Q&A: JWCC Board of Trustees candidates

The four candidates for three seats on the John Wood Community College Board of Trustees, clockwise from top left: Diane Ary, Larry Fischer, Bob Rhea and Orville Jones, Jr.
Posted: Mar. 18, 2017 12:01 am Updated: Mar. 18, 2017 10:43 pm

Why are you seeking a term on the JWCC Board?

Diane Ary: Our community is very fortunate to have this fantastic educational facility in our own backyard, and I am very interested in becoming involved in the future development and growth of John Wood Community College. Since its establishment, John Wood Community College has continued to grow by focusing on the needs of the community and region. I want to see these efforts continue and be emphasized as the college strategically plans for the future. Quality, sustainability and growth should be the key focus areas for John Wood Community College as they strategically plan for the future. I am genuinely interested in becoming part of John Wood Community College, because I strongly believe it is an investment in our community's future and success.

Larry Fischer: I am a big believer in education being the greatest "self-help" program available for all citizens and personally know the full benefits of self-development via education. I believe my 40 years of service to secondary and post-secondary education allows me to understand various facets of most issues facing education. I am a strong proponent of every citizen having access to the best education possible at the most affordable price -- for both the student and taxpayer.

Orville Jones, Jr.: To add a strong tenor to the chorus of talented leaders of the college, to lift the voice of those for whom higher education has seemed out of reach and to creatively help the college reach atypical students.

Bob Rhea: John Wood Community College is absolutely a vital community asset with a proven record of success. Teaching and learning are important first for student achievement, then for economic growth, leading to positive results for our region. The college has sound leadership, management and staff members, which position the institution for continued outstanding performance. I believe in the attributes of education as a key driver for personal fulfillment. Good ideas emerge from preparation and input of many. My interest in joining the trustees is to participate in the college's path to meeting and exceeding the challenges of providing a rewarding student experience.

What qualities do you have that make you a good board member?

Ary: (I have) past board involvement and experience (plus):

Strong business and industry background and experience.

Experience and involvement in strategic planning activities (setting future visions and strategies that align people, systems and processes to achieve long-term objectives.)

Honesty, integrity, loyalty. I am committed to upholding the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior in everything that I say and do. I am committed to being the best that I can be, while working with others to make a positive difference in whatever duty or responsibility I undertake.

Leadership. I have always participated in community and volunteer activities throughout my life and career. In the past, I have served in many volunteer and community activities, both as a member (and) leader.

Team player. I am committed to a team-oriented approach that focuses on shared values, mutual trust among members and inspiring vision in others. I believe that by trusting and empowering others, and also demonstrating the same, are the character traits that allow me to earn the respect to be able to influence and empower others in team environments. Likewise, I have respect for the diversity of other team members and their opinions and ideas.

Initiative and learning agility. I am always eager to take on new challenges and opportunities and I believe I have the ability to learn quickly from experiences, and apply these learning experiences to new situations and challenges.

Problem solving and decision making. I try to apply creative solutions to address problems, and always view problems as a challenge and opportunity to improve. I try to keep an open mind and take an 'out-of-the-box' approach to find the best ways to solve the problem, and make decisions.

Fischer: I attempt to be very understanding and supportive of all citizens working toward their full potential and I have extensive experience serving on many boards over the past 50 years. I have addressed issues related to organizational budgets, mission, personnel and strategic planning in meeting the goals of each organization via a planned and methodical process.

Jones: I am an advocate of education, have a strong love for the community college and its unique role, have 31 years of pastoral and community leadership in the Quincy area, and experience dealing with board responsibilities.

Rhea: I have lifelong experiences in the John Wood district from a young student through my business career. It's been a unique place to watch the college blossom. Business and teaching activities have provided ongoing opportunities to learn from others while developing an appreciation for characteristics that make organizations succeed. I'm hoping my business background, willingness to spend time in preparation, and hearing views from perspectives will enable me to complete the tasks assigned to trustees in a productive and professional manner.

What are the biggest challenges facing JWCC the next six years?

