Spring 2014 Election

Five candidates vying for three Janesville School Board seats

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Nick Crow
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

JANESVILLE—Expanding the international program, better communication with teachers and teacher compensation are the main issues for two incumbents, one former school board member and two newcomers looking to fill three open seats on the Janesville School Board.

Bill Sodemann and Kevin Murray have been on the board since 2005. Dale Thompson decided to run for another term after serving in the 1990s. Diane Eyers and Fred Jackson hope to serve their first terms on the school board.

The candidates answered the following questions:

Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing the Janesville School District? How do you plan to fix it?

Eyers: There are more and more parents working out of the home, and there are more single parent homes than ever. With this trend likely to continue, our school district needs to adapt to these changes.

As a school board, we need to give teachers more resources to meet these challenges. To enable teachers to be more adaptive, I would direct more resources to the elementary school level to create a solid foundation sooner in the educational development of our children. If elected, I would encourage the hiring of more support staff in the elementary schools to provide a one-on-one focus on reading, English, and math. In addition, this funding could be used for something as big as updating technology or for something as small as PBIS (Positive Behavior Support System) rewards in the schools.

Jackson: The largest issue that our community is facing with public education is stability followed close by communication.

With all the changes that have occurred in our district, I would like to see us take a step back and really understand the impact of all the changes that have been made to this point. The fastest and most effective way in fixing the instability in our district is to take the step back and understand what changes are impacting our community the most.

I believe that creating a cause and effect matrix and utilizing the results that come from it, we as a community can start to rebuild and close those voids.

Murray: Our children's education is a community priority. Annually the board sets goals that drive the administration's focus for the year.

Goals like increasing revenues and student enrollment have led us off the track of providing the best education for all of our children. Instead, we have consumed hundreds of hours traveling to China in search of the revenue. We have created a new charter school at a cost of half a million dollars a year that targets only 100 or less children.

We need to do a much better job of aligning board goals with board and community priorities.

Sodemann: The biggest issue is to make sure that we continue on our “Journey to Excellence” that began a little more than five years ago.

Many people have put in a lot of hard work and extra effort, which has resulted in numerous awards and accomplishments. There are some (other candidates) who wish to “pull back” or “pause” on this effort. My plan is to make sure that we continue to move forward and instill these accountability standards throughout the district.

Thompson: Funding. New federal and state mandates have been required with inadequate funding and limited time frames. I think all new initiatives should be required to have a fiscal note and attached funding.

We need to work more cooperatively as a team. Locally, we need to communicate better with our legislators. Locally, our school board has and is initiating several evaluation programs, which are good, but let's be cautious on interpreting such.

The board needs to evaluate itself, such as improving staff morale be it spending personal time in the classroom, more teacher direct participation on board committees affecting them.

Q: What is your stance on the international education program? What changes, if any, would you make to it if you agree with it? If you're against it, what initiatives should the district be tackling instead?

Eyers: The International Education program is a foreign student coming into our country for a period of time to learn in our educational system. This provides a great opportunity for both foreign and local students to learn about each other's culture. It promotes a global awareness and builds a stronger sense of global community.

The program would broaden students' awareness and increase interest in other cultures. There would be a significant financial benefit for the host school system. This program will promote racial diversity within our school district.

Overall, I feel that the knowledge of international community would benefit our students by creating a positive dialogue between two very different cultures.

Jackson: I am not against this, and I understand this, but I believe we need to stabilize other projects before we move forward at a fast pace.

Murray: Focusing on student achievement will help our children develop. We are told that the world has gotten smaller because of technology. We are told that our children need to be globally competent to compete for jobs of the future. Technology has given great opportunity for our children to explore the world while still in the classroom, and it is very important that we learn about other cultures and how to communicate across the globe.

However, I do not believe that bringing 100 foreign students into our district will greatly impact our children's learning experience. The resources being spent on this initiative can be better spent focusing on student attendance, teacher/pupil ratios, counseling services and teacher aides. Such examples benefit all of our children. Two more words about global education: Frank Douglas.

Sodemann: I support the international initiative. Not only can we broaden the horizons of our own students and better prepare them for a global workplace, but we can also export ideals such as freedom to other nations.

