KUSD Board candidate forum
This evening, the Kenosha County Democratic Party hosted a forum for the six Kenosha Unified School Board (KUSD) candidates. There are three open board seats. The candidates are: incumbent president Mary Snyder and incumbent Carl Bryan, Tamarra Coleman, Todd Jacobs, Shannon Molina, and Steven Davis. Below is a summary of the statements made by each candidate and their answers to randomly selected audience questions.
Each candidate was given four minutes to introduce themselves and give the reasons why they want to be on the board:
Todd Jacobs: I ran for a board seat last year, but was unsuccessful. I’m on the Personnel & Policy Committee. I feel that I can be an open voice for taxpayers, and also a voice for children, who can’t speak up for themselves. I work at Abbott in North Chicago. I recently started my Master’s program. The district needs to work within its budget constraints. We need to embrace change in order to be more competitive. I see how things have changed since I went to school. I would be an independent voice. I have no outside influences.
Mary Snyder: This is my third year on the board; I’m finishing up my first term. I am currently the president of the board. I feel that education is the single most important factor in democracy. No other country promises to educate every child, like we do. I feel that I am qualified because I’ve been a teacher for 35 years. I especially like working with teens because of their enthusiasm, independence, and creativity. I’ve been to twelve or thirteen state conventions; I’ve served on several scholarship committees. I’m the mother of two KUSD grads. The district is faced with unbelievable challenges right now. Over $60 million has been cut from the budget in the last two years. We must rearrange what we do. It’s an overwhelming job. What we have is a positive plan. We need to find ways to fund it. Let’s find a way to fund public education. It’s a huge valuable resource.
Steven Davis: This is my first run. I’m a life-long Kenosha resident. The reasons I am running are: One, on the last contract, only two members of the board could sign. Teacher interests are overrepresented on the board. And, secondly, because of the constant financial pressures. I’ve got banking, accounting, and insurance experience. I’m a homeowner with children. I am in an objective position. And, thirdly, I want the same opportunities for my children as I had.
Tamarra Coleman: I am a Bradford High School grad. I have three children in the district. I’ve been involved since 2001 in PTA’s, PTO’s. Why do I want to be on the Board? Because of fiscal responsibility and accountability. Fiscal responsibility will come with Dr. Hancock. Accountability is how to spend the dollars, not how much. I am a director of project managers, accounting supervisors. I manage a $1 million budget. I know how to plan well. I want to ensure that the students are first. It can’t be spend, spend, spend, cut, cut, cut, programs. The three things I want to promote, ensure, instill are: communication, collaboration, and commitment. It’s not happening right now. We need to communicate with local business and colleges, fight for taxpayers and students. Let’s go to work, people.
Carl Bryan: I was elected to the board in 2009. In my run in 2008, I was unsuccessful. I’m also a Bradford 2008 grad. Right now, I’m finishing up my Bachelor’s Degree at Parkside. Why do I want to be on the board? It’s been a tough year with revenue limits being reduced $555 per pupil. Board members need to be committed and experienced and see the value of public education. Some people are saying, ‘Give me my voucher. I don’t have kids in school any more.’ We need to seek outside resources, partnerships, and protect the transformation plan. Dr. Hancock needs to maximize cost effectiveness. I didn’t agree with some individual proposals. But, we need to budget proactively. Is it a perfect plan? No. I want to see the initiatives through that have been started. I want to see the quality protected. I don’t have a whole lot of life experience, but I am impartial. I feel that makes me the best candidate here.
Shanon Molina: This is my first run for the board, for any political office. I moved here in November, 2000. I have a 7th grader in the district. For ten years, I worked for a trade show company and ran the logistics and customer service department, so I have experience working with people. Then, I was laid off. I wanted to be involved in school and politics. I now work for a local non-profit as a disability advocate for three groups, Kenosha, Racine, and Burlington. I want to influence change and get involved. The things I can bring to the board: I’m not influenced by them. I have objectivity. I talk to teachers, attend the board meetings, and listen to the board. I’m not afraid to ask questions, the hard questions. I believe in transparency, accountability, fairness. I have a cooperative spirit. I believe the board may have missed the mark with some of their proposed changes. But, it is a preliminary plan.
