Janesville School Board candidates on the issues

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Gazette Staff
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
— The April 6 ballot will include five candidates for three seats on the Janesville School Board, but two of them might not serve or serve abbreviated terms.

One candidate, Rene' Bue, dropped out of the race March 1, but her name will appear on the ballot.

Incumbent Diedre Richard announced March 16 that she will move out of the district by July, if not sooner. She cannot serve after she moves. Richard asked that her answers to Gazette questions not be published, saying she didn't think it would be appropriate given her status. However, she said she still wants people to vote for her with the understanding the board likely would appoint someone to serve in her stead through April 2011.

The name of incumbent Tim Cullen will not be on the ballot. He is not running for re-election.


Karl Dommershausen

Age: 67

Address: 2419 Plymouth Ave., Janesville.

Education: Some college, numerous seminars and training courses for professional improvement; graduate of the Chrysler Leadership Program; attended diversity training classes, sensitivity training, pandemic training and numerous other safety and community seminars. Currently enrolled in the Leadership Development Academy and taking two other courses.

Job: Has operated 27 West Appraisals & Estate Services for 25 years with his wife, Renee.

Community service: Almost 40 years of service. Currently sits on several no-profit boards and is chairman of several committees. Chaired and organized many fundraising events.

Elected positions: Ran unsuccessfully for Janesville City Council twice and for Janesville School Board once.


Kristin Hesselbacher

Age: 41

Address: 1210 N. Martin Road, Janesville.

Education: Bachelor's degree in psychology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1991; master's degree in public health, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1996.

Job: Freelance grant writer. Her work has included writing grants and serving as a project coordinator for the Janesville School District.

Community service: President, Janesville Area Council-PTA; former president of Jefferson Elementary School PTA; board of directors for Wisconsin PTA; governance board commissioner for CRES Academy charter school.

Elected positions: None


Peter D. Severson

Age: 40

Address: 1817 Wesley Ave., Janesville.

Education: Bachelor's degree in social work and sociology from Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn.

Job: Business process analyst, which includes computer-support work, for the state court system.

Community service: Den leader for Cub Scout Pack 411

Elected positions: Severson ran unsuccessfully for school board in 2007 and 2008. The board appointed him to serve part of the unexpired term of a board member who resigned in July 2008. Voters elected him in April 2009.

Questions asked of the candidates
Should the Janesville School Board set a goal of a no-increase tax levy for next year?
Dommershausen: With all of the fiscal issues facing the board, it will be challenging to attain that goal. In balancing the budget over recent years, the board has delayed addressing many issues, including capital repairs, retirement funding, etc. We have taken from our reserves, used interest from the high school projects, reduced supplies, delayed needed maintenance, stretched class sizes, outsourced many positions and a variety of other measures to keep taxes down. Those strategies accomplished that goal, but we probably are running out of these moves, and now we must make sure we are not jeopardizing the future of our system. Despite the aforementioned cautionary information, we must make every effort to maximize our education received for the dollars spent.
Hesselbacher: No. The board's goal should be to provide the resources necessary for all students to either graduate or to make adequate progress toward graduation. Now is not the time to further reduce the resources available for the school district. Janesville needs a strong school district to attract families and businesses to the area.
Severson: The goal of the board should be to find the best possible tax levy for the district. This will probably not be a no-increase levy, but it also will not mean a "tax to the max" situation. The district does need to grow—done by raising taxes—but that growth needs to be tempered by current economic conditions.
What specific programs or positions would you look to cut, or what other measure would you advocate, if needed, to balance next year's budget? Please list two specific measures you could support.
Dommershausen: Without knowing the proposed budget, it is difficult to propose areas we can cut or eliminate. However, all justified reductions should be presented. Whatever is to be adjusted must not harm our children's or our community's future.
Hesselbacher: First, I would consider all suggestions made by principals, teachers and support staff. They work with students every day and they know best which budget items are priorities and which items can be eliminated or postponed without a direct effect on learning.

Second, the district needs to look at all programs and all staff positions. For example, could every program absorb a 2 percent cut, which may include staff positions? Or could every building absorb a similar cut? I want to avoid cutting a significant number of staff positions, which would directly affect students. I would also encourage all non-instructional programs to seek outside sources of support, such as community volunteers and small foundation grants.