Our research has shown from visiting schools such as my high school alma mater (Martin Luther High School in Greendale, Wis.) that the method we have chosen (making a personal connection made with the corresponding schools and families in other nations) works better than simply contracting with an outside third party.

I will continue to monitor the program to insure that it generates revenue for the district as opposed to costing the taxpayers any funds.

Thompson: The school board has directed staff to add 100 new tuition-paying students next year, which includes foreign students. I have not seen any fiscal projection on revenues and assume they would be partially offset by additional staff costs.

I'm concerned housing be in Janesville, not out of town. An evaluation needs to occur prior to any further expansion. This should not be the top priority of our school system with other pressing needs.

Q: With Act 10 in place, what role do you see the teachers union now playing? How should raises be determined if years of service and credit hours no longer play a role? What plan do you have to keep teaching talent in Janesville?

Eyers: In the aftermath of Act 10, the role of the teacher's union has diminished. This is an opportunity for the union to foster constructive collaboration on behalf of the teachers to create a stronger relationship with the school board and a better working environment within the schools.

This year, merit standards were developed for the administrative staff. To be consistent, teacher raises should be subject to the same accountability standards on the basis of merit. My plan consists of three parts:

• Merit pay. I support implementing the LEM (Leadership Evaluation Measurement) system that rewards high performance and provides incentives for teachers to supplement their salaries based on the LEM results.

• Clear communication. I think it is important to foster constructive discussion between the school board and our teachers. I believe if the teachers and the school board work together, we can create an atmosphere of unity.

• Create a positive attitude. Better communication and respectful discussion will lead to a more positive atmosphere and improved morale throughout the school district. These measures will attract other teaching talent and retain the quality teachers we currently have. There is a belief that teachers and the school board are adversaries. I would like to help make this relationship become more like a team.

Jackson: I believe that everyone has the right to be represented by the person/team/program that they feel presents them with the best possible options.

In my opinion, raises should be based on two goals: first being what are the district's goals, and second what are the personal development goals. This kind of structure would allow for continuous growth as a professional and as a district.

(Keeping teaching talent in Janesville) is tied to what is perceived as the instability of the district. I have never met a teacher that got into education for the money. They get in because they love the result of what they are doing. Stabilize the community and the schools, and teachers will stay because we would have made it a home for them to stay in.

Murray: Providing our children with the best education has a direct relationship to how we treat our employees. Act 10 essentially took away public employee union binding arbitration/bargaining rights.

It is still necessary to collaborate with all of our employees to provide the best education for our children. We have had wonderful success in the district. Food service receiving 100 percent from the county health inspectors, blue ribbon schools, increased test scores just to name a few.

The importance is making sure that when we listen to the groups that we actually hear what they are saying and put their input into practice.

It is not true that years of service and credit hours no longer play a role. It can play a role, and we can create a salary schedule that includes those variables. It is up to the board. The current administration is heading toward performance-based pay, which could include incentive, rewards and merit pay. I am not in favor of a compensation package based solely on performance. The method of determining performance is as diverse as each school in our district.

We need to find some compromise that provides stability in our wage scales. A compensation package that includes years of service and education will attract and retain more of our teachers.

I had an opportunity to listen to a young man tell the story of how a Janesville teacher helped him above and beyond the classroom. He credits her for making him a better person. How do you measure that?

Sodemann: First of all, it is not true that years of service and credit hours will not play a role. The difference is that they will now be considered along with other things such as performance.

Raises and bonuses should be determined by a number of factors such as professional development, test results, parent/student survey results, peer review and supervisor review.

Because talented teachers (and other personnel) will now be able to advance faster and be rewarded for their performance, they will be attracted to come and stay in Janesville. Teachers now have the freedom of choosing whether they wish to be represented by a union or not. It is up to them to determine what “role” they wish to play.

Thompson: I think Janesville has good teachers, and we need to pay them competitively with incentives to progress.

The new teacher evaluation system should not be used for pay raises until thoroughly evaluated.

We also need to direct administration to hire a mixture of new and experienced teachers.

Regardless of Act 10, I think the school board should collaborate directly with teachers on decisions affecting teachers. This should include board committees studying fringe benefits. We need to be a team, not us versus them. These actions should partially address morale and retaining our teacher talent.

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