Providing quality education in tough financial times is a priority for candidates for Robinson Unit 2 school board.
Originally, five candidates were vying for the board in the April 4 consolidated election. The field since has narrowed to three.
Robert Quick pulled out of the race in February, early enough his name does not appear on the ballot. Sherry Bopp withdrew March 16, after ballots were printed and early voting began.
Bopp's name remains on the ballot along side incumbent Dennis Inboden and newcomers Bill Sandiford and Chad Brown. Crawford County Clerk Fayrene Wright explained Bopp can decline the seat if elected. In that case, the board would appoint someone to fill the vacancy until the 2019 election.
The election is complicated by state residency restrictions. Inboden, Bopp and Sandiford live in the same township and range area, 7N and 12W. Under state law, no more than three three people from the same area can be on the board at one time.
Board member Von Meeks, whose term does not expire until 2019, is also from that part of the district, meaning only two of the three candidates can be elected.
Of the two incumbents not seeking re-election, Nancy Berty is from 7N and 12W, while Stacey Shew lives in 6N and 12W. Brown also lives in 6N and 12W. That means, essentially, that he is unopposed for the third seat.
Inboden considers local schools to be a vital part of the community, one in great need of support.
"I believe our schools are the life blood of our communities, so we need to support our schools now more than ever," he said. "It is very important that our schools have stability."
Unit 2, he explained, is being squeezed financially by federal and state government. In the meantime, it has to educate 1,600 students.
"We strive to give all of them what they deserve: a quality education in a safe learning environment," he said.
"As a school board, we work very hard to be good stewards of all the tax money that we receive. We are constantly being asked to do more with less outside support every year," he said.
"We have 225 employees which makes us one of the largest employers in our community. We currently have a balanced budget and we are working aggressively to retire our debt," Inboden added. "We have a very good school system. It is the job of the Unit 2 school board to continuously strive to improve this system to meet and serve the needs of our students and community."
Inboden is a machinist who retired from Marathon after 35 years. He is a 1975 Robinson High School graduate and attended Eastern Illinois University.
He has been on the Unit 2 board 16 years and is its current president. He previously was a member of the Crawford County Board for five years and has been a Robinson Township trustee for eight years.
Inboden serves as Unit 2's representative to the Southeastern Illinois Special Education Governing Board. He is also on the the Illinois Association of School Boards and is the Wabash Valley Division director for the Illinois Association of School Board State Board of Directors, representing Crawford, Clark, Effingham, Jasper, Clay, Richland, Lawrence, Wabash and Edwards counties.
Sandiford has been a vice-president at First Robinson Savings Bank for more than 20 years. Prior to that he worked for three other banks. He considers running for public office is an honor and a duty everyone should pursue.
He is a 1976 graduate of Oblong High School and a 1978 graduate of Lincoln Trail College. Sandiford has also taken several continuing education classes including Graduate School of Banking from the University of Colorado.
"I believe funding (or a lack of) from the State of Illinois will continue to be a major issue and I believe that situation will continue to get worse," Sandiford said.
"I believe my background as a banker will be beneficial in looking at all of the financial factors," he said. "As a loan officer as well as an investment advisor representative I have worked in the world of fiduciary responsibility for the past two decades."
As an elected official, Sandiford said he will be responsible to the taxpayers that elected him, the parents that trust their children to Robinson schools, to the administration the board works with to maintain and improve the district and to the teachers employed by Unit 2. "I believe all sides need to work together to give our kids the very best education possible," he explained.
Sandiford has two sons who graduated from Robinson High School and went on to get their engineering degrees. One has been accepted into a graduate school program. He also has a step-son that is a sophomore at RHS.
"I am thrilled with the education all of them have received," he said, adding he has "the utmost respect for the existing Robinson school board as well as those in the past with their efforts to educate our youth."
Those efforts are likely to become more difficult unless the situation in Springfield changes.
With two of the three seated board members not seeking re-election there will be a change to the board makeup, Sandiford pointed out. Change leads to uncertainty about the future, as does the discouraging financial state crisis, but he is optimistic.
"I believe I can have a positive impact on the board," Sandiford said. "If I didn't feel I could make a difference for the better, I would not have made the decision to run."
Sandiford considers himself fortunate to work at First Robinson Savings Bank. "They have allowed me to volunteer as well as serve on a variety of boards and organizations for my entire career," he said. "And during that time I had the opportunity to help several groups with our Friday cookouts."
Brown believes his business experience wil be beneficial in dealing with Unit 2's finances.
Brown was an employee of White Construction for 12 years, working at the Marathon refinery. He began as a crane operator before becoming the site manager.
He became an owner of SENCO Construction Inc. in 2012 and is now its chief executive officer.
"I believe with the experience of owning my own business I can certainly help Unit 2 in working towards a balanced budget," he said. "I of course know the focus of the board, administrators and every teacher has to be children first. This has to be the ultimate responsibility of everyone involved in education and would also be mine if elected.
"I, like all candidates and current board members, have a passion for our children and their overall growth to become citizens who are able to effectively contribute to society," Brown added. "With the great teachers and administrators we have, we are giving our youth all of the tools they will need in the future.
"I am also interested in better understanding property taxes," he added. "Property taxes have continued to increase in recent years and the goal should be taxes that are fair to everyone."
Editior's Note: This story was written based on answers to questionnaires sent to the candidates. Additional information came from a recent candidates' forum sponsored by the Community Unit Two Education Association, which used questions found by a CUTEA committee on websites of the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois School Board Association, as well as a PTA forum.