Janesville School Board primary vote to cut field by 1

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Frank Schultz
Monday, February 11, 2013

— Voters will eliminate one from a field of seven candidates running for Janesville School Board in the primary on Tuesday, Feb. 19

Voters may choose as many as three of the seven.

All three incumbents and four others are vying to be one of the six on the April 2 ballot. The incumbents are Karl Dommershausen, Kristin Hesselbacher and Peter D. Severson. The challengers are Diane Eyers, Fredrick Jackson, JT Lichtfuss and Cathy Myers.

Three winners in April will serve three-year terms on the nine-member board.

The candidates were all asked the following questions:

-- Improving student test scores has been Job 1 under this school board. Do you think that should be a top goal, and do you think the district has been doing what it should to improve test scores?

-- Teachers and other unionized employees will see a cut in take-home pay starting July 1 because of increased payments to their pension fund and for health insurance. They have gotten raises three of the past four years. Would you vote for pay raises next year?

-- Name a problem that needs fixing. How would you work to improve the situation?


Test scores: "I think it's an important milestone, but when we have our teachers concentrating on a test score rather than other things, I worry.

The district is heading in the right direction with testing, Dommershausen said. If a teacher has improved a student by one grade level over the course of a year, then the teacher has done his job.

Pay: Dommershausen likes elements of the pay system the Ripon School District recently adopted, which involves performance pay. Teachers get credit for earning a master's degree, but not as currently. Teachers don't see pay increases if they don't perform or show improvement.

None of the teachers lost money in the changeover, Dommershausen said.

The system should be devised with teacher input, Dommershausen said.

Problem: The board needs to move faster in developing pay and benefits plans for the coming school year, and the board should discuss these matters with teachers, Dommershausen said.

"If we wait until the last minute, were going to have a hurried thing."

Board-teacher discussions should be possible if both sides agree to a hold-harmless provision in case they need to negotiate later, Dommershausen said.


Test scores: "I believe tests scores are a good indication of how we are teaching our children. We have to have something to guide us. (Test scores) are one tool we should use … but (they are) not necessarily the most important indicator.

"I think as a district we are looking at different ways to (improve), and I think that's the goal, to never stop looking for ways to do it … and I want to continue that."

Pay: Eyers noted the school board has approved a new incentive-pay system for administrators, and she believes the board is leaning toward the same for teachers.

"I think that's fair because I think everybody wants to be noticed, wants to be recognized for doing a good job."

Problem: "One of biggest problems is we have so much change going on, and I think there's so much fear, and I wish we could bring trust back, with our teachers, with the board members and administration, so we truly could work together to educate our kids, and I'd like be part of that, to mend these wounds.

Eyers said the rifts over Wisconsin Act 10 are part of problem. "It's just the teachers and board. It's the community. We are so split, so I would really like to see some healing."


Test scores: "The school board needs to be redirected so that it's more focused on development of the kids as a whole."

Jackson said he has read district reports and thinks the district is seeking to improve the average scores with efforts at all the schools. More efficient would be to focus on areas where improvement is most needed, he said.

"Focusing on reading test scores where students are already excelling is not helping to improve. ... You drive up the reading scores for schools that are already good, which brings up the average. That's not fixing the problem. That's a Band-Aid."

Pay: "I think teachers are one of the most undervalued assets that a parent could have in their corner. I believe they set the tone for kids to develop the confidence and knowledge they need to succeed in life, so I would definitely vote for an increase."

Jackson does not like the idea of paying for performance because be believes that using tests scores as a measure would lead to incorrect conclusions.

"One of the things that helps kids succeed is that they find that one teacher or two teachers they can connect with. If a teacher is under pressure (to improve test scores), kids are never going to find that," because the teacher is focusing on meeting a quota.

Problem: The system for measuring student test scores needs to be more effective. It focuses on averages and does not tell who is excelling and where the trouble is, Jackson said.

Jackson would like to see each board member responsible for improvement at a particular school or several schools.


Test scores: These are the goal because that's how the state measures schools, Hesselbacher said. The tool should improve starting in 2014, measuring student growth and not just attainment of proficiency levels.

