When: Tuesday, April 6, 2021; polls open 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Find your location: myvote.wi.gov. All absentee ballots must be requested by April 1st and be turned in to your municipal clerk by April 6th at 8 p.m. In-Person Absentee Voting will take place in the City Hall parking lot Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. This will begin Tuesday, March 23 and run through Friday, April 2. 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.
Click here for more April 6 voting Information
What it’s about: The Eau Claire School Board has a total of seven members, each for 3-year terms. This year, two seats are up for election for full terms. There is also a 1-year term to complete a term that was filled last year by appointment. The top two vote getters will fill the 3-year terms, and the 1-year term will be given to the candidate who receives the third-largest number of votes. All three incumbents are seeking reelection and face one challenger. The candidates are (I) denotes 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:
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?
Joshua Clements: I am a community development professional with over 14 years’ experience. I have two kids, one at Lakeshore.
I was elected as a write-in candidate in 2020 and steadfastly served on the Board during this exceptionally challenging year. I serve on Policy & Governance Committee where the focus has been equity, evaluation, and communication. I previously served on the Demographics and Facility Planning Committee for three years.
Community livability is my passion and my vocation. Public schools are intimately linked with communities as centers of learning, employ residents, connect people, and provide life-long skills for the pursuit of happiness and general enrichment. Schools are the ultimate place-based institution and are perhaps the most important institution to the long-term condition of the community and its people.
My value proposition is that I have valuable insights, experience, and approach that improves the policy governance and strategic planning functions of the board.
Marquell Johnson: At UW-Eau Claire, I served as Director of a content area teacher education program for six years. During that time, I was responsible for WI Department of Public Instruction (DPI) accreditation for three teaching licensure areas. I also supervised student teachers and pre-service teachers in multiple school districts in the area. My graduate level training (Master’s and Doctoral) includes expertise on inclusive teaching practices for students with disabilities. I am also knowledgeable on the use of various assessment practices.
My role as a school board member includes advocating on behalf of the needs of both students and teachers. I also believe my role includes ensuring accountability for student learning, teacher effectiveness, and administrative oversight. Finally, my role is to ensure and/or maximize access to all programs and resources to most families serviced by the local school district.
Kathleen Kivlin: I am the daughter of a retired high school school teacher. I am the mom of an elementary school teacher. I have been a Registered Nurse for 45 years (retired). My last position prior to retirement was the Clinic Director of the Chippewa Valley Free Clinic. As an RN, I have led 8 medical mission trips to Haiti. I was actively involved in the education and curricular activities of my three adult children. I was a volunteer music teacher in the Elementary school.
If elected, I am committed to bringing common sense, fundamental teaching to the classroom, free of bias and controversial social issues and steeped in historical fact.
Erica Zerr: My background is in education. I received my Bachelor's Degree from Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. I interred with the South Dakota State Legislature while in college, where I worked for leadership in the Senate. I started my career in Wisconsin in Natural Resource Conservation, working with farmers in an education capacity. I took a small break to stay home with my children while pursuing an additional teaching certificate in Montessori Education. I got involved with the School District through my own child's school, serving as the chair of their PTO. In 2015 I accepted a position as a classroom assistant (now lead Teacher) at Saint Edward's Montessori School in Eau Claire. More recently, I also accepted a position with CESA 10 in their College & Career Readiness division. I get education. From early-childhood all the way to college and career-based components, I live and breathe this work.
2. The district continues to face millions of dollars in 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?
Joshua Clements: OPEB are earned benefits by people who are no longer employees. Since these are earned and owed via contract, the District is obligated to meet these terms. For whatever reason, they are “unfunded” in that the District did not set-aside sufficient resources in trust during the employment term to meet these future costs.
ECASD must continue to budget for these expenses appropriately, those past employees earned these benefits. The District must ensure that it does not enter future contracts where unfunded benefit liabilities are created. I support solutions that control the District’s cost and meet these obligations while doing right by the benefited past employees. However, any specific financing scheme is outside of my area of expertise.
Marquell Johnson: Having served on the board for less than a year, the concerns of Other Postemployment Benefits (OPEB) has not been broached. I am not familiar with ECASD current financial situation regarding the OPEB matter but would hope that any proposals and/or recommendations to address the fiscal responsibilities of the district are weighed against the impact on student learning and teacher sustainability.
Kathleen Kivlin: We will need to examine the estimated income and weigh it against estimated spending and find the correct path forward. Things are changing in this area, and we need to see what happens with the 2021-2022 state budget as well as the the latest COVID bill in Congress. Faced with declining enrollment in the coming years, this environment poses unique challenges.
I intend to be fiscally prudent, being a good steward of our tax dollars.
Erica Zerr: Serious financial issues abound in public education. Due to lower-than normal revenue caps imposed on our district in the 90's, we have been stuck in a funding formula that simply leaves us with substantially less money than many of the districts at or near our size across the state. Without additional funding in per pupil allocations or special ed funding, or eliminating of public money for private schools, at the State level, we are often left with a deficit to wrestle with. Any good business person would tell you that there are largely two ways to deal with that: increased revenue or lessen expenditures. OPEB falls under the latter. It's an easy target, to be sure. My personal stance is that we are a people business. We have to prioritize our teachers. Without funding for experienced teachers, they will leave our district. Period. We have to remain competitive. If the State can not deliver on education funding reforms then we have to ask our community through referendum.
