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Elgin Community College board candidates focus on finances

Uncertainties surrounding state education funding loomed over the forum for candidates seeking election next month to the Elgin Community College Board of Trustees.

The forum, held by League of Women Voters of the Elgin Area, featured a number of questions from the audience.

Running for open seats were Shane Nowak, Candace McCreary, Jennifer Rakow, Roger Ramey and incumbent John Duffy.

Rakow gave credit to the college for looking for cost-savings without compromising student success.

“I know they’re continually reviewing and analyzing programs for inefficiencies and seeing where they can eliminate costs,” she said. “I know they’re looking for alternative ways to save kids time and money. One of the best examples I can think of is the dual-credit program. It’s a very expensive program where high school students can actually receive their college diploma at the same time that they graduate from high school.”

McCreary said she would like to see the college implement stronger fiscal controls “because of the fact for the last two years, the audit has shown by Sikich that there have been significant deficiencies especially in reporting of federal programs and that can, in itself, threaten federal programming,” she said. “Sikich feels that a significant deficiency merits attention to those in charge with governance and that comes to the board, and for that reason, we need stronger development within the school.”

Duffy disputed McCreary’s concern.

“We have the cleanest audit by Sikich any college can have,” he said. “We have 24 out of 24 pluses—nothing can be better. Now, when it comes to finances, we have cut expenditures, we have cut programs, we have cut staff. The fat is long gone. We’re deep cutting into the muscle, but every cut we make will always be a cut that is the least disruptive to our students and the programs that they need to get the degrees they seek.”

Candidates also were asked about preparations for high school graduates to succeed in college.

Ramey said he sees “getting students who are ready to attend college there and to partner with our schools in the district to make that students are ready to attend college when they come to ECC.”

McCreary, too, shared that sentiment.

“I know that 67 percent of the students of the kids in this country are not prepared for college,” she said. “We not only need to prepare them for college work while in college, but we also have to prepare them for life itself.”

None of the candidates were prepared to support a free-tuition model if such a proposal were to come before the board.

When asked how the board would work to benefit both the college and taxpayers, the candidates had similar views.

“These decisions have to made on a whole basis,” Nowak said. “ECC does not exist in a vacuum, OK? So, [what] they must also realize is that what every other voting taxing body is actually doing. Are the cities voting for tax increases, as well? You can’t just look at it from just [an] ECC standpoint. You have to look at the whole community.”

Rakow said it can be difficult to maintain that balance, but she recognizes the concern.

“It’s very difficult to separate the taxpayers and the students,” she said. “The success of the students is what drives the community. I strongly believe that it is in the community’s best interests to support the students as they are the future of our community.”