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April 21, 2019

3/27/2019 10:37:00 AM
Four incumbents, two write-ins on Unit 3 ballot

Voters in the Palestine Unit 3 district will have four incumbent board members and two write-in candidates to choose from on April 2.

The incumbents are Jeff Besing, Corie Biggs, Don Wagoner and Tara Vennard. Newcomers Jim Bush and Lloyd "JR" Dunlap will be vying for seats on the board along with those four incumbents.

The focus of most candidates heading into the election is the improvement of the curriculum, the addition of new courses and dealing with teacher shortages. Others are focused on the district's athletic cooperative program and financial stability.

Jeff Besing

Besing, 57, will be running for his second term on the board. During his first term, Besing learned that a good way to be successful was to interact with the students through his position as Palestine police chief.

"I use that time to learn the inner workings of our school system to better prepare myself in the role of a school board member, and by talking with the kids and staff within their environment and see what we can do to improve," Besing said.

Through this he realized the need to examine the student's needs for growth and success.

"I feel that it is a priority to provide our students the best possible curriculum and top of the line instructors to give them the education that they need to succeed in life after their educational growing years," Besing said.

But the students are not the only ones that need to be involved, Besing found out. It is just as important to interact with the community, by encouraging them to participate in the learning process, attend meetings and after-school activities at the school buildings, which he calls the foundations of learning.

"I feel that it is important that we continue to involve our community in what we do," he said. "Some of our community members are involved in the Palestine Academic Foundation, which does an excellent job in helping our school district with reaching their goals in furthering academics."

Besing also stressed the need to continue providing security for the schools. He believes that the staff and administrators do a great job in training for the unknown, and taking necessary precautions to minimize threats and dangerous situations. The school board can continue providing better security through grants for better technology.

"It is the utmost importance that we cover all the bases to ensure that our buildings are secure and our staff are prepared through training to make sure our students are safe in their learning environment," Besing said.

Besing said the school staff does an amazing job training for the unknown, being constantly on alert and taking necessary action to mitigate threats.

Besing would like to seek more growth and success for the students and programs.

By that he means promoting the sports programs and making the athletes more appealing to college coaches and scouts to increase scholarship opportunities.

Academically the district needs to continue applying the best curriculum and instructors for the students present and future lives.

"Diversity is the key to prepare our kids for the future and I feel that we need to keep searching for ways (within our means) to provide the resources to our students to accomplish this task," he said.

Besing is also a member of the Palestine Development Association and Norman T. Richards Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 122. He and his wife Kristina have three sons, Gavin Besing and Justin and Brandon Carpenter.

Corie Biggs

Biggs, 51, has served on the board since 2001 and been president since 2006. He has also been involved with the Palestine Academic Foundation, as well as a youth sports coach and church deacon.

His three issues important to his position all directly or indirectly affect student performance. These include declining enrollment, financial stability and teacher shortages.

"For declining enrollment, we need to collaborate and explore means to establish quality housing in our community to attract families with school-aged children," Biggs said. "If this does not prove successful longer term, we need to look at win-win cooperative agreements with neighboring districts for our high school stud ents."

As far as financial stability, Biggs acknowledged that the district is at the mercy of the state for most funding. However they can responsibly control their expenditures and set local tax rates to help meet needs.

"We have lowered the tax rate in our district each of the last four years," Biggs said.

Even though teacher shortages have not resulted in unfilled positions for the district, Biggs said they need to be active in recruiting local candidates who want to teach in their district.

As board president, Biggs feels his perspective helps him make informed decisions about the district's future.

"Due to cuts in state and federal funding, the district was challenged with significant financial difficulties several years ago, and painful cuts were required to balance the budget," Biggs said. "The district has recovered from this situation and is financially stronger than ever."

Biggs has a wife, Sherry, who is a part-time teller at Palestine's First Robinson Savings Bank. They have a son Jace, 25, who is a pharmacist at Milburn Pharmacy, Sullivan, Ind., and a 17-year old daughter Macy, who is a senior at Palestine High School.

Don Wagoner

Wagoner, 60, is seeking his fifth term on the board. He and his wife Michelle have three children: Jessical Sisil, Calvin Wagoner and Lauren Wagoner. He said that his main focus will be on ensuring the school remains a great part of the community.

"I believe in maintaining quality education, and keeping our schools as an integral part of our community, by representing all of our communities as a member of the board," Wagoner said.

Wagoner is also the Montgomery Township supervisor.

Tara Vennard

Vennard is looking to continue with the school board for a third term. She is also treasurer of the Palestine Booster Club. If re-elected Vennard said she will focus her attention on teacher shortages and the school's curriculum.