Ary: Decreased revenue from our traditional three main sources of revenue: Decreased state funding or, perhaps, no state funding at all; Gov. Rauner's freeze and limitations on property taxes; flat tuition revenue growth (through) potential decline in enrollment and credit hours due to decreased high school populations. In addition, having low unemployment rates ... is a good thing for our area, but it can negatively impact our enrollment.

Fischer: Managing budgets in very tough times toward maximizing the best quality education possible for students at an affordable price. Also, one of the biggest challenges for any organization is to employ the best prepared and most dedicated staff members who understand the necessity of pursuing excellence in all they do for the benefits of students, taxpayers, staff and all citizens.

Jones: Financial and fiscal deficits created by our state budgetary issues, finding creative ways to assist nontraditional students to receive degrees, certificates and employment skills, lower enrollment of traditional students and lifting the transferability of earned credits for those continuing to four-year institutions, changing testing standards and admission requirements for nontraditional students and engaging and enrolling young people for whom the idea of post-secondary education is unattainable or unreachable.

Rhea: Matching the needs of students, staff and community. Everyone has resources to offer and limits to money and time are real. Creating best practices that will make John Wood the education choice for students. Planning for flexibility to meet emerging needs of the community while remaining cognizant of the college core mission and purpose.

What are the biggest opportunities for the JWCC district the next six years?

Ary: Our biggest opportunities will be operating within our means, while continuing to focus on growth of our JWCC district. We need to be creative and innovative in discovering other supplemental revenue sources. We need to continue our budget planning process to ensure we are operating efficiently and effectively. We need to ensure that we are offering programs that best meet the needs of our community, while also remaining profitable to our college.

Fischer: Providing additional community education opportunities for our citizens will also need to be emphasized as the ever-changing economic and social landscape will require a renewed commitment by all citizens to stay abreast of major changes occurring in our society. The college is committed to be a partner in efforts which promote continuing personal and business success in all areas of our nine-county community college district.

Jones: Assisting to expand dual credit course offerings for high school students and making it easier and more attractive for secondary teachers to become qualified as dual credit instructors.

Rhea: As limited resources continue, institutions that have sound finances, excellent leadership and a strong community connection will shine in opportunities and achievements for students. Increasing the college's market share for student enrollment can be accomplished. New and creative partnerships with industry in western Illinois can be established. Collaboration with four-year universities in new endeavors will enhance the student experience.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has called for a property tax freeze in Illinois. Do you agree with that proposal and how, in your view, would it impact the JWCC district if enacted?

Ary: Gov. Rauner's proposed freeze on property taxes brings mixed feelings. I completely understand the reasoning for the property tax freeze in Illinois, due to the fact that our property tax growth has far exceeded the growth of our population, inflation and state economy growth. However, this freeze will make it extremely difficult for John Wood Community College as we rely on this funding source. If the governor plans to move forward in this direction, then he needs to put community colleges at the top of his list for other state support. So far, this has not happened. Unlike other businesses, John Wood Community College doesn't have the same ability to create other income to fill these funding voids. We may have no other options but to increase our tuition rates.

Fischer: Property taxes are considered already "high" by most taxpaying citizens and represent an extremely sensitive subject in all board rooms facing fiscal challenges. Even though my "over seven decades" of life has taught me to be extremely careful in saying the word "never," the simple fact is that additional property taxes are not anywhere on my radar screen for operating a successful community college like JWCC. We must continue to find additional refinements of operation and outside funding sources to offer the most needed and successful educational programs at the college. This necessitates the college "building new bridges" with other sources of funding and non-financial support in the most coordinated and successful method possible.

Jones: Property tax freezes are perhaps best described as a "double-edged sword." From the perspective of property owners, farmers and small-business owners, it is a blessing that at least no increase is coming. Another aspect of this sharp double-edged sword is the stability of property tax income and its ramifications. This can be very attractive for prospective businesses seeking to locate in Illinois. But for those individuals and agencies, schools, particularly K-12 and community colleges who depend on such at varying levels, it does not lower their support, but limits current levels, unless alternative funding sources from the state or other areas becomes available. K-12, depending upon the district and their respective tax base, relies upon tax funds for 65 percent or more for their budgetary requirements. Community colleges at one time enjoyed approximately one-third from property taxes, one-third from state funds and one-third from tuition. For JWCC, that formula, as I understand it, has evolved a bit. But again, it underscores the importance of finding alternative funding sources to be able to maintain staff, course offerings and more.

