Issues & Answers: A Candidate Survey 2019
What is the importance of the Parkland College Board of Trustees to residents of Champaign County?
After completing their studies, nearly 90% of Parkland students live and work within the twelve counties that comprise District #505. Many become lifelong residents of Champaign County. Parkland's very existence is crucial as it plays a vital role in training much of the workforce in the area, particularly in Champaign County. The current and future success of Parkland requires sound fiscal management and the ability to respond to the ever-changing needs of the community workforce. Members of Parkland's board must be knowledgeable of the issues involved in managing a community college and dedicated to its mission of "engaging the community in learning." Trustees must also be ready, willing and able to make difficult decisions so that Parkland continues to be accessible and affordable for all students which in turn provides the greatest benefit to the employers and residents of Champaign County and the surrounding area.
Why are you qualified to be on the Parkland Board of Trustees?
It has been an honor serving on the Parkland Board of Trustees since 2015. Since that time, I have learned a great deal about what it takes to run a first class community college like Parkland. Parkland is regarded as one of the best community colleges in the country. The trustees who have served Parkland over the years have played a meaningful role in that success. Shortly after joining the board, my fellow trustees and I were called upon to make very difficult decisions when state funding reached its lowest levels. The significant reduction in state funding resulted in financial pressures never before experienced by the college. We worked in tandem with President Ramage and his administrative team to develop a strategic financial plan that allowed the college to continue to function at full capacity despite reduced support from the state.
If elected, what is something you want to accomplish on the Board of Trustees, and how long will it take?
Parkland offers its students a wide array of career and technical programs and I want to help increase the number of students enrolled in these areas. Parkland has quite a few programs that are not offered by other community colleges including: Precision Ag, Case New Holland, Ford Asset, Dental Hygiene, Vet Tech and Aviation. It is important to make sure students understand that employers are anxious to hire qualified individuals in these areas and rewarding careers are literally waiting for them. Finding ways to enhance our communication regarding these programs is at the top of my "to do" list. Although the dental hygiene program is typically at capacity, my goal is to see increased enrollment in the rest of the career and technical programs each year moving forward.
Is there anything else you would like to say to an undecided voter?
I believe in Parkland College. My collegiate journey began there after graduating from St. Joseph-Ogden High School. Like many Parkland students, my family's financial constraints required me to put myself through school. I often worked up to three jobs at a time to pay for my undergraduate studies. Although I went on to earn my bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois and my law degree from Southern Illinois University, I am most thankful for the excellent education Parkland provided at a price tag I could afford. Those first two years formed the foundation upon which the rest of my education was built. I believe all students should have the same opportunities that were available to me -- particularly when facing personal financial challenges. I want to continue to be part of the solution to that problem and serving as a Parkland Trustee allows me to do just that.
Issues & Answers: A Candidate Survey 2017
Do you agree with the parkland administration that the college needs to reduce its reliance on state funding? why?
Yes. The State of Illinois is heading into its second full year without a budget and the impact of this financial stalemate will be felt for years to come. We are now hearing from our elected officials that it is very possible that there will be no state budget until after the next Governor’s race is over. Parkland, along with many other community colleges and universities in our state, is in the midst of a financial challenge like we have never seen before. Although we will always need and will accept funding from the State of Illinois through the formula used to determine our share of available higher education dollars, our goal at Parkland is to minimize our reliance on state funding for our general operations.
We want to be able to cover the everyday costs of running the college (i.e.: utilities, supplies, faculty and staff salaries, etc.) through our other revenue sources rather than relying on state funding. Having the ability to pay for these line items from revenue generated by property taxes and tuition and fees provides stability and predictability to the overall budget and offers the greatest protection to our faculty, staff and students. Parkland will always have to prioritize how to spend state money when it becomes available but if we can cover our general operating budget without it, we can turn to those state dollars when we need to cover the cost of items that do not require immediate attention (i.e.: computer replacements, deferred maintenance, etc.).
IS it time for parkland to ask voters for a property tax increase to make up for the loss of state funds?
No. Parkland is doing everything within its power to mitigate the need for a referendum as long as possible despite the unprecedented lack of state funding caused by the budget impasse in Springfield. We have diligently explored various options in our attempts to create a balanced budget in this time of financial uncertainty and although none of our decisions have been easy, I believe we have been thoughtful and responsible in making them and our strategy of being proactive rather than reactive is paying off in our ability to preserve a wide variety of affordable programs and course offerings for our students.
That being said, we still have a lot of work to do and difficult decisions lie ahead of us. However, I do not feel a tax referendum is warranted until we have exhausted all other possible options and truly feel we have nowhere else to turn. Nearly 90% of our students continue to live and work within our district after they complete their education and if we ever reach that point, I hope the residents of District #505 will recognize that an investment in Parkland College is an investment that benefits everyone living in our area.
should parkland continue to ask students to pay more through tuition?
The Parkland Board of Trustees recently approved a modest tuition increase during the February Board meeting. There is not one member of our Board who feels good about raising tuition. But, given the hand we have been dealt, we must balance the need to preserve the excellence of our programs against the cost of doing so. The community college system was originally created with a funding plan that would cover the costs of educational programs through state funding, tuition and fees and property taxes. Each of these funding sources was intended to cover one-third of the total cost.
We are now at a point where state funding is nowhere near the 33% mark. In fact, at this time it covers a mere 5% of our operating budget. This means the combination of tuition and fees and property tax revenue must cover the balance. At this point, it seems to make the most sense to apply an increase to tuition and fees as our students benefit most directly from the services provided by the college. However, Parkland must remain an accessible and affordable option and will likely reach a point where a larger percentage of our revenue must be generated from other sources to alleviate the financial pressures felt by our students.
should parkland downsize, cutting its budget further through more reductions in staff and eliminating athletics?
Parkland has already taken many proactive steps to help alleviate the pressures brought on by the ongoing budget impasse in a way that minimizes the effects on our student population. The effects of the lack of state funding is a fluid issue that is constantly monitored by the college administration and the Board of Trustees. Parkland is still in a “reduction mode,” mainly through retirements and resignations and approximately 60 FTE positions remain unfilled at this time. Although certain positions will need to be filled moving forward, Parkland must continue its efforts to minimize expenditures in areas that hurt our students the least. Parkland should also make strategic investments in programs with growth opportunities that have the potential to increase enrollment and corresponding revenue.
All of these things must be done in conjunction with an ongoing college-wide assessment and cost/benefit analysis of all of our programs. However, we must be mindful of the fact that every single program has a cost and each program is valued differently by the students enrolled within it and by its effect on the Parkland community as a whole. Although we need to continue to find ways to be as fiscally conservative as possible, we must do so in a responsible manner and eliminating our athletic program is not the answer.
do you have any other suggestions for ways parkland can cut costs?
As a current member of the board, I know we are already working hard to continue our efforts to cut costs. Although there would be many options for simply cutting costs from the budget in its entirety, we should not do so in a way that would jeopardize the stellar reputation of the college and alienate our students. Instead, I would prefer that Parkland focus less on cutting costs at this point and instead, continue to focus its efforts on finding creative ways to increase enrollment. An increase in enrollment means a corresponding increase in revenue which, in my opinion, should be fully explored before making any drastic cuts in programming or personnel.