Five in the running for three Janesville School Board seats

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, January 8, 2014

JANESVILLE—Two incumbents, two newcomers and one former school board member are running for three seats on the Janesville School Board.

The incumbents are Kevin Murray and Bill Sodemann, the longest serving of the current board members. Both joined the board in 2005.

A third incumbent, Scott Feldt, is not running for re-election.

Dale Thompson, who served on the board for several terms in the 1990s, is running again.

The newcomers are not totally new. Diane Eyers and Fred Jackson both lost their bids to join the board last year.

Wednesday was the deadline to file papers to be placed on the April 1 ballot. The deadline had been Tuesday, but the state's Government Accountability Board allowed an extension for government offices that were closed on Tuesday because of the extreme cold.

These are the candidates: 

-- Eyers, 45, of 3320 LaMancha Drive, is an accountant who handles commercial insurance for Schwartz and Shea Insurance in Janesville. She has been active in the parent-teacher organization at her child's school, Kennedy Elementary.

“I really think I have good perspective, and I'm willing to make the hard decisions and work for the people who are involved in the whole district. I'm willing to do the work,” Eyers said.

“My perspective is for all the children, not just my child,” she said.

“We need to direct as much money as we can into the education of our kids and into the classroom, which means if it's going to affect the education of the kids then I'm for it,” Eyers said

Eyers said she has seen classrooms suffer in recent years, with less help in the classroom at Kennedy than at schools that get extra funding because of their high-poverty populations.

“The teacher is trying to educate 24 kids as best she can, and it's tough. If we want our teachers to perform, we have to make sure we give them the tools,” Eyers said.

Eyers sees a divide between teachers and the administration, and she would work to bridge that divide.

“I can talk to teachers every day, and that's the first thing you hear: No. 1, they're scared to say anything, and No. 2, they don't feel they're getting enough support,” Eyers said.

-- Jackson, 40, of 217 S. Pontiac Drive, an analyst for Eaton Corp. in Watertown, said the district should slow down and catch its breath.

The district is making lots of changes, including employee's early-retirement benefits, the new handbook of employee rules, and the international initiative, Jackson said, and it needs to stop and stabilize before striking out with new ventures.

Jackson said the district should better define its Journey to Excellence so everyone understands what is being done.

Jackson said he worries about a legislative proposal that would allow for-profit charter schools in Wisconsin.

“I'm terrified because currently I don't believe we are in a stable place for our school systems. We'd be an easy mark for schools like that to come in and steal all our students away," Jackson said.

“Until all that is said and done, to try to make more changes, it's just going to hurt us in the end. I think we're going to find ourselves backpedaling if we don't stabilize the things we have changed,” he said.

-- Murray, 57, of 35 S. Randall Ave., is a retired Janesville Fire Department lieutenant who has become a frequent questioner and critic of initiatives by Superintendent Karen Schulte

Feedback from constituents makes him feel as though he's on the right track, Murray said.

Murray quoted Benjamin Franklin: "The first responsibility of every citizen is to question authority.”

“That's been kind of my reputation, one who isn't afraid to question what's going on in the school district, not in a confrontational way, but I consider myself to be an average guy, and I just want to know, so I can feel confident in what is going on and making sure our taxpayer dollars are being spent in the right way,” Murray said.

Murray said he is concerned that the local economy is only slowly recovering, but he thinks the district has been spending too freely, using up the savings it received through recent legislation that increased employee contributions to their retirement fund and allowed the district to increase employee payments for health insurance.

-- Sodemann, 51, of 4625 W. Highway 11, is  the owner of Phones Plus and former board president. He is noted for often conservative views and knowledge of school budget intricacies.

Sodemann was ready to step down in December when he had a change of heart. He now wants to stay for another term to see that the district's Journey to Excellence continues.

Sodemann said he especially wanted to be there when the board decides how to extend its employee evaluation system from administrators to other employees, including teachers.

The teacher system might be set up in the coming year.

“I don't want to see that not get done,” Sodemann said.

The Journey to Excellence calls for setting measurable goals each year for each employee and then evaluating employees based on those measures. The system set up for administrators includes incentive pay for superior performers.

-- Thompson, 72, of 4322 Southwyck Drive, retired as director of the county's developmental disabilities board in 2000 and is a longtime advocate for people with disabilities.

Thompson said he took a break after retirement, but now he wants to get back on the school board. 

Thompson said he is concerned about waiting lists for certain programs for at-risk kids.

“I am unclear, frankly, on what some of the goals are for the school board, and I think we need to look at what the goals are,” Thompson said.

Thompson also questions whether the district is addressing the needs of all students as it begins new initiatives.

“There has been a lot of emphasis in the paper on bringing in foreign students. My concern is, what's going on with the rest of the things in the school system? You can only spend so much time on different issues, and I'd like to look at what are the real priorities of the board,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he has prided himself on hearing all sides and making a decision based on facts, not his opinion.

“I'm not going in with any ax to grind,” Thompson said.

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