"We have to focus on keeping the great teachers we have here in the Palestine school district, and finding qualified individuals to take the spot of those retiring in the future," Vennard said.

She further said that the district needs to continue providing the best programs to prepare students for the future.

"We need to provide our students with the best possible programs and opportunities so when they graduate they are career and college ready," Vennard said.

Vennard added that her experience as a board member and being involved in the discussion of issues with the board and administration makes her the most qualified candidate.

"I am vested in this community, having lived here for 16 years," Vennard said. "My husband grew up and graduated here along with four of our children and I would love for the fifth one to as well."

Her and her husband Rob have five children: Tyson, Dawson, Tarryn, Tailar and Kynlee.

Lloyd "JR" Dunlap III

Dunlap, 40, will go into this election as one of two write-in candidates seeking the two years remaining on an unexpired term.

He has been a Village of Palestine trustee since 2008, as well as a Palestine Masonic lodge member. He is also a member of the Palestine AMVETS and volunteers for various community events. If elected, Dunlap said he plans on trying to continue to aid the board in being fiscally responsible.

"We need to spend money when and where needed to make sure our teachers and students can be successful," Dunlap said.

Dunlap would also like to add to the district's curriculum, by way of dual credit, trade and advanced placement classes.

"We need to continue to improve on opportunities for all of our students, regardless of their career plans, whether that be a two or four-year college degree or a trade school," Dunlap said.

He also said he would like to contribute to the outlook of the athletic co-op. The future of the program depends on open communication he said.

"We need to continue working to make sure all districts involved have open lines of communication with one another so that our student athletes have a positive experience," Dunlap said.

Dunlap said that his community driven pride in the village and the school district, as well as his involvement in the community's activities, makes him the best candidate.

"If elected, I look forward to working with the board members and the community to further benefit our students and town," Dunlap said.

Dunlap and his wife Amanda have a daughter, Allison.

Jim Bush

Bush, 77, like Dunlap, will go into this election as a write-in candidate for the two-year term.

Bush graduated from Palestine High School in 1959, and earned a Bachelor's Degree from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, a Master's Degree from Eastern Illinois University and an Educational Specialist's Degree from Western Illinois University.

In 34 years of public education he has been a bus driver, summer custodian, teacher, coach and administrator, retiring from Palestine in 1998. He has also served on the Unit 3 board in the past.

If elected, Bush said he will continue to meet with student teachers and school personnel to help with the teacher shortage. Bush acknowledged that the shortage is statewide, and recruiting a good staff should be a top priority.

"There is a shortage of teachers at this time in the State of Illinois so recruiting and keeping a good teaching staff is a priority to continue that success," Bush said. "I believe that my contact with many school personnel and with student teachers may be an aid to meeting that need."

Bush has been a student teacher coordinator for 19 years at Eastern Illinois University, and still works there on a part-time basis. During that time several of Crawford County's teachers and administrators were his student teachers.

He has served on another school board in the past at Stewardson-Strasburg, as well as been the Strasburg village clerk and a Lions Club member. He later became a Lions Club member in Palestine and Montgomery Township supervisor. Bush said the mission and staff at Palestine are important to the district's success.

"Palestine has a good faculty and the students get a good education and have done well once out of school, whether going directly into the job market or going on to school and then into the job market," Bush said.

Bush was a member of the board when Superintendent Chris Long was first employed. He believes that Long has served the district well and returned it to good fiscal standing. However, he fears that Long's tenure could be coming to an end and it is time to look ahead.

"In talking to Chris, I don't believe he will stay much longer, so employing a new superintendent will be a major task for the new board," Bush said. "The district needs to select a new superintendent carefully and I believe I can be of help when the time comes."

Even though Palestine turned down consolidation with Hutsonville for the second time last year, Bush is aware that the time may come when the district will have to join with another.

"If that happens, the board needs to be certain that the students, citizens, and community are served in the best fashion," Bush said. "So, not only which school district or districts are involved is important, but how that joining is done is important."

Bush added there are a variety of ways to join forces and consolidation takes too much out of the hands of the community's residents.

"If the time comes when Palestine must join, there needs to be some guarantee that an attendance center will remain in Palestine," he said.

Bush said his extensive background in education and work with Eastern Illinois makes him the best candidate, and he welcomes serving the district longer.

Bush is married to Anita, a retired teacher, counselor and administrator. They have two daughters Natalie, who is retired from the University of Illinois, and Laura, who is working with volleyball in Minnesota. They also have a granddaughter Ashley, who works for the federal government in Bloomington, Ind.

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