There will be very little turnover on the Highland School Board after the April 7 election. Only one race developed on the School Board.
The lone contested race will be in Helvetia Township, where incumbent board member Joyce Zerban will be challenged by Robert Miller.
Zerban, 72, is a retired teacher and has been a Highland resident since 1977. She is also a member and grant writer for Highland Garden Club, and a member and past officer of Illinois Federation of Business Women.
She was a member Highland Parks and Recreation Commission from 2008-2014 and has served on Louis Latzer Library Board since 2000. She was first elected to the School Board in 2007. She also volunteers with Meals on Wheels, the HACSM food pantry and St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Zerban is a widow. She and her late husband, Don, had five children, all are now grown. She has nine grandchildren, two who attend school in the district.
Rober Miller, 52, is retired from U.S. Air Force. He is a veteran of the first Gulf War, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
He is a teacher in the Alton School District. He became a Illinois certified teacher through McKendree University’s Graduate School Teacher Certification Program.
He has lived in Highland for 16 Years and is a member of the Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Highland Hockey Club.
He and his wife, Debra, have been married for 30 years. His daughter is a sophomore at Highland High School and his son is a seventh-grader at Highland Middle School.
Incumbent Joe Mott will be running unopposed for the board seat representing Saline Township. Last fall, Mott was appointed to the board after Alyssa Bond resigned after moving to California. He was unavailable for comment, due to a medical issue.
David L. Raymond Jr. of Alhambra will also be running unopposed as a write-in candidate. Raymond will replace Greg Basler, who announced earlier he would not be seeking re-election after serving on the board for the last eight years.
Raymond, 53, is an automotive technology instructor North Technical High School, which is operated by the Special School District of St. Louis County.
He and his wife, Laurie, moved to Alhambra 29 years ago this August. They have four daughters, who all attended Alhambra Elementary and graduated from Highland High School.
Raymond has been involved in education for about 28 years with experience in secondary and post-secondary training programs.
He holds two AAS degrees from Lewis & Clark Community College in both diesel engine technology and automotive technology. He also holds a bachelor of science degree from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in human resource management, with a specialty in curriculum development and course design.
Raymond said many of the district’s problems come from higher levels of government.
“Many of the major issues impacting our district involve the lack of financing all state and federal mandates that have been required of us to provide,” Raymond said.
“As a School Board member I need to find ways to reach out to our local, state And federal government officials to help with school funding.
“My main goal is for our communities to be able to provide the best educational experience for our children that we can provide.”
Last week, Zerban and Miller were sent a list of questions by the News Leader. Their responses follow.
What qualifies you to serve on the School Board?
Zerban: I have 45 years in education as first-grade teacher, reading specialist, substitute teacher, plus eight years experience as School Board member. While teaching, I was a member of HEA (the teachers union), on the negotiating team, chief negotiator and president.
Miller: I’m an open-minded and respectful person of integrity that believes no one person has all the answers. I proactively solicit feedback and input from all stakeholders before making common-sense decisions in an open forum. When it comes to financial oversight, I have a master’s degree in business administration and effectively managed multimillion dollar programs during my 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force.
What do you believe are the major issues currently impacting the district?
Zerban: Multiple and severe cuts in state funding.
Miller: While finance and budgeting shortfalls are a problem, I believe the adoption and implementation of the Common Core curriculum is a bigger problem. The board needs to reassess the direction our current curriculum is headed. We also need to turn out students that are career- and job-ready upon graduation, not just college-ready.
With state funding continuing to be of utmost concern, what programs do you believe the district should not cut and why?
Zerban: We (the current board) are trying very hard to preserve our high educational standards. Our students are our first priority. We are extremely concerned with the impact on our students’ educational opportunities, as well as the impact and added burdens it has put on our educational staff.
Miller: I don’t believe there should be any “sacred cows” that should be exempt from budget cuts, nor do I believe that entire programs — band, choir, athletics, Center Schools — should be cut. There is more to a well-rounded education than just math and science. Athletics, band, chorus and extracurricular activities are just as important to a student’s overall development. I believe those who focus solely on test scores as a measure of student development are misguided. Nothing can replace common sense.
No one program should be disproportionally targeted for budget cuts. Everyone should “share the pain” equally. If future revenues decrease then all areas of the budget — Educational, Operations & Maintenance, Capital Project, Transportation, Tort, etc. — should see an equal percentage in funding reductions.
Are there are any areas too fat in the existing budget?
Zerban: Absolutely not. The current board has closely, repeatedly and exhaustively examined all possibilities and scenarios while weighing the impact on students.
Miller: Since I haven’t been on the board and involved with the inside details of where exactly the money is being spent, I could only speculate. I believe that making such a judgment without full knowledge as to the extent of the problem would be irresponsible. Given the amount of fees parents have to pay at registration every year, I would hope there is no “fat” in the existing budget. I’ve looked at the financial documents publicly available, and they give little insight as to where all the money is specifically going.
Are there any alternatives the district might want to consider if the state continues to prorate general state aid?
Zerban: This is unthinkable! We are so grateful to the public and the teachers who helped campaign for passage for the 2011 authorization of $5 million in working cash bonds. This has been a tremendous help in offsetting annual deficit. If only the state would fully fund its obligations to pubic education. With our new governor, is there hope?
Miller: I believe the district needs to live within its means. Bonds should only be used as a last-resort, stop-gap measure for short-term cash-flow issues. Financing future debt on the backs of the students being taught now is not a way to finance continuing operational cost.
What are your top three priorities if you are elected?
Zerban: Students, staff and future educational needs.
Miller: One, providing transparency, accountability, and openness on board actions, especially regarding finances. Two, establishing an environment of mutual trust and respect, with open dialog and feedback between all stakeholders. Three, ensuring the “Center Schools” remain a valuable part of our school system.
Do you have any additional comments or concerns?
Zerban: I firmly believe that we have an outstanding school system. This I’d due to our fantastic staff. These conscientious dedicated ladies and gentlemen have been severely affected in the past few years since the state has failed to meet funding obligations, subsequently forcing cuts that have added multiple burdens to their already demanding schedules. The fact that they continue to carry on is a testament to their commitment to their students and to quality education. We so appreciate and admire that commitment. An ideal world would be when we could compensate them accordingly.
I also firmly believe in our superintendent, Mike Sutton. It is due to Mike’s foresight and expertise in school finance that we have recently been upgraded in the state financial status. Is it not ironic that we would not be in financial difficulty if the state would fully fund their obligation? Mike’s first thought in every financial decision is how it will affect each and every student as well as our educational staff.