What you need to know about the April 2019 election
Name: Steve Campo
Occupation: Auto Spa Owner/Operator, SWIC Men’s Basketball Assistant Head Coach (23 years)
Position Seeking: Southwestern Illinois College Trustee, Sub-District 3
Campaign website: Facebook: Vote Steve Campo SWIC Trustee
Why are you running and why should people vote for you? In addition to 20-plus years of financial-management experience for a multi-million business (Auto Spa), I have been actively involved with Southwestern Illinois College for the past 23 years as Men’s Basketball Assistant Head Coach. My countless visits to other community colleges confirm SWIC is among the best campuses in the nation. But we can do better, particularly when it comes to tax-based financial management and addressing self-inflicted enrollment declines. It’s time for a change at the top.
What are the most important issues the facing the community college, and how would you approach them? There are three main issues. First, the Southwestern Illinois College Board of Trustees has raised property taxes for 25 straight years, from $3.1 million in 1993 to $16.2 million in 2017 … an increase of 420 percent. Second, as a result, the college has amassed a fund-balance treasure chest of more than $19 million, funds which should be utilized before any further taxation. Third, the current board is directly responsible for lost enrollment, voting for unreasonable cuts to programs and services for veterans, and students with kids who relied on convenient, on-campus childcare to advance their education. Certainly, some of the treasure chest funds might have helped address these and other customer-service issues, rather than make them worse.
Under what circumstances would you vote to raise property taxes or fees for the college? Following an uninterrupted, quarter-century of property-tax hikes, we need to back away from that trough for at least a year, if not longer. Incumbent SWIC trustees have annually justified their tax hikes as “keeping up with the statewide community college average” and “necessary to offset the decline in state-funding.” My take is the SWIC board needs to clearly direct the administration to begin within when it comes to fiscal management, and well before another tax hike. Ditto for examining why the college has an over-flowing, fund-balance treasure chest. As for fees, SWIC charges a nominal $5 per credit hour fee for IT services needed by all, plus at-cost, course-specific fees to cover any necessary supplies (like culinary arts). This is far better than the university-norm of assessing thousands of fee dollars per semester for access to all college activities and facilities, even those a student may not use. I would strongly oppose any move to shift to the money-grabbing, university-fees structure
What are your goals for the community college/what do you want to accomplish? Twenty-five straight years of property-tax hikes are a function of enrollment and tuition-income declines, caused in large part by the current SWIC Board of Trustees, which has forgotten that customer service is the golden ticket to selling anything, including education. While SWIC faculty has been and remains strong, they cannot teach students who do not pick SWIC. Why are prospective students taking other college options? SWIC actually makes it difficult for students to enroll in a technology-age where all consumers demand convenience, both online and in person. A second obstruction is unreasonably high-score standards for proficiency tests in Math and English, both well-above the norm. Similarly, SWIC makes it difficult for students-in-good-standing from other colleges and universities to take summer courses “at home.” Many end up elsewhere. Finally, the current board also voted to move Veterans Services from a state-funded, multi-million-dollar facility in the center of campus to a back hallway office; and the board completely eliminated “Kids’ Club” for students with children who relied on convenient, on-campus childcare to advance their education. We need to build bridges, not walls, to boost enrollment.
Enrollment has been dropping at community colleges around the state. How should schools try to reverse that trend? Besides emphasizing customer service and convenience at every level of student engagement, every community college needs to keep tuition affordable for the students we primarily serve. As with property taxes, the administration needs to begin within when it comes to fiscal management, and well before another tuition hike. SWIC can also do a much better job of forming community and business partnerships that could significantly ease the property-tax and tuition burdens while helping to bridge the financial gap caused by reduced state funding, which is not going to magically reappear in the near term.