The Kenosha Educators Politically Active and Concerned (KEPAC) Executive Committee, along with guest union representatives from AFSCME and AFL-CIO, spent over six hours reviewing written questionnaire answers and interviewing the four active candidates for the April 7th School Board election. The time and diligence taken by all of the candidates to participate in this process is greatly appreciated and demonstrates their commitment to the position they seek, overseeing the most important of this community’s resources and services, the public schools.
At a general membership meeting of KEPAC held this Thursday, members voted on endorsements. KEPAC is happy to announce that they endorse all four of the candidates, each for different reasons, but generally because we have always looked for candidates who are reasonable, open-minded individuals, who show a genuine concern for the students’ best interests and who have a willingness to work with us to make that happen.
Current School Board President Tamarra Coleman is completing her first term on the School Board – a tempestuous three years. While not always in agreement with our positions in that time, she has overseen an effective change in the administration at the ESC. She is forthright in acknowledging that there remains a trust issue between leadership and staff and, along with the Superintendent, has repeated her commitment to a desire for the open communication of ideas, concerns and problems. “We have to show that we are trustworthy, and all I can ask is that staff give us a chance.” She hopes that to be the initial focus of a new HR director as well.
She agrees that state funding is a major obstacle, especially in addressing the staffing needs at the secondary schools, and that the Board needs to have a stronger stance in this area. She hopes some funding can be found locally and is in favor of reconstituting the Benefit Task Force, which would include employee representatives, and seriously pursuing a Wellness program in an effort to cut premium increases for health insurance.
She sees the next step for the district as the development of a new strategic plan with the Curriculum Audit as the guide and closing the achievement gap as a principal goal. She is against voucher expansion and privatization and the additional revenue losses for public schools these initiatives would cause.
Mike Falkofske earned KEPAC’s endorsement when he ran for a seat on the School Board last year and we are very pleased that he has chosen to run again. He has been actively engaged in district issues for the past three years as part of the Kenosha Parents for Children group, which grew out of community concerns over the Transformation Plan and his own concerns over the staff cuts that resulted from Act 10. His father was a teacher and active leader in the teachers’ union.
He recognizes that “the greatest strength of KUSD is its hard-working staff” and that the lack of adequate funding from the state has undermined the staff’s ability to do their best for the students. He supports fair and adequate funding for public education, and is against vouchers and privatization and the additional money they would take from public education.
Mike brings a professional skill set of breaking down problems into smaller pieces and bringing various groups together to develop solutions, a skill that could serve the district well. He knows there is a trust issue that carries over from the previous administration and emphasizes open, honest communication as a key element in rebuilding trust among all stakeholders.
He, too, sees the need for a new, comprehensive strategic plan and the Curriculum Audit as a valuable resource in shaping that plan. He has long been involved in promoting effective curriculum to meet the needs of all students.
Tony Garcia has been a Kenosha resident since childhood, and the importance placed on education by his migrant worker parents took him to Carthage College and, later, to earn both Bachelor and Masters degrees in education. He taught for four years in Racine Unified, and has been a bilingual coordinator, mentor and committee member in KUSD, so he knows the joys and struggles of teachers directly. He was a two-term Kenosha County Board Supervisor, and serves with the Boys & Girls Club and LULAC, so he has a depth of community experience.
Tony believes that “the district must be open and accountable to the community, the parents and the students for a high quality education program” and assuring that it is available to all students. He also sees that relationship as a two-way street: that the community should be involved in addressing district concerns as well. He believes that by educating the community, and by looking more broadly at community issues, concerns in the schools can be dealt with more effectively. He, thus, also puts a premium on open communication and collaboration.
He, too, sees the need for a clearly defined vision and strategic plan for the district, and recognizes that the Curriculum Audit provides valuable guidance in this regard. Finally, as a member of the Latino community, he would provide an important voice for and perspective from an increasing proportion of Kenosha’s citizens which has been missing from the School Board for quite a while.
Mary Snyder has a career-long history with KUSD, spanning over 30 years as a teacher at Tremper and two terms on the School Board. Her commitment to public education comes from the life-changing benefits she gained from her own education and a desire to see similar opportunities continue to be available to all students.
As with Mrs. Coleman, the Act 10-created chaos of the past four years put Mary in opposition to our views on multiple occasions. When it came to some other matters of importance to our members, however, such as health insurance and the adoption of the just cause standard in the handbook, she understood the negative impact changes in these areas would have on staff morale and supported their continuance. She also expresses the recognition that the School Board needs to be more actively involved in lobbying the state legislature over the impacts of the funding cuts and those proposed, both in the biennial budget and through voucher expansion, neither of which she supports. Simply put, Mary has had to deal directly with the problems Act 10 has created, acknowledges that it needs to be changed, and that provides a common ground for cooperation.
Mary recognizes the need to restore the lines of communication between administration and staff. She has made efforts “to spend more time out in the buildings to encourage dialogue.” She hopes more effort can be put into communicating with parents and the community as well.
Each candidate, then, present good reasons to support their campaigns for the three open seats to be voted for on April 7th. None indicated any positions that would rule them out. All expressed the belief that the KEA has a key role in the district and a desire to improve communication between the district and our organization. It will be important to follow the campaigns as they unfold, consider carefully what each individual would bring to the position and weigh those qualities in your personal balance.
Our sincere thanks to everyone involved in the interviews:
KEPAC Executive Committee members:
Dean Hervat (Chair), Betsy Liddicoat, Heather Waldron and Sheri Wawiorka
KEA President Anne Knapp
KEA- Retired President Barry Thomas
AFSCME Representatives: Shanon Molina and Regi Bachochin
AFL-CIO President Zach Stoner
KEA Staff: Kendra Koeppen and Scott Farnsworth
(Our guest panelists will take the information from the interviews and questionnaires back to their own groups and follow their organization’s independent endorsement procedures)