Spring 2020 Candidate Questionnaire: Eau Claire School Board
General Election: April 7
Election Day: Tuesday, April 7, 2020. Polls are open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Absentee and Early Voting: Click here for details
What's it about: Three seats are up for election: two up for a three-year term and one seat for a one-year term to fill a resigned position.
Where you vote and who is on your ballot:
Ballot and write-in candidates: Only two candidates filed by the January 7 deadline to appear on the ballot, so at least one of the seats will be filled by a write-in candidate. As of March 19, there were three registered write-in candidates. Write-in candidates who had registered by March 16 were given the opportunity to answer this questionnaire. However, the third write-in, Eric Fisher, had not registered as a candidate before the distribution of the questions and deadline for answers.
Candidates on the ballot:
Lori Bica (I)
Phil Lyons (I)
Registered write-in candidates:
Questions Candidates were asked:
* These questions were drafted and candidate responses requested before concerns about COVID-19 escalated to their current level.
* Write-in candidate Eric Fisher registered after the deadline for answer submissions.
Q1. What are your background and qualifications for this position, and why are you a candidate?
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’ve been a member of the School Board since June, 2017. I have served as Treasurer and am currently Vice President. I serve on the Budget Development Committee. I was appointed by Board colleagues to serve as Search Committee Chair for the national search for a new Superintendent we’re conducting this year.
My primary 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/adolescents. In 2000, I joined UW-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 equity and diversity; curriculum/assessment; budgeting; facilities; contract negotiation; and personnel evaluation.
I believe a main qualification is that I had two children that attended elementary, middle and high school in the Eau Claire School District. They are now attending universities within the UW System. In addition, I have a child currently attending South Middle School.
In terms of my knowledge about the district, I served three years on the Demographic and Trends Committee and also served as the Chair. I currently hold the position of Vice Chancellor of Administration at UW-Stout. Facilities, Budget and Student Services all report to me in that capacity.
Presently, I was appointed to fill the recently vacated seat on the Board. I decided to run because I care about our public schools and I believe I have something to offer in service to the community.
I am a community development professional with over 14 years’ experience. I have a daughter at Lakeshore, son at Memorial. Currently serve as Chair of the ECASD Demographic Trends & Facility Planning Committee; 3 years’ service to-date. Also serve on Eau Claire Transit Commission and Third Ward Neighborhood Association Board.
Community livability is my passion and my vocation. Public schools are intimately linked with communities as centers of learning, large employers, 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, as a community development professional, I have some insights and an overall approach that provides value and perspective to the policy governance, budgeting and strategic planning functions of the board.
I am a senior software engineer and father of three children that attend Roosevelt.
In October of 2018, I learned that a subcommittee of the board was recommending the closure of Roosevelt. The school was overcapacity, has significant growth within its boundaries, and the previous recommendation was to expand Roosevelt Elementary. I spent several months attending the subcommittee and school board meetings and analyzing their data. I concluded their plan lacked the data needed to support their conclusions. Members of the Roosevelt community tried to express our concerns about the plan for several months, at board meetings and listening sessions, but our objections were never addressed. Next year, despite the relief plan, Roosevelt will again be over capacity.
When I reflected on the time I spent trying to have my voice heard, it was clear to me that if I wanted to see well reasoned decisions based on data, I would need to be more than just critical of the school board. I would need to be involved.
Q2. 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 is the district’s path to dealing with this financial issue?
Having served as a member of the District’s Budget Development Committee for the past 1.5 years—the group charged with bringing recommendations about OPEB to the full Board—I am quite familiar with the issues. We consider OPEB, just as we consider all other items, within the context of an overall District budget. It’s important to acknowledge that in Fall 2019, the ECASD presented a balanced budget for the first time in several years, as well as an increased fund balance. The approach to OPEB we are now using is an effective one. Specifically, we charged a highly skilled advisory committee with making targeted recommendations. The School Board has already voted to adopt 5 changes to OPEB that carry significant savings projections. We are committed to continuous monitoring of our OPEB system and making effective changes, as needed.
The district and the school board have taken a number of steps related to retirement and post-employment benefits. Compensation, health and retirement benefits need to be examined as an employment package, and not individually. That package needs to be competitive to attract quality teachers to Eau Claire. Balancing district revenue with inflationary impacts connected to health insurance and cost of living salary adjustments is one of the most difficult decisions that faces the school board. Absent new money from the state or a change in district funding formulas, compensation and benefits will continue to be a balancing act and a challenge for District leadership.
The District should utilize best expertise from financial planning professionals to aggressively manage these obligations. These benefits are payment justly earned by retired employees during their employment, per employment agreements and contracts- they cannot and shall not be shirked. However, the District must consider employment arrangements carefully that may result in additional OPEB and consider other types of compensation that do not result in unfunded liabilities. I am personally not a benefits specialist, so I will need to rely upon the advise and recommendations from financial planning specialists.
