Good Government Council: Eau Claire Board of Education Questionnaire
When: Tuesday, April 4th, 2023; polls open 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Find your voting location at myvote.wi. All absentee ballots must be requested by March 30th, 2023 and turned in no later than 8:00 p.m. on April 4th either by mail or dropped off in-person. In-Person absentee voting will start Tuesday, March 21st and end Friday, March 31st. This will take place at City Hall. You can vote Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. If you plan to vote by mail, voters are strongly encourage to mail their ballots as soon as possible to ensure their ballot is received by the deadline.
What it’s about: There are 4 candidates running for the 2 School Board seats this April. The Eau Claire School Board includes 7 members who each serve a three-year term. The candidates include:
Lori Bica (Incumbent)
Who can vote: The election is open to all eligible voters in the Eau Claire Area School District.
Where you vote and who is on your ballot:
Go to myvote.wi.gov
Enter your voting address to learn which races are on your ballot and where you vote.
Why this questionnaire: The Good Government Council (GGC) is a committee of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce dedicated to encouraging voter participation and providing members of the business community with non-biased information about candidates’ positions on important issues. Although the Chamber is active in policy issues, it is non-partisan and does not endorse political candidates.
1) What are your background and qualifications for this position, and what value will you bring to the School Board personally?
I have many years of management experience in several fields. I excelled in employee relations, problem solving and one on one conflict resolutions as well as developing business relations with clients. For several years I have volunteered as after school tutor for underserved children. I have also volunteered as reading tutor.
I was compelled to enter this race to bring a positive impact on my community, specifically in the area of education.
My vision is to build bridges of unity and ensure that all voices are heard and welcomed with respect.
I believe that we need a RESTART in our approach to teaching our students, and welcoming them into this new season of learning where they will be inspired to believe for a bright future.
I am a candidate because I believe everyone should consider service to their district’s school board or other public entity as a means of contributing to their community’s long-term vitality.
Regarding qualifications, I have been a member of the Eau Claire Board of Education since June 2017 and have directly contributed to every major Board/district initiative since that time. I have served as Treasurer, Budget Committee member, and, since 2019, Vice President. I was appointed by Board colleagues to serve as Committee Chair for the national search for a new Superintendent (2019-20). I served as Planning Committee member for ECASD’s $98.6M capital referendum (2022).
My professional career also contributes directly to my abilities as a Board member. I earned a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Ohio State University, focusing on children and adolescents. In 2000, I joined the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Psychology Department. In addition to work as a Professor, I was Department Chair for 6 years, which afforded extensive experience in areas such as curriculum and assessment; financials/budget; facilities; contract negotiation; and personnel evaluation.
I am an active classroom teacher, so I'm intimately familiar with the realities of public education, and how the decisions of a school board directly affect the staff and students in a school. I'm passionate about helping students achieve, regardless the cost, and making sure that we recruit and properly support the best educators possible.
Additionally, I'm an Army veteran, and therefore take public service very seriously. To this day, I live by the Army values—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. These values will guide me to standing up for what's right, no matter what.
I am the grandmother of 9 and a travel emergency room nurse. The welfare of children is something I feel strongly about.
I look forward to helping creat a healthy balance between teachers and parents keeping the best interest of each child in the forefront of each decision made.
2) With a strong local economy and low unemployment, many businesses report difficulty in filling positions. What can the school system do to work with the local employers to ensure students are introduced to a variety of career options within the area, including all post-secondary options, whether two-year, four-year, apprenticeships, etc.?
I encourage the CVTC Job outreaches to expand and to keep ongoing connections with employers and students. In so doing this inspires students to excel in a field of interest and at the same time employers can begin to map out their long -term potential employees. Both students and employers will be investing their time and efforts, promising a positive outcome. There are many other excellent programs striving to achieve these same goals.
The ECASD is committed to promoting the full range of post-secondary educational opportunities and career options to our students. We are particularly invested in developing local opportunities that enable graduates to find and/or create new jobs in the Chippewa Valley, encourage them to settle here, and inspire them to drive economic growth.
In my time on the Board, we have significantly improved our partnerships with CVTC and UW-Eau Claire. For example, we created career discovery opportunities and pre-undergraduate readiness programs that result in earlier career identification, and we accelerated time-to-degree completion. These strategies have been shown to increase available applicants for local businesses. We have also grown our community network of apprenticeships and academies to enable students to receive job training and earn an Associate's degree while still in high school. We have partnered with non-profit organizations such as Power of Perception, a mentorship program that empowers Black and biracial youth and promotes local opportunities for education, leadership, and employment, and Project Search, which provides training and work experiences with local businesses for students with special needs. I am especially interested in developing relationships with local employers that will enable us to expand, across all grade levels, opportunities for guest speakers, onsite tours, career fairs, job shadowing, professional development days, part-time and summer jobs, service learning, and internships.
