Four people are running for two seats on the Evansville School Board in Tuesday’s elections.
Incumbents Eric Busse and Curtis Nyhus face challengers Rene Johnson and Jan Klaehn.
Two winners will join the seven-member board for three-year terms.
The district is coming off the passage in November of a referendum to build a new middle school and make improvements to other schools.
The candidates responded to these Gazette questions:
Q: Why are you running?
Busse: “I want to see through this last referendum,” he said.
If he wins, he’ll be the only board member to have seen the past two referendums from the talking stages to completion.
The board will be asked to approve vendors for furnishings and could be asked to approve changes in the plans, but many of the decisions at this stage will be made by the administration and project managers, Busse said.
Johnson: “Now that my kids are older, I feel I have the time. I think I can offer a wide variety of board experience.
“I think that I would work well with administrators and teachers while keeping students’ needs in mind. My 20 years of banking experience could help with finances.”
Klaehn: “I want to be a part of positive change in Evansville. I really appreciate the quality of our district, but I think we could be doing more with resources we have if we could get everyone together working on a unified vision.”
She wants to give the professionals the resources they need to do their jobs, and she sees a need for the district to make itself attractive to families.
Nyhus: He believes his problem-solving skills and ability to look at issues from an objective viewpoint will serve the board well.
“I’m really just starting to get my feet wet. I see a lot of challenges out here, and I really think there’s a lot I can give as the district looks at improvements in finances, technology, and district climate and culture.”
Q: Some have called for improved board-meeting minutes to better inform the public and more efforts to explain school district actions to the public. Do you agree?
Busse: “I don’t have a problem with any of that. Accountability and transparency should be at the forefront of any situation. You want to be able to disclose things to the public, to your constituents, about what’s going on in your district.”
Johnson: Better communications are needed to create more of a partnership between the community and the school board, she said.
The district has gotten better at communicating recently, including on Facebook.
“As far as the referendum or building projects, I feel like that is there if people want to look. Certain student or staffing problems can’t be made public,” Johnson said.
She feels a responsibility to be approachable and listen to the public.
Klaehn: Better communications will help teachers and the community understand district decisions. In the past, she has heard people wondering what happened after key decisions.
There should be clearer communication from the administration to teachers, she said.
Klaehn proposes a district newsletter or town hall-style meetings “so people feel more a part of things and start to engage and work together to help prepare students for today’s careers.”
Nyhus: “I spearheaded an initiative to get more information in the school board meeting minutes, which began in January.
“This should be a first step. Other measures could include video-recording board meetings.”
Q: What else?
Busse: He wants the district to get more state and federal grants to lighten the tax burden. “We need to take that chance and go after those, and that would include all staff and administration and possibly community members to help out in those situations.”
Johnson: “I have an open mind, and I’d bring a fresh outlook to the board. I’m certainly not afraid to question things, and I’m not afraid to speak up. I know I have a lot to learn, but I’m willing to learn.”
Klaehn: She wants to help ease tensions created by Wisconsin’s Act 10, the 2011 law that stripped teachers unions of much of their bargaining power. It left teachers “a bit demoralized,” and the district could do a better job of helping teachers feel highly valued. Teachers are the crucial asset of every district, she said.
Nyhus: The board’s role should be high-level policy, but it will have some choices to make in the upcoming building projects, such as selection of furnishings vendors, he said.
The nuts-and-bolts decisions should be left to the end users, architects and construction firms. The board needs to make sure things are moving in the direction the public finds palatable, he said.