Hesselbacher likes the steps the district is taking to improve classroom instruction.

Pay: Hesselbacher would be open to approving a 2.07 percent teacher pay increase—the maximum allowed this year under Wisconsin Act 10—but not for everyone.

She wants the money distributed according to performance. The pay system for teachers should take into account a teacher's efforts to improve instructional methods, take on leadership roles and get a master's degree, among other measures, Hesselbacher said.

"I think the salary schedule could look different and could award teachers for what they're actually doing."

Problem: The district has the same challenge that all of public education has, to teach a set of skills that are very different from 15 to 30 years ago, Hesselbacher said.

At the same time, the district needs to teach students who might come to school hungry, without proper clothing or who might not have supportive parents.

"As board member, I think we can be aware that not all students come to school ready to learn," and board members need to balance where resources are allocated to children can succeed.


Test scores: "I believe improving test scores should be our second job, where Job 1 would be making sure that our students are safe and secure within the learning environment.

"If our kids do not feel safe and secure when attending school, the anxiety and depression the children feel will prohibit learning. Therefore, a child needs to be in a safe environment to learn to the best of their ability."

Pay: "I would vote for a salary increase. I believe that the profession of teaching is a noble and important one that should be rewarded. I believe strongly in rewarding the teachers that go above and beyond their duty while holding accountable the teachers that are not performing to the best of their ability.

"I believe you can't give raises to administrators without giving raises to teachers."

Problem: I believe the primary problem is bullying and school violence. According to the Wisconsin School District Performance Report, in 2010-2011 there were 267 assaults and 238 endangering-safety incidents in the Janesville School District. No board member or candidate has the education or experience that I have in understanding why children do what they do.

"I will be able to provide expert advice and consultation to prevent these senseless acts of violence and bullying."

Note: It is Gazette policy to check candidates' court records and report any criminal convictions. Lichtfuss has one, for second-offense intoxicated driving, in 2010, for a 2009 offense.


Test scores: "I think that is an excellent goal. I don't know how good of a job the district has been doing on it. What I'm hearing from teachers and families is lot of emphasis on testing and not on instruction. You've got to have instruction first.

"We need accountability, of course, but not at the expense of instruction."

Pay: "I would vote for pay raises."

With the loss of many veteran teachers who are retiring or leaving the district and are near the top of the pay scale, the district should be in a good position to hire, Myers said.

"But we need to attract the best and brightest because we eliminated all those years of experience, to be competitive with other districts and states. You are going to have to make sure you offer competitive wages, especially if you're going to nick them on benefits."

Myers would consider performance pay "if you could show me a model that's fair, that actually rewards teachers. … I'm open to looking into just about everything. What I'm going to be interested in is the evidence that this somehow will improve things for kids and teachers."

Problem: "It seems there's a lack of willingness to talk between teachers and the school board," for example, Myers sees a lack of communications over the development of the employee handbook.

"If you are not talking to each other, you are not being an effective district. Really good schools are good because they are good communities and they are communities of learners."

Lack of communication will ultimately affect student performance, Myers said. "Teachers will find better jobs elsewhere with less controversy, and bright people fresh out of school won't come here."


Test scores: I do think this needs to be a top goal. That's the job of the school district, to educate kids, so we have to do as well as we can.

"I think we are doing a pretty good job."

Severson said things should improve as the district adopts new state standards and a more rigorous curriculum.

Pay: I'm generally leaning towards pay increases."

Severson noted that the top end of the teacher pay scale got a boost in the last contract.

"I would probably be more inclined to support something that benefited the lower wage employee rather than those in the upper end of the scale as they exist now."

Severson likes the idea of incentive pay but says the difficulty will be in how performance is measured, and the district does not yet have a good system for that.

Problem: Severson said the board needs to get control of "other post employment benefits," which involves paying for health insurance for those who have worked sufficient years and who retire before they reach Medicare age.

Those benefits have been paid each year, but modern accounting requires the board set aside money to cover those expenses.

"The problem is really with health care. We would not have a problem if we could get a better handle on health care costs," which have increased at 15 percent or more per year, Severson said.

