There were six names on the tables at the front of the McHenry County College auditorium.
Missing was candidate Jeffrey Hill, running for a six-year term.
After the forum I discovered he had signed the paperwork that the McHenry County League of Women Voters and had not notified the group that he would not be present.
That left three candidates running for six-year terms on the stage and two for the four-year terms.
Facing the public for the six-year terms were MCC Board President Ron Parrish and newly-appointed member Mike Smith, who was appointed to replace Tom Willbeck when he moved out of the district, plus former Trustee Scott Summers, who resigned. Subsequently Summers ran for
McHenry County Board as a Democrat and was a write-in candidate for Governor after being removed from the ballot as the Green Party candidate.
Running for the four-year term are Karen Tirio, co-owner with her husband of Monarch Senior Care, and Prairie Ridge High School Industrial Arts teacher Matthew Hardt.
Parrish, Smith and Tirio are running together.
First to address the audience of maybe 70 was Tirio.
She emphasized that McHenry County is in the top 1% of counties in the United States as far as property tax burden goes.
“Rent is too damn high,” she said.
“We have higher taxes than Beverly Hills.”
Summers told of a prediction by a Harvard professor that within fifteen years half of all colleges will be closed.
That leads him to be opposed to expansion of the Crystal Lake campus.
Instead of students coming to the campus, Summers said the college should be going to the students either through the internet or in classed taught at county high schools.
Smith pointed to his financial background and stated his explicit opposition to borrowing money with referendum approval.
He pointed out that Elgin Community College has passed a referendum during the recession.
Parrish stressed that students were the most important part of the the college with faculty a close second.
“Everything else is a distant third or fourth,” he said.
Parrish was proud of the increase of transparency during the two years he has headed the Board, citing the internet streaming of Board meetings.
He argued that an intangible–community spirit related to the college–needed improvement.
Hardt told of serving on an MCC advisory committee and attending MCC on the way to earning a master’s degree. He teaches at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake and is on the board of the teachers association.
Hardt would like to see a program in diesel technology and thought a partnership with Caterpillar might make such an addition relatively inexpensive.
Concerning tuition increases, Tirio said her attendance at meetings gave her no indication that students would receive “any extra added value” from the recent $5 per credit hour hike.
She pointed to the 8% drop in enrollment in the last ten years and use of only 50% of the classroom space.
“When less people are seeking your services, it’s not time to raise your prices,” Tirio said.
Summers suggested cutting the tuition rate the more courses that a student took.
He also advocated cutting courses which were not cost-effective and giving students vouchers to take them over the internet or at other colleges.
Smith pointed to MCC’s tuition being 30th of the 39 Illinois community colleges. He favored “moderate, prudent” tuition increases. He stressed that he favored user fees over higher taxes.
Parrish pointed out that while tuition had been increased “at the behest of students,” he refused to budge on imposing an infrastructure fee.
“A $5 increase,” Hardt said. “I would have been for that. It’s still a great value.
“We have to make sure the teachers and the staff are paid well enough so they don’t want to go elsewhere,” he added.
Hardt also said that he thought there was “lots of need for students to be in-house.”
Perhaps referring to the offer by Sage Products to conduct courses in robotics, Tirio noted that “business leaders have come to the college and been turned down because it [wouldn’t] be under the roof of the college.”
She pointed out that when she went to Job Fairs at MCC, she didn’t meet MCC students.
She told of asking whether the Shah Center brought in more money than it cost, but said that college administrators did not know.
“If we don’t know what it is doing, what is the point?”
Also touching on finances, Summers said, “Tax revenue’s going to have to be flat.”
One question asked whether MCC should be a four-year institution.
Summers said, “No,” that such an idea was “empire building” and “misguided.”
“We need to concentrate on what we have,” Tirio said. “Let’s aspire to be the place people are knocking down the doors to attend.”
Smith said he “would keep an open mind, but I’d lean today as being opposed.”
He suggested focusing on “core competency.”
Smith pointed out that when he attended the College of DuPage thirty-five years ago, there was talk of making the institution a four-year college.
Parrish told of a proposal last week by the President of Northern Illinois University to more closely integrate with the community colleges in Northern Illinois.
“That would not be very different from the cooperative agreement MCC has with local high schools,” he pointed out.
In his concluding statement, Summers reminded people that he and Donna Kurtz, after initially supporting the 2007 plan to build a minor league baseball stadium, changed their minds and opposed it.
“That saved us from a multi-million dollar mistake,” he said.
Parrish pointed out that over the last two years there have been fundamental changes. Two he mentioned were
- resisting tax increases
- merit pay for administrators
- stopped expansion of the college complex
He said the Board needs to create new sources of income and reduce ancillary expenses.
“We need to hold the line on taxes,” Tirio reiterated. “People in McHenry County are being taxed out of their homes.”