Question One: What changes are needed in the Kenosha school district system?
Molina: Cooperation is needed between the board members and all the other groups. People are fighting and not working together very well. Integrity and community are needed. Involvement needs to be brought back. The budget cuts need to be fairly allocated. I’m not in agreement with the foreign language plan and cutting programs. With the $28 million deficit, the cuts need to be made across the board. Secretaries are being laid off, yet we have five assistant superintendents. We are headed toward thirty plus in the classrooms.
Bryan: These things are happening. We were proactive in 2009; we started zero-based budgeting. Communication and collaboration are needed. I have a contention with staffing. Eighty-five percent (85%) of the budget is salaries and benefits, but 100% of attention is not given to students. Are we being given all of the relevant information? Students need individual attention. Teacher layoffs need to be minimized. Class sizes need to go down. Test scores haven’t changed in the last ten years. We’re on a sinking ship.
Coleman: Communication is huge. We need the right players. We need to see state-level representation. We’re the third largest district in the state. We need to change some of the laws. We need a true rigorous innovative curriculum for all students. To meet them at each level. I disagree with Carl. The test scores have decreased this year. I’m concerned at the elementary level. They’re lower than the state.
Davis: We need to get mentorships, partnerships with local businesses, like Abbott and S. C. Johnson. We also need to change the tone between teachers, the union, and administration. We need to reiterate or restate our vision statement, and investigate state mandates. This is an annual forum which provides public information. We need to look at other financing. We need to review the state mandates which are over 100 years old. Are they still relevant? Maybe, we can then free up some money.
Snyder: I believe what needs to change is student achievement. I’m a reader; I always make copies of articles and send them around. One I recently read was from a state leader who said that Wisconsin has always had really good schools. But this has kept us from doing a great job. It’s not the fault of the staff. The struggles have impacted. How? The transformation plan is starting to address things. We can’t do the same old thing and expect better results. We are reorganizing. We need to find a way to fund it. If we don’t, we’ll lose our best resource.
Jacobs: I work for Abbott, who invests heavily in education. I would approach Abbott, who’s heavily into science. We need to see test score improvements. At the state level, Genoa City, which is a small city, represents us. That can’t be. We should have one of the biggest voices. I am relearning things. With being out of school for thirty years, I took my first on-line class. It was fantastic. You see at an instant where you stand, and you interact with other classes.
Question Two: Where does the responsibility for educating our children lie?
Coleman: At home. It starts with parents reading, and continues throughout the rest of the child’s education. It takes teachers and parents, and the community. It takes all of us.
Davis: Within the house. If I was to wake up tomorrow morning, and KUSD was bankrupt, we would still need to find a way to educate our children at home, or wherever. It starts with reading, and teachers and parents working together.
Snyder: It should start at home, but the reality of the situation is that some children don’t get what they need at home. Children don’t ask to be born, and they don’t choose their parents. The community and the school system has to help kids to get educated.
Jacobs: At home. I’m a former scout leader. I always learned to leave things better than how you found them. Churches, organizations, groups, men’s ministry, community organizations. Having a dad in the home is paramount. If not, leaders have to step up and fill the role. We can’t expect kids to find their own way in this world.
Molina: At home. I teach my daughter morals and life lessons. Teachers also play a part. ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Community groups, churches. It requires a collaborative effort of the community to raise a child.
Bryan: Yes, at home. I agree with all of you. We set the expectations for all students. It requires a collaborative effort. Also, teachers need to be supported. We also need to be able to attract quality educators, administrators, educational leaders. The board oversees the superintendent and holds administration accountable. It’s a collaborative process.
Question Three: Given the economic budget crunch, what can the school board do to lessen the negative impact?
Snyder: We need to move forward with the transformation plan, which is in process. Two changes have already been made. As money becomes available, we need to do what we can. We haven’t cut a program; we’ve combined programs, relocated programs. But, we still have a fine arts program. We did not cut our middle school sports program. Other schools have cut their middle school sports programs. They’ve dropped their 9th and 10th grade sports programs, and now have only varsity teams. We need to find a better way to fund the school system.