Severson suggested a retirement account for which the employee becomes fully vested after a certain point, which would put a ceiling on the benefit cost.


Karl Dommershausen (I)

Age: 70

Address: 2419 Plymouth Ave., Janesville

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

Education: Some college studies, 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.

Community Service: Member of Janesville Neighborhood Action Team, Diversity Action Team, Beloit Janesville Symphony Orchestra Board, Homeless Intervention Task Force of Rock County, Homeless Education Action Team of Rock County, Project 16:49 Board, Vietnam Veterans of America and American Legion.

Elected posts: Elected to a three-year term on the Janesville School Board in 2010.


Diane L. Eyers

Age: 44

Address: 3320 LaMancha Drive Janesville

Job: Employed by IDM, a property management/marketing company in Madison. Previous experience in insurance and accounting. Worked on creating employee handbooks for organizations she declined to name.

Education: Associate degree in accounting from Blackhawk Technical College.

Community Service: Volunteers at Kennedy Elementary School, where her son attends, where she reads to students and is chairwoman for fundraising with the Parent Teacher Organization.

Elected posts: None


Kristin Hesselbacher (I)

Age: 44

Address: 1210 N. Martin Road

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: Grants consultant at Rosecrance Inc. in Rockford, Ill. Previous experience includes writing grants and serving as a project coordinator for the Janesville School District and employment at non-profit and governmental agencies in several states.

Community service: President, Marshall Middle School PTA; past board member of JTAG, Jefferson PTA, Roosevelt PTA, Edison PTA, Janesville Area Council PTA and Wisconsin PTA.

Elected posts: Elected to a three-year term on the Janesville School Board in 2010, chairwoman of the board's Personnel/Policy/Curriculum Committee, 2011-present.

Fredrick Jackson

Age: 39

Address: 217 S. Pontiac Drive, Janesville

Job: Analyst for Eaton Corp. in Watertown

Education: Bachelor's degree in management from University of Phoenix, 2009.

Community Service: Coaches several sports teams at the YMCA, helped with Boys & Girls Club burger and steaks fundraiser, helped setting up roadblocks for Janesville July Fourth parade.

Elected posts: None.


JT Lichtfuss

Age: 35

Address: 1216 N. Randall Ave., Janesville

Job: Personal adviser and consultant specializing in anti-bullying, workplace harassment, relationship issues and conflict resolution. Has authored courses on terrorism and plans to publish a book on bullying. As a combat veteran and cancer survivor, speaks on both those topics. Former member of Wisconsin Army National Guard, United States Army Reserve and active duty Army with the 82nd Airborne Division, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Education: 2011 doctorate in comparative religion; 2012 educational specialist degree in educational leadership; 2009 masters degree in criminal justice specializing in homeland security and terrorism; 2007 bachelor's degree in psychology and public administration; Certified in homeland security; certified medical investigator; certified intelligence Analyst. Lichtfuss has declined to say where he earned his degrees.

Community Service: 2006-08 Janesville VFW House Committee; 2009-2011 American Cancer Society; 2010-present Scott Hamilton's Fourth Angel Cancer Mentoring Program; 2012-present American Board of Forensic Examiners board member.

Elected posts: None.


Cathy Myers

Age: 50

Address: 515 St. Lawrence Avenue Janesville

Job: English teacher, Honnoegah High in Rockton, Ill.

Education: Bachelor's degree in English from Westminster College, Fulton, Mo.; master's degree in teaching from University of Iowa; master's degree in technology in the classroom, Walden University,

Community Service: Alternate on the city of Janesville Citizens Advisory Committee on Appointments; Board member, Red Road House transitional housing project; adviser to Gay-Straight Alliance, Hononegah High School, 2007-2012.

Elected posts: Ran unsuccessfully for Rock County Board in 2012.


Peter D. Severson (I)

Age: 43

Address: 1817 Wesley Ave., Janesville

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

Job: Business process analyst for state court system.

Community service: Member of the Janesville-Beloit Kennel Club.

Elected posts: Appointed to the Janesville School Board in 2008, elected to the board since 2009. Chairman of the board's Legislative Committee since 2012.

Last updated: 8:12 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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