CRYSTAL LAKE – A crowded field of McHenry County College board candidates offered their views on a range of topics Monday night, including the college’s budget, a proposed expansion plan and tuition increases.
The League of Women Voters-sponsored forum included eight out of the nine candidates running for three open seats on the college’s governing board.
The hopefuls included critics of the college’s proposed expansion of its health and wellness programs. Some condemned the project, saying there is no need for it, while others questioned how the college might pay for it.
Alternate revenue bonds – which have been mentioned as one possible way to fund the expansion, as have partnerships with private entities and debt certificates – are not the best route for the college, some candidates argued.
“The use of the alternate revenue bonds is not really a good funding mechanism,” candidate Thomas Wilbeck said. “... If revenue sources don’t meet its goals, the alternate to pay those off is the taxpayer.”
Most candidates said they would ask for voter permission before issuing bonds to fund the project.
“Any expansion plan should be community supported,” candidate Molly Walsh said. “We should engage our community with how we expand the college.”
Incumbent Carol Larson, who called herself “a fair conservative,” disagreed. She has been elected to the board four times previously.
“I would not be for a referendum right now,” she said. “Referendums are expensive and they don’t likely pass.”
Chris Jenner, a member of the District 26 school board, was a vocal opponent of the expansion plan. He said he would try to bring policies that he instituted in Cary to the college.
“I would forbid the [college from] incurring any debt without going to the voters,” he said.
Mike Smith, who also sits on the college’s Foundation Board, wants to work with local employers and chambers of commerce to adequately prepare students for the working world.
“It’s imperative of the college long term to collaborate extensively with area employers,” Smith said. “... [We should] work with HR leadership and others to deeply understand what the [employment] needs are going to be – not only the needs today but what will the needs be the next three, five years down the road.”
Two of the candidates are current or recent MCC graduates. Student and candidate William Scott Alford said he hopes to represent the needs of the students, and was adamantly against any future tuition increases.
“I, in no way, shape, form or fashion believe tuition should be increased,” Alford said. “If we even lower tuition, more students would come bringing in more money. That’s just the way I do the math.”
Erik Sivertsen, who ran an unsuccessful bid for a trustee seat two years ago, graduated from MCC with an associate’s degree in business in 2010.
“I think we need to do everything we can not to raise tuition or property taxes,” Sivertsen said. “Things can be done to better utilize our facilities ... there a lot of ways we can be more creative with the resources that we have.”
The college raised tuition last week by $3 per credit hour. Its prices fall behind many other community colleges in the state.
“I don’t think we ought to raise tuition just because you’re comparing it to another community college,” candidate Arne Waltmire said. “Look at costs and see if there’s a need to raise it.”
Incumbent Barbara Walters did not attend the forum. Dennis Adams, whose seat is also up, is not seeking another term.
The election is April 9.