Rhea: As with many legislative proposals, we must understand what other issues are impacted by one change. The property tax freeze could impact valuations, rates or exemptions. If that is coupled with an income tax rate increase, then two significant budget items for families paying taxes and the institutions receiving the proceeds require adjustment. Families and institutions will incur varying impacts. I'd need to learn more about the dollar impacts of this and other related proposals to better identify the impact on the JWCC district.

What pressing issues face the JWCC district, and what needs to be done about them?

Ary: We need our community to be engaged. Our community businesses and citizens play an even increasing role in the success of our community, including John Wood Community College. We need to continue forming partnerships and advisory councils to discuss concerns and opportunities and plan for future growth and success. Working together improves communication and understanding, and increases trust in our community leaders and organizations.

Fischer: A continuing focus on economic development has to be a priority in all areas of our community college district. With the unique characteristics contained in the nine-county area which comprise the JWCC district, we have to emphasize the comparative advantages we have in this region for business development and thus employment, which will enhance the quality of life for all citizens.

Jones: I would like to see more innovative programs for nontraditional students, lower-income residents and students and increase off-campus classes and programs, forums and seminars. I would like to see an expansion of retraining programs for under- and unemployed workers and to continue to find new courses and programs to meet the ever-changing needs of our growing workforce in the tri-state area.

Rhea: High school students enjoy many choices to continue their education career. A key issue for John Wood Community College is to be that choice. Cost of attendance, financial benefits to enroll, opportunities to learn and succeed, a plan for life after JWCC and unique college experiences are some of the factors that lead students to JWCC. Many of these require funding to work, all of these need excellent teachers and leaders. Finding the best way to deliver education to all regions of the district is a time, talent and cost challenge. Determining the most productive fit with area four-year universities is important. While state funding suggests the college must survive with less, I believe that sound local leadership will enable the college to continue to achieve great results.

Are there new programs JWCC should pursue to meet needs in the community, for both students and employers?

Ary: A constant challenge for our college is our ability to quickly adapt to the demands of the times. JWCC needs to be prepared to address these changing educational and training needs. Technology will continue to be a factor that affects most of the demographic, economic and academic challenges that face our college. We need to stay responsive to the community's workforce needs. Equally important are employer partnerships and workforce training at partner facilities. We need to further evolve and develop our customized offerings and courses to provide job-specific skill training that can be delivered to employers on site. It is my educational philosophy that "learning is a never-ending process." We all must continue our paths as learners and students. Nothing is going to be handed over on a silver platter. Education is more than academics. Education should be about helping people grow and develop to become a "whole person."

Fischer: I believe JWCC must continue to support operation of active curriculum advisory councils which assist in identifying new educational needs and opportunities which the college must address through our curriculum of course offerings. As the economy continues to change with new technologies and new emerging industries, we must be very sensitive to the educational needs of employees working in these businesses -- and employers who own and manage these businesses. The college curriculum and staff must show a passion and dedication in assisting all citizens to be better prepared in possessing the competencies needed to be successful entrepreneurs and/or employees of successful businesses.

Jones: I was blessed to tour the Workforce Development program and facility and was quite impressed to see some of the creative, collaborative and comprehensive mechanisms employed by industry and the school. I believe that can be expanded into developing additional specialties such as more technological and health care courses. I believe there are more areas that can be explored in many other areas, among them the service industry, farming, cattle and animal services, social services, aeronautical and automotive industries.

Rhea: I believe the college has done an excellent job in assessing employer demand and student interest toward program development. Our region has successful manufacturing, health care, education, agriculture and business institutions. Many of those have increasing cooperation, consolidation, and international activities. Is there a place for international experiences for JWCC students? Do employers find adequate soft skills present in JWCC graduates? Can we do more to establish successful entrepreneurs? Is the college adequately preparing students for transfer to four-year schools? Responses to these questions would help guide new program development.