Three vie for Manteno board seats

March 24, 2019

MANTENO — In making their case for re-election, the president and vice president of the Manteno school board point to the district’s accomplishments.

Their challenger wants to improve the elementary school’s rating and fine arts offerings.

Board president Mark Stauffenberg, vice president Gale Dodge and challenger Monica Wilhelm are vying for two seats on the board in the April 2 election.

Both Stauffenberg and Dodge have served on the board for 16 years. Wilhelm is a former music teacher in the school district.

In an interview, Stauffenberg, a corn and soybean farmer, said he has never missed a board meeting, scheduling his vacations around the sessions. And he said he has received just five complaint calls about the district at his home since he joined the board.

“I think that says something good about our schools,” Stauffenberg said.

That “something good” about the schools, he said, is what draws people to move to Manteno.

“Look at our schools as a whole. We have the nicest buildings around. People call the mayor and tell him they’re moving here because of the schools,” Stauffenberg said. “Our special education department is second to none. People move to town because of it. Our kids treat special education kids the same.”

The board gets along with the teachers union and stopped deficit spending years ago, Stauffenberg said.

Stauffenberg has been the board president for 15 of his 16 years. He said he has never been a micromanager, saying it isn’t a board member’s job to tell employees what to do.

Dodge joined the board four years after retiring from her 32-year career teaching first-graders in the Manteno district.

“We are extremely proud of our success, and the citizens of the community have supported us,” Dodge said in an interview.

She pointed to referendums for additions to schools after she and Stauffenberg joined the board.

“All of our schools are air-conditioned. We’ve done great things with technology,” she said.

Starting next year, Dodge said students will be able to continue their lessons online during snow days.

“Teachers will be available to talk with them. A snow day won’t be a day where we are less than productive,” Dodge said.

Of 18 state scholars this year in the high school, all but one have been Manteno residents since at least kindergarten, she said.

“As board members, we work together well to support our students,” Dodge said.

Wilhelm, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, said neither of the other two candidates has had children in the district for years.

“While I definitely thank them for their years of service, I believe it’s time for a change in which someone like me is on the board who has children attending the school,” Wilhelm said in an email.

She also said she has taught in the Manteno schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels and volunteers in her children’s classrooms.

As for improvements, she said the district needs to address its rating on GreatSchools.org, which is five out of 10. This rating system is from a nonprofit group and is based on test scores and other factors.

“I would like to investigate what could be done to improve our rating and what our children experience. I would like to explore how we can increase fine arts instruction time and, of course, without sacrificing core instruction. For example, at the elementary level, music and art are once a week. If there is no school on the particular day children were supposed to go to a fine arts class, then those children do not get that fine arts class that week,” Wilhelm said in the email. “I would also like to try to make school lunches more appealing, but still within the USDA guidelines, and thus less thrown away by children.”

Wilhelm was a music teacher for the district in 2010 when the board decided to let her go, among four other untenured employees, according to a Daily Journal story.

At the meeting, a parent spoke out on Wilhelm’s behalf, “You have a wonderful music program here. All the teachers in the music department go above and beyond what would be expected.”

When the parent attempted to mention Wilhelm specifically, she was prevented from doing so by Stauffenberg, who said, “We do not discuss teachers during a public meeting.”

In the 2015 election, Dodge and Stauffenberg prevailed, each receiving about 36 percent. Dodge drew 407 votes, eight more than Stauffenberg. Losing the race were Karen Brzezicki, Gina Erickson and Sherie Fabsits.