When Dr. Ron White was selected to be the Superintendent of the Cameron School District thirteen years ago, he was faced with a daunting situation. The school was only provisionally accredited, and with a meager $300,000 in unrestricted funds, had been placed on the Financial Distress list. The district's facilities had deteriorated, and according to one former board member, White's financial acumen was what the district needed.
White has had a 43-year career in education, serving 31 of those years as a superintendent. His goal upon arriving in Cameron was to lead the district to a better financial position, which would allow for facility improvements, higher teacher salaries, and improved education.
White believed that to be successful a superintendent must lead by example. He believed a superintendent should act as a catalyst, providing ideas, and places where others can become involved. He believed it is essential to assemble a good team of administrators that will carry out the wishes of the local school board.
As Ron White retires into private life, he can be proud that the Cameron District now boasts $4.2 million in unrestricted funds, which would allow the board to deficit-spend for three years without endangering the financial position of the school.
Under White's leadership, the district became fully accredited within one year and has held that position with distinction in three of the last 10 years. The attendance rate in the district is above 94 percent and the graduation rate is over 90 percent, which is better than the state average.
While the ACT scores have hovered around average, the untold secret would be the large number of Cameron students who participate in the testing. It is one thing to have one student score a perfect 36, but it is another matter when more than 50 percent of the students are being encouraged to take the exam.
When White came to Cameron, there were only three to four college credit classes, but now there are 13 to 14 offered. Where 17 students were forced to share one computer, there are now over 1,000 computers serving 1,850 students with internet capability and complete connectivity.
There were no speech and debate teams before White started his tenure, and the marching band has become a source of school pride, while taking trips to Florida to perform every four years.
The academic bowl program has expanded to varsity and junior varsity teams; kindergarten has gone from half-day to full day, and the libraries have been opened for parent's and student's access in the evenings. The alternative school was also begun under White's administration resulting in 30 students finishing school.
Two five-year plans have been executed under White's tutelage, and the school has made $12.5 to $13 million in capital improvements without raising taxes. There have been additions to the schools, tennis courts, bleachers, lights, a track, a football field, parking lot improvement, complete public announcement systems, and new roofs on all the buildings.
The new ground source heating has saved $20,000 per year at Parkview and the high school building with the new additions, is now heated and cooled for less than the previous heat bill was alone. The lighting and security cameras have made the campus much safer at night.
White considers one success to be the district's ability to cooperate with other agencies in the community to attain needed goals. The school district and the City of Cameron have shared several ventures which were mutually beneficial.
The D.A.R.E. program was started during White's stay in Cameron as was the before and after school programs which have since been taken over by the YMCA.
According to White no district functions without good teachers who are paid a competitive wage. The base pay has raised over $11,000 since White became superintendent. According to White, the district's teachers have always been given a choice of priorities pertaining to wages, raises and job security.
The teachers always selected job security as their first priority and good healthcare as their second. The district pays out $1.2 million each year to cover full health insurance for each employee. Teachers selected salary steps as their third priority and base pay as the fourth in importance. The district has done its best to honor those priorities.
White considers his greatest accomplishment to be his ability turn the district around financially. He stated the importance of making a budget and sticking to it. One of his biggest regrets is not being around to see the Cameron Education Foundation blossom into something great.
A current school board member told me that White continually turned down raises while he tirelessly worked to make sure the rest of his staff were annually raised. If more CEO's in the corporate world operated in that fashion there would certainly be less hostility towards business profits.
Dr. Ron White did not solicit this article and actually asked me not to write anything. I think he just wanted to walk into the sunset. It is important for the patrons of the district to realize how dedicated this man was to the success of all the students that passed through these schools. I know he was to my own, and I am writing this to thank him for the leadership he displayed while they were students in Cameron.
When events in White's youth turned tough, it was his teachers and coach who supported him, and he never forgot his pledge to return that kindness to the students of the schools he served. When he no longer directly affected them in the classroom, he did it by making his schools the best around. It was just his way of paying it back.
White said, "I have wanted to make a difference for kids, and to help them get to places they wouldn't have otherwise."
Ron, you succeeded. Thank you.
(Bill Arthur is the chairman of the board of Horizon State Bank in Cameron. He is also a local farmer, living in rural Clinton County.)