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Six candidates vie for three seats on Edgerton School Board

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Neil Johnson
March 29, 2013

— The Edgerton School Board race is a packed field, with six candidates seeking to fill three open seats.

The candidates are:

-- Incumbents Matt Towns and Amy Richardson, both veteran school board members with backgrounds in finance and lending.

-- Retired teacher Kathy Klein.

-- Stephen Doll, a 38-year-old technology consultant.

-- Thad Andrews, who did not fill out a Gazette biographical questionnaire.

-- Donald McFarlane, who did not respond to repeated emailed inquiries from The Gazette.

The Gazette asked all the candidates three questions:

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge the school district faces?

Andrews: The biggest challenge I see for school board is the budget and trying to make sure that the teachers and students have what they need.

Doll: I feel the biggest challenge facing Edgerton School District is implementing many of the new initiatives that are just getting started. This year alone, staff has been asked to handle the following changes: building and technology upgrades, state report cards, new testing standards, iPad initiative, gifted and talented program and Response to Intervention.

Klein: The biggest challenge facing the district short term is to continue to provide a state-of-the-art education to all students while working within the current state-imposed budget constraints. As the long-term effects of Act 10 play out, the greatest challenge will be to attract, hire and retain quality teachers.

Richardson: The biggest challenge we face is the negative effect the stateís leadership has had on all Wisconsin schools from an overall perspective and specifically as it relates to budgets and relationships with staff. Wisconsin has always been known as a state that makes education a priority. I fear our state leadership is quickly moving away from this, which will be detrimental for all Wisconsin communities and their children.

Towns: Like most districts, the biggest challenges here are the unpredictable and sometimes difficult circumstances we are faced with under state statutes and the current budgeting process. It can be a challenge to create a plan and budget that meet our local needs when we are not in control of our own revenue.

Q: What would you do to address that challenge?

Andrews: To address this problem, we need to look at it just like a business. We need to take each thing when it comes up, look at it and see where it falls into the whole picture and then decide the benefit of it.

Doll: Retaining staff is critical to seeing these initiatives through to completion. Retaining staff while considering additional staff will be difficult with budget constraints. Each and every budget expense has to be carefully compared to its effect on the initiatives already started.

Klein: The financial challenges need to be met by maximizing our current resources both in terms of personnel and finances. All budget aspects must be carefully monitored. In order to attract and retain the best teachers, the district must create a professional climate in which teachers have an active voice in decision-making, as it affects the curriculum and their work environment.

Richardson: My job will continue to focus on prioritizing the budgeted dollars that we are allotted from the state to make the most significant impact possible. Our recent referendum helped us tremendously such that our most significant building and technology needs are addressed. I am so grateful for our community for that. Continuing good relations with our staff is important, and open communications, within the confines of the law, will be key.

Towns: Our efforts are focused on maintaining flexibility in our policy and budgets so that we can adapt to changes in our community and at the state level while continuing to serve our local needs.

Q: How do you feel about the districtís pending budget plan to add staff and restore budget funding cuts in the last two years despite the fact that the district, like others, faces flat state aid and the specter of reserve funds falling below a district mandated minimum balance of $2 million?

Andrews: As far as the $190,000 (budget additions), I think the districtís gifted and talented program is a good program. The program should be able to make changes if needed. I would like to hear what the teachers have to say about it.

Doll: I am baffled by (District Administrator Dennis) Pauliís latest recommendations to restore funding to prior budget cuts as well as all of the requested staff additions. The Edgerton School District has an estimated $3 million fund balance at the end of 2013. Proposed spending would create more than a half million dollar yearly deficit.

According to Dr. Pauliís calculations, in two years the fund balance would be approximately $1.7 million. I think there is a feeling of having ďextraĒ money now that the referendum has passed, when in reality board members will have to make some tough choices. Many exciting new programs are at risk, including the Gifted and Talented program, an iPad initiative and new AP class offerings at the high school next year.

Intentionally reducing the fund balance below 10 percent of the districtís operating expenses is against district policy, and I havenít heard a good argument why that policy should be ignored now.

Klein: I believe it is the duty of the board to thoroughly question and scrutinize any fund balance spending. On the other hand, the purpose of the fund balance is to provide funding during times of financial crisis. With the current state-imposed budget constraints, we may indeed be facing just such a crisis.

I would need more information regarding the proposed staff positions, as well as to how the $100,000 increase to the curriculum budget would be spent, before I could determine whether accessing the fund balance is justified. Whether these proposed budget increases will result in the fund balance falling below the mandated $2 million is uncertain.

Richardson: Iím in support of adding the two teaching positions at the elementary level to address growing enrollment/classroom sizes. With regard to adding dollars back to the maintenance budget, this needs to be reviewed in light of our five-year plan now that weíve addressed some of those needs with referendum dollars. I would likely not support other new positions if the only way we can support them long-term is through the fund balance.

Towns: The board will not allow the fund balance to drop below our policy minimum, nor will we get into a situation in which we need the fund balance to meet basic budget items on a regular basis. However, needs can change, and occasionally there will be situations where the use of reserve funds may be appropriate. The currently proposed additions to the budget will be prioritized, and the board will have to determine whether they are a prudent use of reserve funds.



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