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Two face incumbent for two Milton School Board seats

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
March 24, 2011
— Two Milton challengers and an incumbent are running for two open seats on the Milton School Board.

Incumbent Jon Cruzan is seeking a second three-year term and faces Thomas Westrick and Jason Busch.


Al Roehl, a 27-year school board member, is not seeking re-election.


The three candidates are running at a tumultuous time for school districts with contentious state legislation and unprecedented state budget cuts to public education looming on the horizon.


Candidates answered questions about the following topics:


State budget
Q: What is your position on Gov. Scott Walker’s pending biennial budget and budget repair bill, which seek $900 million in cuts to school funding while curtailing collective bargaining and employment benefits for most public employee unions, including teachers unions?
Westrick: Believes Walker’s plans will hurt schools’ ability to educate and prepare Wisconsin’s future workforce.

“Wisconsin’s always been a great place for companies to locate in part because of our school systems and the great education of our workforce. Right now, we’re sending out a terrible message about the value of education in our state,” Westrick said.


Cruzan: Opposes Walker’s moves because they’ve sent a tidal wave of changes through local governments, almost without warning.

“It’s too much, too fast, not enough time for people to sort through and make proper decisions. It’s bang—here it is, now deal with it. We’ll deal with it because we don’t have a choice, but that’s a bad process,” Cruzan said.


Busch: His wife, Renee Stieve, teaches at Milton High School, and he believes Walker is reasonable in his belief that public employee unions should pay more for benefits. But he disagrees with the state’s efforts to strip workers of the ability to collectively bargain.

“I think removing collective bargaining by watering it down is really a disservice to teachers and other public employees,” Busch said. “There should be two viable groups at the negotiating table.”


Union contract
Q: The school board and Milton’s teachers union agreed this month to a two-year extension to the union’s labor contract. The deal was rife with union concessions to pay, benefits and collective bargaining, but officials say it should avert a glut of layoffs. The contract also shields the union from parts of the state budget repair bill.
Did the school board do the right thing?
Cruzan: Believes that under the current political climate, the contract was the best the district could have hoped for.

“It’s going to help forestall financial decisions that might not have to be cut as deeply or affected as quickly and surely as they would have had this agreement not come about. I think it also protects some (bargaining) things for the MEA (teachers union),” Cruzan said.


Westrick: The board and the union should have held off on a contract until the budget repair bill was decided.

“Nobody knows all the fine details of how this is going to shake out,” Westrick said. “There’s some dangers to getting locked into something when you don’t know what’s going to happen even a few weeks down the road.”


Busch: Is glad both sides worked to galvanize a labor deal quickly. He said the compromise, made amid great uncertainty, marks a turning point for relations between the union and board.

“It’s in best interests to solve a contract and move forward, even if both sides aren’t completely happy with it,” Busch said. “You don’t want the divisiveness that can be created (through an impasse).”


4-year-old kindergarten
Q: The school district plans to move ahead with a voluntary 4-year-old kindergarten program next year, even though state budget cuts could erase a financial surplus the district had planned to use to start the program. District officials argue the program shouldn’t be scrapped now because eventually it will pay for itself through increased enrollment and extra state aid payouts.
Do you agree?
Busch: Has a 19-month-old child and said he’s an advocate for 4K. He said he disagrees with the idea that because Milton hasn’t had 4K, it’s not missing it.

“It’s easy to say cut (4K) because we haven’t had it yet and so it’s not hurting anybody,” Busch said. “But we need this. When you’re looking at all of the neighboring districts that already have (4K), you have to have this to be competitive.”


Westrick: Favors 4K because he believes students who don’t have equal access to a pre-kindergarten education enter public schools behind the curve.

But amid emerging state budget woes, Westrick said he questions whether the timing is right for 4K.


“It wouldn’t be the end of the world if we didn’t start it right away. It should be considered if the district is in the right place economically,” he said.


Cruzan: Voted to approve the program last year and said that even with budget woes the district should still “strongly consider” keeping 4K intact because of growing local need.

“I think it’s still the right time to strongly consider it. We may need a program like this now more than ever. If there’s a way to advocate this forward, I think that we should,” Cruzan said.



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