3. What have public schools systems learned through the COVID-19 crisis about working with parents and families, providing quality instruction, and when in-person instruction can be accomplished? As a school board member, how would you ensure the needs of families are addressed in board decisions as we move into the next school year?
Joshua Clements: A great deal, as all functions had to be thoughtfully transformed to account for Covid-19 risk and disruptive impacts of these changes.
Effective communication is crucial, especially when there is equal spread of disinformation and distrust. Improvements have been made; more must be accomplished. The condition and capacity of our facilities provided constraints to physical distancing that many Districts in our region did not share. Parents appreciated smaller class sizes, but those cannot be maintained without far greater resources.
Every decision by the District has taken impacts to parents and families into account. Unfortunately, every scenario included unevenly distributed hardships, relative risk, and impacts to education. The District sought to limit disruption, hardship, and risk, deliver the best educational services in this balance.
Continue to work with parent groups, teachers, and community organizations to ensure decisions are well-informed and communicated.
Marquell Johnson: After visiting 10 schools this year (all high schools, all middle schools, & 5 elementary schools), I learned how public schools have utilized technology to engage and/or communicate with parents more effectively instead of relying on traditional parent-teacher conferences and/or phone conversation. The utilization of technology has also increased and/or improved the sharing of teacher resources that could lead to better learning experiences for ECASD students. It is the hope that a return to in-person instruction would allow for enhanced learning experiences that takes advantage of the efficiencies of technology and maximizes the social-emotional learning of student togetherness. As a school board member, lines of communication will remain open to the community to express support, disagreement, and/or outrage with the issues and policy decisions that are made in the district.
Kathleen Kivlin: Overwhelmingly (88.3%) parents want their children to be back in school full-time. There are important facts to consider about kids with regard to Covid-19 and virtual learning: Kids are relational, not meant to be isolated. They are not vectors of the virus. If/when they contract Covid-19, most have symptoms like that of a common cold. Not all parents have the ability or desire to be a teacher to their children. 75% of parents have reported anxiety about at home orders and quarantines. PSYCHIATRIC TIMES has reported that 76% of children have difficulty concentrating. 52% report boredom. 38% report nervousness. Loneliness 31%. Worries 30%. 30% uneasiness. The coronavirus and distance learning is far more destructive in terms of the mental health of the child and family than any potential harm from the disease. All EC schools need to be open full-time, ASAP.
Erica Zerr: I believe the board must commit itself to in-person instruction for all grade levels next year. This year has been incredibly challenging and the sacrifices that it has demanded have had ripple effects into nearly every area of our community. Schools are a vital institution. Families need them for more than just wrote memorization or subjective content. We have at-risk families whose children are endangered with food insecurity, physical and mental safety when at home. Businesses need schools so that their employees can work. Our economy needs schools so that people have funds to spend. Children need school for socialization. Everyone needs to support public education because it is vital to the health of our community. As a board, we need to push for its reinvigoration. Lifting the cap on the Virtual School will mean that every family that wants virtual school can have it next year while we make our buildings available once again for five-day a week in person instruction.
4. If you could accomplish one major goal in the next three years, what would it be and what impact would it have on student learning?
Joshua Clements: End racial and economic inequality in educational outcomes. This will require complete fidelity to this vision, best practices, & continuous improvement to eliminate injustice, disparate impacts, & institute restorative practices. Unlikely to occur in three years but must be urgently pursued. Recognize that many barriers are due to pervasive historic practices & community factors beyond the District’s control, a wicked problem that requires the entire community to act together.
Eliminating inequality of educational outcomes conclusively results in improved social, emotional, academic, & life-long achievements for all. Students learn in welcoming & inclusive environments with less disruption, improved social cohesion, & freedom to pursue interests. For education to fully perform as the life-long personal & community wide opportunity as envisioned, inequities must be eliminated. Then all people will have greater freedom to pursue their interests and contribute to our shared society.
Marquell Johnson: I would like to see district-wide training/professional development to increase access and reduce stigmatization for the learning experiences of children with disabilities being served in the ECASD. If properly delivered by school staff, this would amplify the opportunities for growth in "Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)" for ECASD students. SEL continues to be a focal point within the district and could be experienced by a larger group of students moving forward.
Kathleen Kivlin: I will strive to provide a school environment that is nonpartisan and free of political bias, where students have the freedom to voice opinions and share ideas that may be contrary to the beliefs of teachers or classmates and where opposing views will not cause grades to be affected. Further, I will endeavor to ensure that students are learning facts objectively not subjectively. I am committed to providing students with the tools they need to become productive, contributing members of society and who possess critical thinking skills, in order to effectively navigate through our ever-changing world.
Erica Zerr: Outside of reforming public education funding, I would have to point to literacy. The ability to read is the number one indicator of post-secondary success and future income level that we can measure. There are a lot of really, really, really important skills that children learn in school, but if they can not read proficiently when they leave school, career prospects drop. Their ability to become contributing members of society drop. In our district right now, over half of our students are deficient in reading. For our minority, special education and low socio-economic families, it hovers around 80%. That is wholly, completely and entirely unacceptable. If I could wave my magic wand and solve any problem in our district, it would be a guaranteed and viable curriculum that ensures every child leaves us at or above benchmark in reading.
Local candidates run for School Board in April 6 election
Posted by Grace Hanson, Governmental Affairs Intern
Eau Claire Chamber
The Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has more than 1,200 members.