically evaluate spending priorities and provide constructive guidance on spending. With the upcoming challenge of how to address the condition of the District’s buildings, the Board must not only address the immediate issues but also focus on long-term viability.
Jason Kuhl - Developing a long-term financial plan ensures the future viability of JCCU1. Maxing out borrowing is not the answer. Counting on a diminishing tax base is not viable. We have issues that need to be addressed, and solutions will cost money, but we must live within our means. Levying higher taxes is not the answer. Between doing nothing and overextending lies a solution that can cover our needs, while not further taking money from the pockets of hardworking taxpayers.
Melissa Stanley - There are many things that we do and can be done to ensure financial viability. We have to use the resources we have available and explore options in every decision made. With community members, JCCU #1 employees, and the JCCU#1 school board working hand in hand to do the best we can for our kids while making good financial decisions for the district and our tax paying community.
Rob Street - As a board, we must thoroughly discuss ideas and items to determine if it is appropriate to spend money on that item.
4. What is one positive and one negative decision the Board has made over the past year? Why?
Bill Meinhart - The Board has attracted and selected excellent, well-qualified individuals to fill several teaching and leadership roles in the schools. They have also initiated a plan to address the long-term maintenance issues of our school buildings and, at the same time, have continued to optimize costs. The biggest challenge the school board is still facing is how to address the shortfall in funding from the state of Illinois.
Jason Kuhl - The board has done a good job with ongoing improvement in our education process. We continue to have the best overall staff in the area. Conversely, maxing out borrowing for capital projects that are excessive of what’s necessary is concerning. We should reduce debt and look ahead to future maintenance issues. Smaller projects within our means should be considered. Also, I believe revenue from the recently passed 1% sales tax will be grossly under the estimates, meaning further tax increases.
Melissa Stanley - I feel that we as a school board have made many positive decisions and are doing what we feel is best for the children and community. We as a community have to focus on the future of this district for the betterment of the children's education and to keep a thriving community without putting pressure on our tax paying citizens
Rob Street - The positive item is getting the 1% option on the ballot. This is will assist with buildings and grounds for our district. I have personally seen the positive effect it has had for other school districts. In the past year, I do not believe we have had a negative decision.
5. As the largest employer in Jasper County, what do you think can be done within the schools and the community to improve upon the economic climate in Jasper County?
Bill Meinhart - The number 1 goal of our school district is to provide a good education for our students. Today the School district is delivering that, with the support of parents and the community. Continuing to provide a good education system is critical to attracting and retaining families in the community in order to
encourage sustainable economic growth. Expanding the Building Trades classes offered, in partnership with some local skilled tradesman, will enable even more students to contribute to our community.
Jason Kuhl - Reintroduction of vocational tech programs would have a positive and lasting impact on our community. Learning practical skills is an area that most young people are lacking. Our workforce is suffering because not enough people are seeking higher education in areas of skilled trades. Well-rounded, academic education is important. It is equally important that our kids enter the workforce with practical knowledge needed to succeed. Focusing on these areas will result in more young people staying in Jasper County.
Melissa Stanley - To improve the economic climate we the board, community, and faculty all have to respect, listen, and communicate with each other in a way that is going to make our district what we all want and know that it can be. Over the past 4 years sitting on the school board, community, board, and faculty at JCCU #1 have made tremendous strides in this area. It means a lot to have so many people involved working towards a better JCCU #1.
Rob Street - More collaboration from the responsible entities in the county. As a TEAM we can and will achieve the needed aspects for the future of this county. The vision of the school district is crucial with community support to put our children in a position to be the best and most sought-after employee. It is important for our students to leave NCHS instilled with a positive mindset, good education, motivation and respect for others.
6. What do you believe is needed to make a school board efficient, productive, and successful?
Bill Meinhart - a) Team Building. School Board members, the Superintendent, and Administrators, each come with a unique set of experiences, skills, and strengths. Building on these attributes and working together as a team, the group can reach innovative, yet fiscally responsible decisions.
b) Idea Gathering: Continue to gather input from families, students, teachers, and community leaders to develop creative ideas to truly make our schools exceptional.
c) And finally, clearly communicate implementation plans to achieve the school’s objectives, as was done with the Sales Tax proposal.
Jason Kuhl - Finding ways to work together, even in disagreement, is imperative. The best solutions generally come out of situations where differing opinions exist. Taking those opposing points of view and finding helpful portions of each, then implementing the best ideas yields the best results. Situations where everyone agrees on everything usually means we are either 100% correct, or important details are being missed. We all come from different perspectives and experiences. Let those turn into contributions that give positive results.
Melissa Stanley - I feel that we need a board of understanding, caring, creative thinking, budget minded, compassionate individuals with no personal agendas that can and will agree or disagree on the issues at hand, come up with solutions that work for our towards a making the district a better place to get an education for the children and place to work for the employees.
Rob Street - Having the ability to respectfully and honestly discuss anything brought to the board. In order to be successful, we must communicate and follow through with the decisions we make.
7. What goals do you have for your term on the Board, and are you willing to adapt these goals as needed?
Bill Meinhart - The proposed Buildings Upgrade Project is a great concept to expand Building Trades and Special Education. The Board must first validate the financial viability of the project, and then oversee the cost- effective completion of the project, ensuring minimal interruptions to ongoing classroom activities. During my time as an engineering project manager, I was involved in similar complex construction projects. I can draw on that experience to provide constructive input to the Board in the oversite of the project.
Jason Kuhl - My primary goal is to ensure that we are offering the best education possible while ensuring the financial solvency of the district. This goal is very much flexible in approach, while still keeping the same overall result in mind. Jasper County is a great place to live and work. May our schools continue to be a source of pride.
Melissa Stanley - There are so many goals that I have for the next 4 years if re-elected to the JCCU #1 school board, too many to list. The future is so bright for our district, it's exciting to see what the future holds for this district and community. Thank you Jasper County for allowing me to sit on your JCCU #1 school board for the past 4 years, it has been all my pleasure to serve these kids and our community.
Rob Street - Continue moving forward and monitoring academic improvements. We know we will be making life safety changes to our building and the board needs to stay involved and be informed. I believe it is very important for the board to meet after the April election to discuss what the goals are, and the actions needed to achieve those goals. I believe all board members need to remain open when it comes to adapting to change.