The state budget continues to short-change Wisconsin schools through unfunded special education mandates, the arcane fair funding formula, limits on local district levy’s, and restrictions on referendums. This steady starvation of our education system is clearly visible -- teacher shortages, growing classroom sizes, classrooms in hallways, and austerity measures. The situation is untenable and every delay only exacerbates the problem. The school board must organize our community and demand the legislature properly fund our education system.
Q3. With a strong local economy and low unemployment, many businesses report difficulty in filling key positions. What can the school system do to promote a skilled workforce for the area sufficient to meet the needs of business and industry?
We must help students become adaptable and skilled, as today’s young people will change jobs—even careers—several times in their professional lives, with many taking positions in the future that do not yet exist today. The ECASD should play a central role in this preparation, and can do so most effectively by focusing its curricula on 1) knowledge of the natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, history, languages and the arts, 2) intellectual and practical skills that are practiced extensively across the curriculum (e.g., analysis, critical thinking, quantitative literacy), and 3) personal and social responsibility (e.g., ethical reasoning, intercultural competence). At the high school level in particular, the curriculum must emphasize synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies. Students also need many opportunities to engage in high-impact practices, including post-secondary experiences; project-based, integrative learning experiences; apprenticeships and internships; capstone experiences; and domestic and international immersions.
I believe the best approach to addressing our skills gap is to leverage dual enrollment programs. The school district has an existing number of programs that allow students to earn college credit at a university or technical college while in high school. A number of these courses are connected to youth apprenticeship programs. We should gather our workforce development professionals and identify our employment skill needs. Then, we can work with faculty and staff in the school district and at institutions like CVTC to put a program around the needs.
The ECASD Mission: “To inspire and prepare our students to live creative, fulfilling and responsible lives” and Vision: “We challenge minds, build relationships and nurture individual growth to prepare all students for post-secondary success.”
The purpose of K-12 education is to prepare and equip all students for successful lives, of which initial employment and community contributions are part. The District must be aware and responsive to continuously changing content of skills that are in demand. However, there are larger missions to public education in preparing our next generation that are well beyond the purely academic purposes. Laser focus must be on the whole person, developing overall learning aptitude, problem solving, resiliency, critical thinking and citizenship through balance in the arts, humanities, and STEM. Truly effective education is one that prepares students for life-long success, not just short-term employment. The school system promotes a skilled workforce as one outcome of effective education, and builds community to keep, return or attract people to the area.
Our school system must continue to place a strong emphasis on STEM fields to prepare our children for the skills they will need to join our evolving workforce. My lifelong passion for technology began in my school’s computer lab, and encouraging the same kinds of hands-on exploration will sow the seeds of curiosity and excitement that will help them fill the roles our business and industry are looking for.
Q4. 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?
As mentioned earlier, I am currently serving as Search Committee Chair for the national search for our next Superintendent. Hiring a new Superintendent is, perhaps, the most important accomplishment a School Board member can experience during their tenure. But when I think about a major goal for the full three-year period that lies ahead, I look forward to concluding my work on the Superintendent search and launching into vigorous involvement with the design and implementation of an ECASD referendum targeted for April 2021. I believe my role as a Board member is to ensure that all children who attend public schools in our district have access to education that is inclusive, rigorous, and of the highest quality, and that all district employees have what they need to flourish in their respective positions. Our next referendum is vital to both student and employee success.
There are many challenges on the horizon that will require the best, collected efforts of the Board of Education members and district leaders. Hiring a new Superintendent, addressing overcrowding in south side elementary schools, leading the District through the COVID 19 crisis and maintaining fiscal stability are a few goals that we should all work toward in the coming year.
Among the many items on my “to-do” list, #1 is a long-term facilities plan. The District currently does not have a cohesive plan for facility upgrades to incorporate latest best practice in educational environments and technology, improve efficiency and environmental performance, or respond to growth that is straining instructional capacity.
ECASD has a great cast of teachers and support staff. However, many facilities are tired and outdated, and most are near or past effective student capacity. While we likely cannot afford to leap all facilities forward to the latest-and-greatest all at once, nor should we aim for the ostentatious or luxurious, crowded and sometimes outdated conditions are likely harming educational outcomes and staff performance.
Capacity should be strategically added where growth is occurring, where it is anticipated to occur, and- most importantly- where the community’s vision of new investment should occur to improve equity.
Also- PTOs should not have to fundraise for playground equipment. That’s nuts. That’s poor planning.
In the coming year, the school board will be preparing a referendum to address significant overcrowding issues at multiple schools. The importance of this referendum cannot be overstated, but it will be a difficult proposition to voters after recent scandals and unpopular decisions. I hope that, through honest, open communication, transparency, and well-reasoned decisions, I can restore faith in this institution so it can accomplish the tasks our children need for their education.
Posted by Amy Oldenburg, Legislative Intern
Eau Claire Chamber
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