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Six candidates, two races for Du Quoin Board of Education

John H. Croessman
Posted on 4/1/2015, 9:00 AM

There are six candidates, but essentially two races in the Du Quoin Board of Education election next week.

Newcomer Doug Bishop--the longtime Perry County highway engineer and retired City of Du Quoin public works director-- is trying to unseat one of three incumbent members of the school board--John "Sam" Vancil, Paul "Tiny" Brock or Larry Valier.

Newcomer Karen Williams, nursing director at Marshall Browning Hospital is challenging four-year incumbent Zach McPherson for an in-town seat.

The seats of board president Mike Ward, Dennis Cole and Luke Davison are not up for election, but should Ward win his race for Du Quoin city commissioner and accept that seat he would have to resign from the board of education.

Any voter in District 300 can vote for their favorite candidates for all four seats even though the representation is for one seat "in town" and three seats "out-of-town." (See related story).

In going against incumbents Vancil, Brock and Valier, candidate Bishop is challenging the longest tenured school board member in the State of Illinois in Sam Vancil, age 83. His service to the board dates back to the District 300 consolidation in 1968 and before that the Sunfield Board of Education. Vancil is the perennial secretary of the board.

Paul Brock, 73, has served three terms (12 years) on the board of education. Larry Valier, 54, has served (four terms) 16 years on the board, many of those years as board president.

Four Candidates for Three Seats in Out-of-Town Race

Doug Bishop

Bishop, 61, says "I don"t have an agenda except to look out for the needs of our taxpayers. My interest goes way back. My dad was on a school board. When I worked for the county I saw a lot of people come to the county board meetings complaining about their taxes. About two two-thirds of our tax bill goes to District 300 and John A. Logan College."

"For people to get a handle on their taxes you can"t leave a big piece of the pie (District 300) untouched," he said. "Board members need to vote their convictions. I don"t owe anybody. I can speak my mind as my conscience tells me without worrying about any consequences. It"s going to be easier for someone new to make the hard vote.

"It"s getting harder and harder to ask taxpayers to continue to raise revenues," he said.

Bishop said, "The last place we need to make cuts is the teachers. The teachers are where the rubber meets the road in education," he said.

"As far as the sales tax issue, I have mixed emotions. The sales tax is a fairer tax than the property tax, but it has the potential to hurt local businesses and that is not what I want," he said.

John "Sam" Vancil

Vancil, 83, is highly respected because of his longevity in education. His service to the District 300 Board of Education dates back to the 1968 vote to take a handful of local schools and place them into one combined district. Before that, he served on the Sunfield school board. When Du Quoin"s unit district was approved by voters Supt. Ray Todd was the district administrator. "I remember the first time I ran and campaigned at Tennison"s gas station on the highway," he said.

"We have the new Du Quoin High School and athletic fields and our facilities are top notch," he said.

Vancil supports the work of superintendent Dr. Gary Kelly at every turn. "He is one of the best we have ever had," he said. "I think a lot of Gary."

"We can only spend what we have," Vancil says. "They laid off, what was it, 20 teachers over in Benton. So far we have been able to hold our own. Some of the credit goes to Dr. Kelly."

Paul "Tiny" Brock

Paul Brock, 73, spent much of a career in mining and has served on the board of education for three terms (12 years).

He has a deep fiscal conscience, is independent and tends to vote with board president Mike Ward on key issues like contracts, financial matters and, like Ward, wanted Pat Ferrari to fill the late Beaver Rice"s seat on the board.

"I am only one vote out of seven. We have to use our finances in the best manner. There should be seven people all voicing their opinion on this board," he said. "I want to get the best education with the resources we have," he said.

"We have to keep our head above water," he said. "Overall, we have done a fairly good job," he said. "We"ll have to continue to work together," he said.

Larry Valier

Larry Valier, 54, is past president of the board of education and has been a member for 16 years, taking over the seat of board member Bill Daulby after he and wife Cathy retired and left the area.

"Education of the kids is Job 1," he said and is very proud of his work on the board. "Our administrators and principals are some of the best we have ever had," he said. "I am very glad to see that we have been able to keep our teachers," he said.

He points to this board being able to keep funding in place for both academic and extracurricular functions of the district in place. "We have done our best to keep it from being "pay to play." By that he means the district hasn"t had to invoke activity fees on athletes and students who want to participate in sports, clubs and organizations.

"We have kept things like the scholar bowl team, the Magnavox, drama and band programs," he said.

"The taxpayers" money has been well-spent. We have taken a pro-active approach (stopping problems before they become problems)," he said.

