BY CAROL ROEHM
One incumbent and two newcomers are vying for two open seats on the Danville Area Community College Board of Trustees.
Incumbent Dr. Ron Serfoss and newcomers Harry Brockus of Hoopeston and Greg Wolfe of Oakwood are seeking election to two seats that are held by Serfoss and retired judge John O’Rourke.
Both seats are full terms of six years each.
The Commercial-News asked questions of the DACC Board of Trustees candidates running in the April 9 consolidated election through surveys.
Brockus said he is running for the DACC board “to help make a difference in the lives of those seeking higher education.
“Bettering the overall education level of our communities is the key to their future stability and success,” Brockus said. “As the leader of the largest employer in Hoopeston, we have committed to furthering the education of our staff through scholarships and job placement.
“They stay in the community, earn a better living and that is good for the local economy,” he said. “I will bring health care leadership experience to the board, which is the fastest growing job segment in the country.”
Serfoss said he believes his varied experiences — practicing optometry for almost 40 years and having participated in many cultural, business, licensing and health care organizations on a local and national basis — “provides an excellent foundation to serve responsibly as a trustee for DACC.”
During his six-year term, Serfoss said he has learned that as a trustee “I am responsible to the best of my ability to preserve the institution; to be accountable to the taxpayers to responsibly use their money to well educate and train students; and to be responsible to the students to provide education and training that prepares them with skills for advancement, for a job or for transfer to a four-year institution.
“I am cognizant of the changing nature of education, training and retraining and the importance of prudent use of resources,” he said. “I am a thoughtful trustee and believe I can provide responsible leadership as a trustee for DACC for another term.”
Wolfe said he is running for the DACC board because “Danville Area Community College is a tremendous asset to our community. I have seen hundreds of lives improved because of their experiences at DACC, and I want to make sure the college is here to help many more.
“I feel that change and fresh ideas are healthy in organizations, so I will bring my experiences and offer some new thoughts to the board,” he said.
“I am currently serving as the Oakwood area champion for the DACC Foundation’s Endless Possibilities fundraising campaign because I believe strongly in the mission of the college.”
Issues facing DACC
Brockus believes the biggest issues facing DACC are: increasing enrollment, technology and keeping students involved.
“With a struggling economy, more folks from all types of backgrounds are going back to school. In some programs, such as radiology and nursing, there are limited slots available due to lack of instructors and resources,” he said. “It would be my goal to develop better partnerships for these key areas with local industry to improve upon the current number of graduates in these programs.
“Technology is changing quickly, from the equipment our students work on to how they receive their education,” Brockus said. “We must partner with the local manufacturing industry to make sure we have the right systems to train our students on for future success. At the same time, we need to advance in alternative teaching methods to make education more accessible to all.”
Brockus added, “Keeping students involved is the other challenge. We need to engage them and see the future possibilities. I started with a community college degree in respiratory therapy but used it to gain experience and through continuing my education beyond those two years, it has led to a successful career in health care. I want others to see that possibility.”
Serfoss said he believes the issues are: fewer tax dollars from the community college district because of reduced values of homes and industrial buildings; reduced state grants and reimbursement levels and the potential for increased expenses for safety, faculty, support, retirement and the Affordable Care Act; and increasing student tuition.
“Community colleges educate 65 percent of the students in Illinois colleges and receive less than 18 percent of the state revenue for post secondary education,” he said. “At DACC each year we review the entire budget and project income and expenses to balance the budget. There is only one revenue stream we control and that is tuition. The trustees have judiciously raised tuition to fairly reflect the needs of the college and, through careful planning, have been able to update facilities and equipment while maintaining a sound financial basis.
“We have not found it necessary to reduce courses, training or activities to balance a budget and in fact have been able to introduce new certificates and degrees in culinary arts, wind energy technology and advanced manufacturing and mechatronics,” Serfoss said. “We are always cognizant of pricing ourselves out of the very market we wish to serve.”
Wolfe said he believes the issues are: keeping pace with cutting-edge technology in the classroom, finances/absorbing more budget cuts and keeping students in school at the community college.
“My experience as a school board member and with educational technology sales gives me knowledge of classroom technologies and how they can have a positive impact on the learning experience for today’s students. Integrating more online learning into the curriculum using technology is critical,” he said. “The Millennials and Gen-Xers are walking around campus communicating back and forth. We must make sure that we have the appropriate communication skills and the delivery-of-instruction skills to meet their needs and the way they learn. I see technology as being a game changer for community college business models.