Jacobs: The board hires the superintendent. Most members of the board are not education proficient, and they shouldn’t be. The board enacts policies which are supportive of education proficiencies. And, they hold them accountable. We need to do things smarter, not harder. Test scores need to improve. It’s a fluid process in uncharted waters. Nobody likes changes. We need to do things differently, smarter.
Molina: We don’t have all of the information and the numbers. We need to achieve more and spend less. All we’ve been given is a preliminary draft with just line items. We’ve been told that McKinley Middle School needs to close. In ten years, when there is an increase in enrollment, will we be asked to build a new school? We’re not thinking this all the way through. We need more information, more public forums. The community feels that they are not being heard. The board says it’s listening. We need to figure out the real problems.
Bryan: We are in the process now. The board passes the budget at the end of October. We need to improve the process. We must have a vigilant school board. We need to scrutinize any and all relevant scenarios. Why? We don’t have to know it all, but we have to know how to get it all. We need the most relevant knowledge. We need to collaborate with the Wisconsin Association School Boards on legislative issues. We need to reach out to our legislators. What was enacted in 1993 may be outdated laws. Property taxes go up.
Coleman: This is just a preliminary budget. It’s hard to know the actual numbers because the school district can’t wait for mandated numbers to come in. We have to start somewhere. It’s important for members to be a part of the state legislature. We have little representation. We have to find the resources. Local businesses collaborate to find funds. We must be creative. Could Snap-On sponsor a school, for instance?
Davis: We must fund public education. The Kenosha Education Association needs to get to the table. They must be a part of it. Yes, we have a signed contract with them, which we must honor. But, there are overlaps. We need efficient partnerships with local schools. The NFL builds partnerships with schools. The Apple Foundation, the Gates Foundation. We must think outside of the box.
Question Four: What experience do you have working at a community level or as a volunteer?
Bryan: In high school, I was on the ad hoc committee to change the dress code policy. We wanted it to be ‘student friendly,’ not uniforms. I attended the board meetings and was involved in the campaign referendum to build a third high school. As a high school senior, I ran for the school board, but lost. Then, I became a community advisor on the Audit/Budget/Finance Committee. I’ve drafted my own proposals for AP tests with student input. I’m the legislative chair for KUSD, and I’m on the Facilities Committee.
Coleman: I’ve been on the Stoker, Nash, and Mahone PTA’s. I’ve been a parent volunteer. I was on the Transformational Design Team. I was on the committee to prepare the three-year plan. I’m on my second term on the Personnel & Policy Committee. I was on committees to address student fees and the year-round school concept. I’ve been active since 2001. I believe in getting involved early. There is lot to understand when you’re on the board.
Davis: None. Do I feel qualified? Yes. I was on a project with Cessna Aircraft. We had a new maintenance manager who wanted to reduce cycle time in getting a fast bill out. So, I held mini-forums over lunch hours. We came up with technical changes. I was inexperienced, but I brought a new perspective. We found overlaps in the process. Within 90 days, we speeded up the cycle time. You have to know the workings of each department to draw efficiencies.
Snyder: Something I’ve been thinking about this evening is that I’m the oldest person up here. I have a long list of experience. I was a Tremper teacher for 35 years. I’ve coached the Debate Team, the Amnesty Club. I sponsored the prom. I’ve been on the Curriculum Committee, the grading policy committee. The big picture is important. I am involved at the state level and the national level. I’m a reader. If you want to know more, there is a long list on the website.
Jacobs: We moved here twelve years ago, when my son was in the second grade. I was involved with all of my son’s teachers. Now, we’ve adopted my granddaughter. I ran last year. I’m on the Personnel/Policy Committee. That’s been an eye-opener. I’m part of the Exchange Club, and the Youth Committee process. We are planning to have a Youth of the Month, Youth of the Year Award. I will see that it happens. The important thing I learned with scouting: Leave things better than how you found them.
Molina: I’ve with Steven on this one. This is my first time. I have minimal experience, but being 100% involved is not a prerequisite for being on the board. I want to influence change for the better. I want to make a difference. I want to be a part of this. I have a child in the school system. I have a heart-felt passion to be a part of this. I’m a good listener, fair, and honest. I don’t lie. No one is telling us what we’re facing. I will alleviate your stress. I will ask questions if I don’t get it, and I will continue to ask questions. I will be the voice of the district. We need this, especially with what we’re facing.