Eight seeking seats on Antigo school board, race is spirited|
|The race for Antigo school board is one to remember.|
Eight candidates—including only one incumbent—are seeking to fill four seats on the board of education, and the results could shift the balance of power on the panel, which currently deadlocks 4-4 on many major issues, with an open seat
The candidates include incumbent Clark Palmer, Tara Fermanich Guelzow, Karin Koeppel, Scott Jensema, Roy Dieck, Jeanne Long, Gail Zaverousky and Dr. Patrick McKenna.
Seven of the eight candidates participated in a school board forum earlier this week at Antigo High School and their answers will be recapped briefly. The full forum was reported in Tuesday’s newspaper and is also available for streaming through the school district’s website.
The eighth candidate, Gail Zaverousky, was unable to attend the forum, but did sit down for a visit with the Antigo Daily Journal.
An Antigo native, Zaverousky is married with two children, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
She and her husband, Tom, have owned a variety of small businesses, including a school bus company for 12 years, She is currently employed by Walmart.
“I feel I am a very reasonable person and I believe in excellence,” Zaverousky said. “Every child should have a basic educational foundation for life.”
Zaverousky said that too much emphasis has been placed on buildings, not children, and that the district needs to recruit good teachers whose students will excel.
“Let’s start with the basics and build toward excellence,” she said.
She is a strong proponent of rural schools, coming through both Fairview and Crestwood elementary as a child.
“We have good schools that need to be maintained,” she said, adding they have been allowed to deteriorate. People have spoken through three failed referendums and parents want those facilities to stay open, she said.
“You have to fix what needs to be fixed now and then you make a long-range plan,” she said.
That plan, she added, could include shifting sixth graders from the Middle School back to elementaries, moving seventh and eighth graders to the high school and repurposing the middle school for administrative offices.
She is not a fan of the high school, which she said is only half-full due to declining enrollments.
Was it a mistake to build?
“Absolutely,” Zaverousky said. “We all like new, a new house, a new car or whatever. But we couldn’t afford it.”
And she added that promises that the school would aid in community development have been wrong.
“It did not do that,” she said. “Education is what is going to draw people. We have to be known for providing a good education.”
The district has been spending money in the wrong areas, Zaverousky said, and must look at salaries and benefits—which account for three-quarters of the school budget.
“You cannot run a business if it is all salary,” she said, adding “money does not make good teachers.”
Zaverousky said it is time for new ideas on the board, with excellence and accountability at the forefront.
“We have a long-range plan of taking dollars and fixing the schools. That’s what people want,” she said. “In a race, you can’t go in 10 directions. You have to go in one.”
An Antigo native and 1997 high school graduate, Guelzow is an attorney with Sommer, Olk, Payant and is also on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club of Langlade County and Habitat for Humanity.
She and her husband have two children.
Guelzow attended Monday’s forum and spoke of her passion for educational excellence, her commitment to represent everyone in the community, and her ability to bring a fresh perspective to the panel.
The board must work together, she stressed, noting that “deadlocks don’t help anyone.”
Guelzow recalled entering the new high school as a student, calling it “very exciting,” and said the building brings efficiencies that would not be capable otherwise.
She said that the goal of a school board member should be to enrich children through education while being fiscally responsible.
“If you’re not passionate about the future of our kids, you should not be on the school board,” she said. “We just need to be fiscally responsible. It’s not my money, it’s your money.”
And she said that some consolidation of facilities may happen, but not necessarily through construction of a new elementary school.
“Fair and equitable depends on what the community wants,” Guelzow said.
Guelzow said she is running for the board for all the right reasons, not to advance a personal agenda or political view.
“We need to keep the focus on the children,” she said.
A rural resident who lives near Phlox, Koeppel and her husband have two children, a son who attends Antigo Middle School and an infant daughter. She is an agronomist for AgVentures LLC.
Koeppel was a member of the district’s Forward Task Force, which met much of last year on building and fiscal issues.
At the forum, Koeppel stressed that she is “a parent and a concerned voter” who is tired of the constant deadlock.
She called the high school a beautiful building, but said she is sad that it is not full of students due to declining enrollments, and said that the role of a school board is to represent voters to ensure all children get an opportunity for a good education.
“The voters have spoken three times on consolidation and we need to respect their wishes,” Koeppel said.
Koeppel said that budgets have a limit for a reason and “that is a reality we have to face.”
And she was pleased with the idea of being on a school board that would no longer be deadlocked on major issues.
“I have the fabulous opportunity to have a very fresh slate,” she said, free of “dirty laundry.”
Koeppel said that public education remains the foundation of a free and democratic society, with everyone given the opportunity to learn.
Jensema is child welfare coordinator for Langlade County. He holds a bachelor of science degree in social work and is also a volunteer for Langlade County Action Alliance, and a coach for flag football and the town of Rolling C-League Baseball.
Jensema and his wife have two children.
At the forum, Jensema stressed his dedication to the children of the Antigo school district and “doing the best I can for all the children.”