Severson: I would look to the administration to recommend where cuts would be most appropriate. I think there will be some staff reductions, with those reductions being as far away from the students as possible. Others cuts will come in trimming budget areas all over and letting the departments prioritize what needs to get done.
What is the district's biggest problem, and what, if anything, can the school board do about it?
Dommershausen: Because of decreasing revenues, to decide between needs and wants, which in education can be a fine line, and doing the analysis in an objective or subjective manner, is going to be our challenge. Consequentially, can we discuss an item and make a decision in an impartial and open-minded manner?
Hesselbacher: The district's biggest challenge is how to serve a student population with ever-growing needs during a time of diminishing resources in both state and local tax dollars. The school district must continue to provide specific services to at-risk students if they are to have any chance to succeed, and this group, as measured by those who qualify for free and reduced lunch, has increased significantly in the last year. The school district must continue to teach 21st century skills that can be applied at any job, at any college, anywhere students may live. And this must be done within the confines of a budget that has been severely limited in recent years.
Severson: Stability. After some of the dust settles around the region's economic situation, we will need to learn to do more with less and to make hard choices on the what stays and what goes. Then, the board needs to guide the process of looking out further into the future, in terms of policy, budgeting and programming, to make the district a more stable operation.
Are you satisfied with the Studer process, which includes accountability based on specific performance measures, for administrators?
Dommershausen: The process provides a vehicle for the administrators to receive necessary feedback, as well as providing specific, stated expectations of them in a personal, emotional and creative work environment.
Hesselbacher: The evidence-based leadership practices have certainly been a challenge for our administrators to put into place. These are people who were already incredibly busy, but they have embraced these ideas because they want the school district to be a great one. Any changes of this magnitude are going to take time to implement, and applying Mr. Studer's ideas from the health care field to the education field will continue to require careful thought and planning. I appreciate the focus on setting goals based on student achievement and gathering satisfaction data from staff and parents.
Severson: I believe Mr. Studer gave us a wonderful gift. The product is fantastic; our implementation has been slow but always moving forward. It is a big change, and all involved need to be commended for their work. We are moving from good to great; the momentum just needs to continue to move forward.
Should the Studer process be extended to teachers, in which each teacher would be asked to measure up to specific performance goals?
Dommershausen: I would like to look at that possibility by working alongside educators, Mr. Studer and others to see if it could be done. There are many variables to consider; among those are readiness, personal student baggage, etc. Measurements may not be fair because of the diverse backgrounds of students among different schools. Are we going to measure where the student started, in place of a set criterion across the board for every student, without regard to where an individual child began?
Hesselbacher: Any goals for teachers would have to take into account the many factors that are beyond the control of any teacher or classroom. Parents are the determining factor in whether a child arrives at school ready to learn, and schools have seven hours to do what they can for every student. However, there are specific measures that could determine how effective a teacher is in providing learning opportunities, and there are exemplary teaching practices that should be duplicated across the district.
Severson: To be fully successful, the Studer process must be extended to ALL district staff. Getting there is the hard part. The board and the administration have a long ways to go to build the trust required to implement such a change. It will take some time, but I think we can get there.
List any specific proposals not covered by the previous questions that you would like to pursue.
Dommershausen: Looking into proven ideas that improve productivity in the classroom, discussing limited or complete consolidation with other districts in Rock County to lower costs and increase efficiencies, consider if our school board committees could include more community members, utilizing more "green" techniques. These dialogues would have to bring together a coalition of interested parties that would contribute in a meaningful, unbiased, non-parochial and productive manner.
Hesselbacher: My focus will be on graduation rates and 21st century skills. The school board must support programs and services that get students to school, keep them engaged and challenged and send them into the world prepared for higher education or the workforce. I have two ideas for staff positions that would require local tax dollars but would bring more resources into the district: a full-time grant writer and a community volunteer coordinator. These positions would work with school staff and community members to bring in funds, programs and people at a time when tax dollars simply aren't enough to provide everything our students need to succeed.
Severson: I will continue to work on issues related to expulsions, trying to keep the number of expulsion as low as possible while maintaining safety in the buildings.

Last updated: 1:03 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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