It's incredibly important for schools, as such fundamental parts of our community, to be partners with our local stakeholders. Eau Claire has a vibrant economy, with many opportunities for all sorts of folks. It it's definitely possible to create more avenues for students to experience what opportunities exist beyond high school. I'm not currently aware of what programs North and Memorial have in place, but things like job fairs, guest speakers, or youth apprenticeship programs could be really impactful for students. Any sort of guidance they can receive regarding what lies beyond graduation can only help them be more successful, and better our community by helping our students to be productive members of it.
I will work diligently to ensure students have options for continuing education. I work with the business community to help students understand the opportunities available to all. Not all students are the same so we must provide a variety of career choices for them. We must encourage students at all levels to continue their education in a field they are passionate and motivated to pursue.
3) The district continues to face unfunded liabilities related to Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB), a subject the board has been wrestling with since 2012. What specific proposals and recommendations do you have to address this serious financial issue?
I believe that the district must honor its obligations including financial obligations and obligations to retirees who have spent many years in the district. I have found this to be a complex issue that continues to plague our community. Let's bring it to the table and undertake a reasonable method to reduce this liability.
When I first joined the School Board in 2017, OPEB did present budgetary challenges; however, Board members, administrators, and employee groups have collaborated to address these challenges, have cut the deficit in half, and have afforded the district a rock-solid financial foundation. Specifically, the ECASD has presented a balanced budget since 2019, now maintains a very healthy fund balance, and passes every annual external Financial Audit with flying colors. We are committed to continuous monitoring of our OPEB system and making effective changes, as needed.
The most important way to handle this, both in ECASD and in the state at large, is to continue advocating for and supporting increases in school funding. Over the last 10+ years, the state government has failed to increase funding with inflation, and we've seen no increases in the last 4 years at all, despite historic inflation and challenges in education. This has resulted in school districts struggling to meet their obligations to staff, as things like keeping the lights on and supporting students get paid for first.
Despite all this, ECASD is actually in a very good place financially. The Jan. 23rd school board meeting revealed the results of our financial audit—which we passed with flying colors. So while there may still be liabilities related to OPEB which we need to deal with, we are well on our way to taking care of them.
This is something I would need to research and evaluate what has been tried and failed and what has worked in the past before I give advice on fixing any issues.
4) Like many employers, the Eau Claire Area School District has been dealing with a staffing shortage. What are the respective roles of the Board of Education and the Administration in addressing the challenges of being able to hire and retain staff?
Because we have seen pay cuts, added workload, less benefits, greater areas of responsibility, not to mention added requirements and pressures from COVID, virtual learning, summer interruptions, we are sadly seeing much loss of staff and teachers. Not to mention teachers and staff are not protected physically or mentally.
All of the above conditions need to be addressed by the board and improvement must be in place for our district to attract and retain staff and teachers.
A recent surge in the demand for teachers, a historic enrollment decline in teacher-training programs, and a steady rate of teachers leaving the profession have created a perfect storm that threatens the academic and economic welfare of students and entire communities. This crisis is not one that can be overcome by School Boards and Administrators alone. The federal government, state governments, and districts must invest in comprehensive human capital systems to prepare and retain competent and committed teachers for long-term careers. Research identifies five major factors that influence educators’ decisions to enter, remain in, or leave the profession: 1) salaries and other compensation, 2) preparation and costs to entry, 3) hiring and personnel management, 4) induction and support for new teachers, and 5) working conditions, including school leadership, professional collaboration and shared decision-making, accountability systems, and resources for teaching and learning.
The role of the School Board is to maintain competitive salary and compensation packages (1), invest in high-quality induction/mentoring programs (4), and employ a first-rate Superintendent (5). The role of Administration is to create local pipelines into education in partnership with higher education institutions (e.g., CVTC, UW-Eau Claire), while developing systems to monitor and address teacher turnover (2); strengthen hiring practices to ensure decisions are made as early as possible and with the best candidate pool (3); invest in top-tier Principals and afford educators important decision-making roles in school assessment and accountability measures regarding their teaching and curriculum (5).
The challenges regarding retention, while not being wholly unique to school districts, are super complicated due to the nature of the jobs, as well as political/legislative aspect of public education. While we're limited by statute in how much we can compensate teachers, it is my belief that we should be doing everything we can to support teachers and para-professionals in the classroom. As it stands, it isn't enough for K12 teachers to know their respective fields—they are also expected to be experts of human development, counselors, social workers, and (in the case of staff shortages) an entire additional teacher. School districts MUST find a way to have more mental health support for students, MUST find a way to have more subs and full-time teachers in their buildings, and MUST find a way to not place the entirety of child's welfare on the shoulders of school staff.
As a board member, my goal will be to not just make ECASD an equitable and high-achieving school, but do so while treating our staff as the professionals that they are. I intend to do this by investigating every avenue available to us to support school staff. I want ECASD to not only be a great place to learn, but also a great place to work.
Retention is a growing problem in many businesses in America. The education system is no different. Listening to peoples needs and addressing them promptly is one way to show people they have value. Praising good works and valuing differences will make for a more cohesive partnership among leadership and employees in the long run. Respect is critical to a good working relationship.
Posted by Mallory Williams Governmental Affairs Intern