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Referendums push write-ins to enter school board race

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GINA R. HEINE
April 1, 2010
— Brodhead's failed February school referendum and the school board's handling of the budget prompted two residents to run as write-in candidates against two long-time incumbents.

President Peggy Olsen, a board member since 2001, and Carol Kloepping, a 16-year board veteran, will be the only names on the ballot. Allen Schneider and Paul Donovan are running as write-in candidates.


It's the first time in at least three years incumbents have faced a challenger.


Schneider and Donovan oppose Tuesday's referendum and have been campaigning together, saying the district should be run more like a business.


Schneider admits he did not follow the budget before the referendum, but was alarmed when he became informed.


Donovan said Tuesday's referendum "sparked my desire to get more involved. I wouldn't be running if they didn't do this second referendum," he said.


Voters in February rejected the $3.59 million referendum 1,027-834, and the board three days later approved asking for $1.76 million in Tuesday's election.


Kloepping said her experience is valuable to understanding the overall budget process.


"I really care about keeping quality educational programs offered to our students," she said in an e-mail to the Gazette.


Olsen said in an e-mail that she has devoted many hours to learning and understanding how schools function.


She said she's always focused on what is best for the kids while being accountable for the financial stability of the district.


Donovan

Donovan said he doesn't believe the district needs to exceed state revenue caps.


"The district ought to be able to find ways to make cuts or provide appropriate savings in areas to make up the shortfall," he said.


He said he hasn't made an in-depth analysis on where to make cuts.


The community spoke when it defeated the first referendum, and the board should have gone back to the drawing board to make cuts "without severely affecting the education of our kids," he said.


The board should not try to exceed revenue caps in the foreseeable future, he said. Whatever revenue the district receives, he said, "(is) what you got, make it work."


The board needs to re-evaluate its teacher allocations and administrative staffing and look at fee increases, he said. Benefit packages need review because they shouldn't be better than those typically found in the private sector, he said.


The board should spend some of its fund balance—at $1.8 million, according to the district—for important items such as the new roof, he said.


Extracurriculars need to be looked at in the overall budget picture, and "you make appropriate adjustments," he said.


He said poor management on the board meant approval of staff raises last year when a projected shortfall should have been considered.


He called the list of cuts the board plans to make if the referendum fails "another threat."


"I do not believe they are cutting those teachers they are putting for layoffs, at least not all of them," he said.


He said all of the proposed cuts are not necessary because there's "plenty of money" in the fund balance.


Kloepping

Kloepping said revenue caps have created the budget crisis, "and that is the huge difference in running the school like a business."


The board must continue negotiating with the teachers union to "strive for cooperation" on health care costs, she said, and 10 percent co-pays would be a good starting point with teachers and administrators.


The public was well informed of changing budget numbers between the two referendums, she said. The board needed to respond quickly after the referendum failed because of the potential loss of nearly $1 million if students left the district, she said.


"We can use a portion of fund balance, but it would not be good fiscal management to deplete that account and bankrupt the district," she said.


If the referendum fails, the board "will certainly" have to consider cutting or combining administrative positions, she said.


She said the board will proceed with the cuts if the referendum fails, responding to Donovan's call that they won't. She said she feels "very strongly" about keeping the agriculture program (which will be reduced if the referendum fails), and the district needs to keep it strong and diversified.


Extracurriculars may need to be "streamlined" if the referendum fails, but all sports should not be eliminated, she said. Going to referendum again can't be ruled out if funding sources don't change or negotiation concessions aren't made, she said.


Olsen

The school district's budget situation is not a result of poor management but of the state funding system, Olsen said. Residents should be "very proud" of how the budget was managed the last nine years to put off a referendum, she said.


The board and administration has cut $1.8 million the last six years in anticipation of shortfalls, she said.


Extracurriculars need to be protected, based on the open enrollment response after the failed referendum, she said.


If the referendum fails, the board would have to see how next year's cuts go before considering another referendum, she said.


While she supports eliminating an administrative position in 2011, she explained her "no" vote on last month's motion was because she thought the decision could have waited until contract renewals in January.


Olsen said she wondered how a candidate that has not been active in the school district nor has attended school board meetings can say that all possible cuts have not been made. Her experience through the board and volunteering in the classroom showed her that appropriate cuts have been made, she said.


The board will continue to pursue having employees pay a portion of their health insurance, she said. The board's initial offer in the current teacher contract was to have teachers' pay 30 percent of premiums, she said.


"It is extremely risky to the financial health of the district to start tapping into the fund balance to try and solve the problem," she said, though small uses may be justified.


She said some business approaches are used in the district, including zero-balance budgeting.


Schneider

A retired businessman, Schneider said he saw problems with the way the district was being run after attending referendum meetings.


"They just aren't being run like a business," he said. "We could be a little more frugal with the taxpayers' money."


He first would like to see solid budget numbers because they keep changing, he said.


"You can't really run a business unless you have the numbers," he said. "If you have a good set of numbers, they tell you what to do."


Schneider said the district's expenditures need a closer look. A roof that can last at least 30 years should be used for the high school, he said. He said he was amazed at the lack of business experience on the board, which needs to balance educational and business aspects, he said.


Administrative staffing levels are "out of bounds" compared to area districts, he said. According to district data, Brodhead has a student-administrator ratio of 126.4. Brodhead ranks as the fourth highest in number of administrators per student among the 12 Rock Valley Conference districts.


The school board has approved eliminating one administrative position in 2011, which the district said will bring the ratio to 142.3. But Schneider said that ratio won't increase as much because it's based on this year's enrollment, and enrollment is expected to continually drop.


He said he would not support a full cut of extracurriculars, but would look at each activity individually and explore partnerships with other districts.


The district should strive to have teachers and administrators pay 25 percent of their health insurance, he said.


"I'm not saying we need to get there in one jump," he said. "We need to work toward that."


Bios

Paul Donovan


Age: 41


Address: 17137 W. Avon Townline Road


Job: Group technology counsel at Illinois Tool Works Inc., in Glenview, Ill.


Education: Beloit Memorial High School graduate, 1987; mechanical engineering degree from Marquette University, 1992; law degree from Hamline University School of Law, 1995.


Community service: Big Brothers Big Sisters Rock County


Elected posts: None.


***


Carol Kloepping (I)


Age: 62


Address: W566 Windy Lane


Job: Administrative assistant at Kuhn North America, Brodhead.


Education: Elizabeth High School, Highland Community College.


Community service: Green County Crime Stoppers


Elected posts: 16 years on the Brodhead School Board


***


Peggy Olsen (I)


Age: 48


Address: N2603 Scotch St.


Job: Physical therapist at Dean Health


Education: Bachelor's degree in Physical Therapy, UW-Madison.


Community service: Volunteer chairperson of the "Pasta Performance" for Brodhead Show Choir for past eight years; volunteer with Brodhead High School sports teams for injury management for six years; elementary classroom volunteer for 10 years; youth baseball coach; scorekeeper for boys' basketball 12 years; server for the Brodhead Middle School senior luncheon.


Elected posts: Brodhead School Board since 2001


***


Allen Schneider


Age: 61


Address: N3908 Brittany Lane


Job: Retired plant manager from Woodbridge


Education: Brodhead High School graduate, 1966; mechanical engineering degree from Milwaukee School of Engineering, 1970.


Community service: Co-founder/longtime president of board of directors for Brodhead area EMS; longtime EMS member.


Elected posts: None.



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