"We are financially sound. We have hired great leadership and teachers. We have kept all programs and teachers."

"I take my job VERY seriously," he said.

Two Candidates for One Seats in the In-Town Race

Zach McPherson

"The big reason I want to continue is to make decisions for the kids," says Zach McPherson, 29, who is completing his first full term on the board. He took the seat once held by Randy DeMent.

"I vote the way I think is best and go the other way when I need to," he said of his independence. "We do the best we can." McPherson is worried about maintaining the quality of education in Du Quoin. "My son"s kindergarten class has 24 in it. Some classes will have 30 and no aides," he says.

"He is very proud of the 21st Century program (now called the Arrow Academy)," he said. "It is getting harder to help the kids who need extra help and this program does that. It is help for parents who need to have their kids in a safes pot after school," he said. That program is funded for at least two more years. "I want to exhaust every avenue," he said. Money is tight. "We are getting only 35 percent of our transportation money," he said. "Our staff and aides are important," he said, fully supporting employees of the district. "We are looking into every way to pay for programs. Extracurriculars have started paying for themselves."

He believes Dr. Gary Kelly has been an effective administrator for Du Quoin. "He is making it easy for the next person," he said of Kelly"s retirement in the coming years. "We don"t agree on everything, but he has the people"s interest at heart," he said.

Zach and his wife of six years, Bethany, have two children ages 5 and 3.

He is employed by the family-owned McPherson Automotive, which is planning an expansion later this summer.

Karen Williams

Karen Williams is the nursing director at Marshall Browning Hospital and is seeking election to a board that currently has no women members. "I have been encouraged to run for the school board in several of the past elections. However, the timing was never right for me. The first time I was approached I was pursuing my Bachelors Degree in nursing and was very busy raising my two school aged sons as a single parent in addition to managing our local emergency department at Marshall Browning Hospital. The second time I was approached I was preparing for assuming the role of nursing director and felt my time and attention should be focused on that," she said.

"I have been a lifelong resident of Du Quoin. I graduated Du Quoin High School in 1990. I have two children, Dalton Morgan, age 24, and Brandon Williams who turns 21 in less than a week. My boys graduated Du Quoin High School in 2009 and 2012 respectively. Dalton has since graduated from Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a Bachelors Degree in Exercise Science. Brandon is a senior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale majoring in Biological Science. Both of them played football at the collegiate level. I am engaged to Jim Kowzan who is also a graduate of Du Quoin High School Class of 1991," she said.

Williams attended John A. Logan College and earned an associate degree in nursing while working at Fairview Nursing Center and Five Star Industries. She has been employed by Marshall Browning for the past 22 years and in 2009 graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor"s Degree in nursing from SIU-E. She still hopes to obtain a dual masters degree in nursing and business management," she said.

She has volunteered for the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Perry County 8th Grade Teen Conference, Family Night In the Park and most recently the Du Quoin High School All Girls Sports Banquet planning committee. "I feel it is important to be involved in the community in which we live. "During this past winter I worked with Denise Woodsides, a Du Quoin High School teacher, to improve the real life work experiences of students coming to the hospital that are enrolled in the Health Occupations and Introduction to Careers classes." she said.

At the hospital, "I am actively involved in our Emergency Preparedness Committee which is really the driving force as to why I am running for school board. Too many times our committee has asked "What is the school going to do?" and "What are the nursing homes going to do?". It is not a matter of IF a disaster is going to occur but WHEN is it going to occur. My platform is not necessarily emergency preparedness but I do have a lot to offer in that arena but more about collaboration among organizations," she said.

"I do not have to tell you what kind of financial shape our government is in. Illinois is broke! Federal and state regulating bodies for such institutions are notorious for unfunded mandates. In years past the answer has always been to raise taxes and acquire grant monies to accomplish such tasks. Budgets are tight everywhere from personal homes to businesses and organizations within Du Quoin. We cannot keep sustaining ourselves independently. Organizations must work together to accomplish goals and that is why I am running for school board. I intend to use the knowledge that I have learned at the hospital with the school and vice versa what I learn by serving on the school board I hope to take back to the hospital. Our community deserves this," she said. "My experience includes oversight and development of policies and procedures along with enforcement of those policies and procedures. I am a firm believer in accountability. I look at things objectively and feel a proactive approach is always better than a reactive approach. I also have experience in grant writing, budgets, and dealing with personnel issues," she said.

"If I am voted in to serve on the school board I realize I will not make everyone happy with my decisions but I can assure you I will do my best to make the most and best informed decisions that I possibly can for each and every student and teacher."