Dane County Board of Education Candidates

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From the Cleveland Municipal School District Visions of Democracy - Digital Gallery. Click on image for more.

April 7, 2009 will be a big day for school votes in Wisconsin.  There is the State Superintendent race (I’m backing Tony Evers, for reasons that I hope to have a chance to post on at some length), 41 school referenda in 29 school districts are on the ballot (those posts are in the works, see here for a summary of the measures) and around the state voters will elect their representatives to school boards.  The League of Women Voters of Dane County election guide has been published and posted, with answers from many of the candidates and descriptions of local referenda.

I spent some time going through the candidates answers and was struck by the combination of widespread concerns about the ability to provide necessary and desired educational opportunities under the pressures of budget constraints and by how few pointed to the broken state school finance system as the source of this ongoing situation.

The biggest exception is MMSD Board president Arlene Silveira.  This is what she wrote about the “the major issues confronting your school district, and, if elected, how will you deal with them?”

Equitable school funding system. Unless changed, all school districts will be forced to make devastating cuts detrimental to all students. I will initiate community-based advocacy efforts to work toward changing the funding. Enhancement of minority achievement efforts by improving efforts in schools to raise instruction quality; expanding availability of schooling opportunities and working with community to develop policies that enable all children to begin/attend school on a more even playing field. Ensure we are providing students with skills needed to compete in the 21st century, irrespective of their path. Continue efforts focused on redesign of our high schools. (Emphasis added.)

This is one reason I’m supporting Arlene.  Click on her name above to join me.

Her opponent, Donald Gors is more typical in his non specific reference to financial issues and lack of expressed committment to work for change at the state level:

One large looming issue facing Madison’s School District is MONEY!

True, but not very helpful.

The same is true for most other Dane County candidates who discussed the issue (many did not discuss finances at all or had almost nothing to say — these responses have not been included).  Here is what other Dane County candidates said about school finances.

CHUCK POIRIER incumbent, Deefield:

Expenditures continue to raise and outpace funding. The board and administration need to review funding formula and actual costs per student and determine if the tax payers would incur a tax savings or a tax loss by allowing transfer students from outside our community to enroll in the District.

VICTOR GONZALEZ, Edgerton:

The Edgerton School District will soon be replacing a principal and its superintendent; it will also be facing a significant decrease in its high school enrollment and will have to tackle large maintenance expenses with a tight budget.

JEFF ZIEGLER incumbent, Marshall:

Crafting a budget that meets the needs of our students and allows us to continue to improve the education we provide continues to be a significant challenge. This is especially difficult with state imposed revenue controls. The key to meeting this challenge is to make sure that all of the board’s decisions are made with the goal of providing the best educational experience that we can. The Marshall School District has done a good job of implementing needed changes and improving our educational programs during difficult economic times by keeping this key idea in mind.

Ziegler also refers to the importance of “full funding” for “”bilingual education for all children; b) music and art; c) civics; d) 4-year-old kindergarten; e) preparation for the work force.”

LEE WEINSTOCK incumbent, Marshall:

Tight budgets, academic performance and school safety are top issues facing many schools, including Marshall. I have been a good steward of the school district’s finances in my nine years on the board and will continue to make budget decisions in the interest of what is best for the success of students.

JASON McCUTCHIN, Monona Grove:

One of the major issues for this district is the budget shortage that is forecasted for the next couple of years. Because this is an issue that is likely going to be a recurring issue I would like to see the next board take a hard and fast look at this year’s deficit and see how the decisions that are made this year will affect upcoming years. Additionally, we need to be cognizant of any how any cuts will impact our building infrastructure and the quality of our children’s education.

LIONEL NORTON, Monona Grove:

As a nation we are facing tough economic times and the Monona Grove School District is not immune to this. Our biggest challenge in the next couple of years will be to prevent our district from cutting programs and activities that make our district special and from falling further into debt. I will listen without bias to all ideas and suggestions on the best way to achieve this with the least negative impact to our students and teachers. Neighborhood growth continues to be a challenge for our schools; we must proactively address this issue to prevent overcrowding at our schools.

STEVEN C. ZACH incumbent, Oregon:

Annually the Board must adopt a budget that balances the needs of students, fairly compensates employees, maintains facilities and does not burden taxpayers. We have done that during my Board tenure.

TINA HUNTER, Stoughton:

During this time of uncertain budgets and fluctuating enrollments, we need to maintain opportunities. We must find creative options to meet all District goals while also serving our students and community. School consolidations need to happen logically and painlessly. We must make wise decisions regarding staffing, transportation, and boundaries during this time of transitions.

TERRI WATKINS incumbent, Stoughton (this answer is almost as good as Arlene’s):

Increasing student achievement, recruiting and retaining quality staff and maintaining facilities are all priorities in SASD. The current state funding formula creates challenges to these priorities in districts like SASD with declining enrollment. School consolidation, bussing guideline updates, and enrollment-driven staff reductions will help in the short term. It is important to continue our collaborative work to encourage community growth, energy conservation and educate our community on school funding issues and solutions including pressure to bring legislative change that will provide more long-term financial relief. (Emphasis added.)

TERRY W. SHIMEK incumbent, Sun Prairie:

Property taxes are also an issue, especially for those on fixed income. I would support a solution for the fixed income hardship at the state level. Despite rising costs, my goal is stabilize or even reduce the property tax rate.

JOHN E. WHALEN incumbent, Sun Prairie:

The Sun Prairie Area School district has been both blessed and cursed with a rapidly growing student population. We don’t have to deal with the budget problems associated with declining enrollments, but growth has its own budget issues. Growth has required significant investment in infrastructure, and has required the District to work hard to meet the needs of our student population. I am a firm believer that all children are entitled to a quality education. If elected, I will continue to pursue all opportunities that support quality education for all students.

Two other observations.  First, it appears that incumbents are more likely to “get it” that the budget problems begin with the state system.  Second, despite the facts that about 250 referenda have been held in the last two years and about as many can be expected in the next two years, I don’t believe a single candidate directly mentioned referenda.

Don’t forget to come to the MMSD school funding forum on April 1 to learn more about state funding reform efforts and to get involved.

Thomas J. Mertz

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2 Comments

Filed under "education finance", Best Practices, Budget, education, Elections, Equity, finance, Local News, Referenda, referendum, School Finance, Take Action, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Dane County Board of Education Candidates

  1. Alex Wagner

    To a certain extent I think it is a good thing for school board candidates not to mention the state funding formula, or at least not to dwell on it too heavily. The reason is that ultimately, it is their job to do the best they can with the system they have.

    Perhaps the better thing would be for more experienced school board members to run for the Legislature in 2010 if nothing is done by then. They would be well qualified to fix the state funding system.

    • Alex

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I agree with the second, but think that Boar Members can and should both do their best under the current system and and use their positions to lead to calls for change.

      One trend I have seen is that by ignoring the state and Federal funding issue, Board Members reinforce an impression that the problem is local mismanagement, or worse that public education is failing (or even worse, doomed to fail). This doesn’t help good decision making at the local level, creates, unnecessary divisions and let’s the state and the Feds off the hook.

      As I said, and I think Board Members in Madison and those around the state who I have worked with through the Wisconsin Allaince for Excellent Schools have demonstrated, it doesn’t have to be either/or.

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