“The challenge for DACC is to continue to navigate the budget crisis during these tough economic times by finding ways to do more with less,” Wolfe said about finances. “I bring my experience in school finance — specifically in budgeting, upgrading and maintaining facilities, and serving on the past four bargaining/contract negotiations teams. I communicate with my local, state and federal leaders and legislators, and I will continue to study, stay informed and advocate for funding issues that impact the college and our community.
“Helping students become more successful in their community college programs is an ongoing challenge,” Wolfe added. “Currently DACC provides many remedial options for instruction and help with study skills. Working more closely with area high schools to give students more ways to interact with the community college while still in high school will increase their chances of a successful outcome once enrolled.
“We can help our students succeed by encouraging them to take rigorous coursework in high school and bring their skills — especially in English and math — up to the level expected for success in college.”
As for saving money in light of cutbacks in state funding, Brockus said “through expanding programs and finding ways to make quality education more accessible to students throughout the district, DACC can achieve revenue growth to offset state funding issues. One example would be the new satellite site in Hoopeston. It will draw folks to DACC that before did not have the means to travel to Danville.”
Serfoss said he believes the college “must continue to participate in cooperative agreements to control or reduce expenses for operations.
“We are part of the Green Energy Network which has facilitated a grant to replace all light bulbs with more energy efficient bulbs. We also contract to purchase electricity at times when the price on the open market is lower. This has saved us thousands of dollars,” he said. “I will continue to support such arrangements that allow us savings no matter how small.
“We also maximize our savings by evaluating the necessity to replace each retiring support position. Many of our staff, faculty, deans and administrators have multiple responsibilities. This is always a two-edged sword for overload and morale, but I believe the college is well. There is a minimum level of support below which we jeopardize the quality of education. I do not believe that has happened at DACC,” Serfoss said.
“If the revenue from the state and the federal government were reduced to such levels that we could not reasonably balance a budget with tuition, we would be forced to look at all offerings and activities and evaluate the necessity of each in light of the mission, vision and core values of the college,” he said.
Wolfe said “increasing virtual and online learning, dual credit courses, digital textbook integration, cooperative purchasing, reducing school energy use and expanding shared services between other local governments” would help reduce costs.
Link to local industry
Brockus said DACC continues to be relevant to local industry by having a good partnership with Vermilion Advantage.
“Through collaboration with Vermilion Advantage, DACC can tap into local industry leaders and develop a team committed to producing tomorrow’s work force. We need input and partnerships, the days of trying to go it alone have passed,” he said.
Serfoss said, “DACC participates with the Work Force Investment and is in close contact with Vermilion Advantage. We develop new training in industrial technology, advanced manufacturing and mechatronics for incoming industry or for retraining the current work force.
“I do not believe there is a need to improve our ‘relevance’ to local industry. DACC has been and will continue to be an important component to maintain a well-trained work force,” he said. “In fiscal year 2012, DACC served more than 3,500 participants and approximately 75 companies with contract and customized training and assessments.”
Wolfe said partnerships between the college, local business, industry clusters and county high schools should be expanded.
“It is critical that DACC continues to respond to the ever-changing needs of the work force in East Central Illinois and maximize its human, physical and financial assets to support learning,” he said.
To provide the best education for students, Brockus said “appropriate and timely evaluation of staff, which takes into account the feedback from students, is the key to maintaining quality standards.”
Serfoss gave credit to DACC President Alice Marie Jacobs for maintaining the college’s standard of providing a quality education.
“When I considered being a candidate for election six years ago, a respected former trustee told me that the most important function of the board of trustees was to hire an excellent president,” he said. “It is the president’s responsibility to assure that we have the appropriate faculty and facilities for educating our students to graduate with skills that will benefit them in employment or transfer.
“One of the important concepts that the president and the leadership team have brought to DACC is that of outcomes assessment and completion rather than just having concern for the number of entering students,” Serfoss said. “The new paradigm is to measure and emphasize student completion and success.”
To provide the best education possible, Wolfe said, “I would talk to students, recent graduates, faculty/staff, business leaders and community members. I would look at our college data to assess and evaluate programs efficiencies, effectiveness and results. Technology is very important to hone skills that our future generations will require. Current technology must be state of the art.”