He called the high school an “efficient building” that was needed and wanted by the community and that is used by many different groups.
“We do good work here,” he said.
The role of a board member, he said, is to make the best decisions for the students of the district whole considering the economics of the community. Each member must bring good things to the table, he said, and be willing to cooperate and collaborate with fellow board members “and get the job done.”
The district must balance the good that could come through consolidation with the excellent work and closeness of the small elementary schools, he said.
“We have to solve this,” he said. It’s going to take a lot of effort and thought. Sooner or later we’re going to have to do something.”
Jensema said he sees a lot of people in the community concerned about the future of the district.
“They are taking a vested interest,” he said.
Appointed in April, 2013, Tuesday’s election will be the first run through the ballot box for incumbent Clark Palmer.
Palmer is a native of Fond du Lac and is a retired pharmacist. He is married with four children, and 14 grandchildren.
At the forum, Palmer said that, in conjunction with three board members elected last year, good things have begun to happen in the district, pointing to technology upgrades at the rural elementary schools and a renewed focus on those facilities.
Palmer said the district is in the midst of many technology upgrades, including equipping high school freshmen with computer tablets and said professional development of staff will assure the instruments are used well.
Seventy to 80 percent of the district’s budgets go toward salaries and benefits and “that’s a lot,” he said.
He stressed that a board member represents the public and that “the will of the people is the law of the land” Disagreement and debate can be a good thing on a board, he said, and that the community wishes must be heard and followed.
“If we could show a lot of student achievement, a lot of the hubbub would go away,” he predicted.
Concerning any potential school consolidation, Palmer said that all students are receiving “an equitable opportunity.”
Palmer said he has been a good board member and, if elected, would immediately work to implement a long-range plan focused on a rural presence and student achievement.
Long is a newcomer to the Antigo school district, but not to boards of education. She served 14 years on the Bowler school panel prior to moving to the town of Rolling last year.
A certified para-professional, Long and her husband operate a custom auto arts firm. They have three adult children and three grandchildren.
She is a volunteer with Wisconsin Special Olympics along with other organizations and has been an athletic coach and adult mentor for children with special needs.
At the forum, Long stressed her board expertise.
“I want to be the advocate in the community for students and their schools,” she said.
She said the high school is a hub of community activity, pointing to the just-completed student musical that brought hundreds to the Volm Theater. The building also offers great efficiencies, she said.
As “builders of tomorrow,” schools must be in sync with the most modern technologies, she said, and provide opportunities. That, along with other needs, make it important that the district look at the overall picture of its facilities, making the best use of taxpayer dollars and providing a safe environment.
A board member should be focused on educating all students to their full potential, Long said, and be a leader in the district and community.
And he or she must be willing to listen.
“You might understand it from a different aspect,” she said. “We have to make the Antigo school district one of the best around.”
This marks retired accountant and general contractor Roy Dieck’s second go-round for the Antigo school board. He served for 10 years in the 1970s and said his passion for education has not wavered since sending five children through the system.
“I believe there is a crisis in education,” Dieck said at the forum. He called his previous tenure “successful and rewarding” and said he “has a handle on what the problems are.”
Dieck, whose family opposed several high school referendum projects in the 1980s and spearheaded efforts in the 1990s to get the funding for the present building revoked, said that he has no problem with the facility, just where it is located, on land that he said contains poor soil. Better locations were available.
He stressed his interest in new technologies, noting that “if you stop advancing in technology you’re going backwards.” And he said that consolidation should not be considered unless it benefits education.
“It can’t just be a matter of saving money,” he said. “We have to find another way to do things.”
The district’s enrollment is dropping, he said, and that should be leading to a corresponding decline in budgets, but it is not.
Board members should have a very close role in the development of the district’s budget, Dieck said, establish a long-range plan and demand accountability.
“We have to do more, we have to do it better,” he said.
Dr. Patrick McKenna
Employed by Aspirus General Clinic, Antigo native Dr. Patrick McKenna comes from a long line of local physicians and returned to his home community in 2011. He and his wife have two children.
McKenna is a member of the board of directors for the Antigo Area Community Food Pantry.
At the forum, McKenna said that a community invests its hopes and dreams in its children, and that Antigo is up to the task.
“Education plays such an important role in their lives,” he said. “It underscores its importance.”
He called the high school “one of the best investments the community has ever made,” regardless of the divisive policies that led to its construction. “It has paid dividends and continues to pay.”
On other issues, McKenna said the district must be strategic about advances in technology, perhaps finding ways outside the general fund to finance expensive improvements.
He agreed with those who said the voters have spoken through referendums and that the concept of a one centralized elementary school should not be pursued. Instead, the district must move on to determine other solutions.
McKenna said a school board member serves as bridge between the community and the district and “that has a lot of moving parts.” All sides, rural and city, must be heard and respected.
“I think we can do a really good job for our kids by being mindful of our fiscal responsibilities,” he said.
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