The Milton School Board will have at least one new member after the spring election.
Board member Don Vruwink is not running for re-election, leaving at least one seat for one of the election’s crop newcomers: Rick Ehle, Rick Mullen and Harvey Smith.
Incumbent Mike Pierce is running for re-election. He was appointed to the board in 2018 after Betsy Lubke resigned. He previously held a position on the school board for 18 years from 1994 to 2012.
Two seats are up for grabs.
Ehle and Smith both have made unsuccessful runs for school board in the past.
All candidates have voiced support for the $59.9 million facilities referendum, which will also be on the ballot April 2.
The Gazette asked the candidates the following questions:
Q: The spring referendum, district facilities and an investigation into district compensation seem to be the most talked-about issues in the school district. What other issues do you find to be important and need to be addressed?
Ehle: He sees vaping and using JUUL devices as a major problem, particularly with teenagers, in the district.
Mullen: The district needs to be aware of complacency and should not settle for good enough. Divisiveness in the community is giving the district a bad name and makes it more difficult for the district to attract and retain qualified staff. Looking at the effects of technology on mental health in students is also important.
Pierce: Class sizes, curriculum, updating the district’s tennis courts and integrating the district’s 4K program into district buildings are topics of concern. Much of his work, if re-elected, would depend on if the referendum passes.
Smith: Distrust in the school board needs to be addressed in addition to looking at the future of technology in education and working with technical schools to teach students in the trades.
Q: If money was not an object, what do you think would be the ideal solution to address district facility needs? What projects, included or not included in the referendum, would you like to see addressed?
Ehle: Additions are better than tearing down or building new. The $59.9 million referendum is the first of three recent facility referendums in the district to touch almost every school in the district. The referendum is not perfect, but it is economically friendly while also addressing needs.
Mullen: Ideally, the district would have a new high school and traffic patterns would be reconfigured at every school to address safety concerns. Each school would have secure entrances, accessibility issues would be addressed, and kids would not be in the basement at East Elementary. He also believes the high school needs a larger gymnasium and a new, eight-lane pool with locker room facilities.
Pierce: The current referendum is good and meets district needs. If money was not a factor, he would support a new high school.
Smith: Band and choir spaces need to be expanded to accommodate growing interest in the arts. He would liked to have seen overcrowded hallways addressed. He supports the decision to focus on fixing and expanding schools instead of building a new high school and believes a facilities referendum should focus on academics rather than athletics.
Q: Many community members have voiced concerns about ongoing divisiveness in the community, much of which centers around the school district. How do you think as a board member you would address those concerns?
Ehle: “I live my life the way we teach our children: transparency, honesty, clarity,” Ehle said. He aims to accept everyone’s opinions and treat each individual with respect.
Mullen: The board sets the tone for the entire community. The board does not have to vote unanimously on everything, but it is important that board members try to come to a consensus and listen to each other. He wants the board to believe in and focus on the kids.
Pierce: He believes he has not been divisive in his time on the board. He returned to the school board because he saw “turmoil” and wanted to do his part to ease tension. It is important for board members to remain calm and realize they cannot control other people.
Smith: The board should avoid going into closed session unless when absolutely necessary because closed sessions contribute to mistrust. He also wants to see board members respond to questions from community members in public comment either during the meeting or afterward.