Showing little disagreement on most issues, candidates for Milton School Board expressed unanimous support for the district’s $59.9 million referendum at a forum Thursday.
Tensions have flared among current school board members in recent weeks. But the four candidates vying for two seats on the board barely sparred at the forum, which was hosted by the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce at City Hall.
Candidates for city council and mayor also participated in the event, moderated by Stan Stricker of WCLO radio.
Mike Pierce is the sole incumbent in the school board election. He faces challengers Harvey Smith, Rick Ehle and Rick Mullen on April 2. Board member Don Vruwink, a state representative, is not seeking re-election.
Each candidate said he supports the district’s facilities referendum, which calls for additions and renovations to almost every district school. The candidates also pointed to the district’s teachers and educational offerings as examples of what they are most proud of.
Mullen, a pharmacist at Mercyhealth, mentioned the ongoing tension among board members and “divisiveness” in the community. He said the district’s reputation has “taken a hit.”
“I wish more time and energy was spent worrying about the things we have in common and how to fix those things,” Mullen said.
Candidates dismissed any notion that the board is broken when Stricker asked how they would overcome the board’s divisions. The district is currently being investigated for its handling of administrative stipends and compliance with school board policies.
The investigation was not mentioned during Thursday’s forum.
Pierce, who served on the board from 1994 to 2012 and was appointed to a one-year term last year, said the school board works well 90 percent of the time. He said members might not agree, but they shouldn’t be disagreeable, and he called for respect.
Mullen also said the board isn’t broken and that he would be an asset because he maintains relationships with current board members.
Smith lauded current members for overcoming criticisms that were lobbed against them last year. He said the current referendum package is not perfect, but he praised board members for collaborating on it. He said the district should be thinking about the future of education.
Ehle said the referendum is “not the Taj Mahal” but will satisfy the district’s needs. He said operational costs continue to increase and that voters are looking for transparency, clarity and honesty from the board when considering if they will support the referendum.
“People certainly do understand our needs,” Ehle said. “They understand the overcrowding. They understand the aging facilities. However, they want to know where every dollar is spent. And they have the right to know.”
But Ehle said voters might have unanswered questions about the referendum, such as if the district will need more janitors to care for the expanding facilities.
City council candidates also expressed support for the district’s referendum in a forum before the school board’s event.
Each stopped short of saying the city council should endorse it.
Three city council seats are up for grabs. Alderman Larry Laehn and Alderwoman Theresa Rusch, who did not attend Thursday’s forum, are seeking re-election. Devin Elliott and Bill Wilson are running as write-in candidates to replace Jeremy Zajac, who is not seeking re-election.