Champaign County voters see ‘unprecedented’ crowded school board ballot

Champaign County voters will see an unusually crowded ballot in November for school board candidates, including the mother of the West Liberty-Salem school shooting victim running as a write-in candidate.

A total of 24 candidates are vying for 10 school boards seats in the three Champaign County districts with competitive races, including 11 running for Urbana City Schools.

Julie Cole, the mother of Logan Cole, is one of six people running for three spots on the district’s school board for the Nov. 7 election. On the ballot are incumbent Chuck Buck and newcomers David S. Cline, Tim Lamb, Dixie Kopus and Trey Richardson.

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Current board members Steve Lapp and Kent Eichenauer aren’t listed as running on the Champaign County Board of Elections notice.

West Liberty-Salem is one of three districts with several candidates running for a limited amount of seats. School board members play a major role in the finances of the district, deciding how taxpayer money is spent, as well as major policy decisions that affect all students and staff members.

Madison-Champaign County ESC Director Dan Kaffenberger said he believes Champaign County residents are running because they want to give back to their community.

“In the grand scheme or education, it is not common for there to be a lot of candidates,” Kaffenberger said. “I’ve seen some races with three or four running but what is happening in Champaign County is kind of unprecedented.”

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Being a school board member can be a thankless role, Kaffenberger said, which requires making hard decisions for little pay.

“It’s not an easy job,” he said.

A competitive race is shaping up for the Urbana school board. Nine people are vying for the seats this November. Incumbents Tim Lacy and Alyssa Dunham are running for their seats while John Bread isn’t. Darrell Thomas, James B. Arter, John M. Birkhimer, Nicole (Nikki) Blair, Elizabeth DeWitt, Jeffery Michael Hepp and Amy Shaloo Paul also are candidates for those seats.

Also on the ballot is an unexpired term in the district that came open when longtime board member and community volunteer Warren Stevens was killed in a car crash in September 2016. Stevens was an Urbana High School alumni and well known in the county.

After his death, the school board picked Darrell Thomas to fill Stevens’ spot. Thomas has served on the board since then but didn’t file to be elected to that position, but rather for one of the other three seats. Instead Sarah Finch and Laura Reed will face off for Stevens’ seat.

READ: Clark, Champaign counties school report cards out today

Urbana is in the process of finishing up construction on a new high school behind the current one and is in the middle of building a new elementary school on U.S. 68. The new school board members will likely make decisions on how to use the buildings and have an impact on the district’s future.

Also on the ballot for Urbana is a 9.75-mill renewal levy for the school district. The renewal wouldn’t increase taxes as it’s already on the rolls.

Seven candidates are running for three open spots on the Mechanicsburg Exempted School District Board of Education. Scott Delong and Brian Forrester are running to keep their seats while Daniel Gaver isn’t. Challenging them are Todd Boecek, Sarah Bradford, Mack Delong, Tammy Huemmer and Mary Reiser.

Also on the ballot is a 1 percent income tax from the Graham Local School District.

The district will ask residents to approve a 1 percent earned income tax increase for five years in the district. If approved, it would generate about $1.9 million a year, which will be added to the school’s current annual budget of $18 million.

It would cost someone making $30,000 annually about $300 a year.

By the numbers

11: Candidates running for the Urbana City School Board of Education.

7: Candidates running for the Mechanicsburg Exempted Village School District Board of Education.

6: Candidates running for the West-Liberty Salem Local Schools Board of Education.

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