Four candidates are seeking three seats on the Waupaca School Board.
On the April 3 ballot will be incumbents Betty Manion, Sandra Robinson and Steve Shambeau and first-time candidate Don Writt.
This is the first in a County Post two-part series on the local school board election.
A Chicago native, Manion earned a bachelor’s degree in natural sciences from St. Norbert’s College in De Pere in 1974 and a master’s degree in theological studies from St. Norbert College in 1999.
For the past 19 years, Manion has worked as the director of religious education at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Community. She is also a popular storyteller who has entertained audiences at libraries, schools, churches and conferences throughout the nation.
Manion was first elected to the Waupaca School Board nine years ago. Over that time, she has seen improved relations among board members, the administration and the teaching staff.
“There is more of a collaborative culture within the district now,” Manion said. “The relationship between the teachers and the administration has been very open and respectful.”
Since her election to the school board, Manion had a role in starting the practice of school board members visiting all the local schools each year.
“All the school board members visit every school at least once a year,” Manion said. “We walk through the buildings and visit the classrooms. I think it’s good for the teachers and the students to see us there and good for us to actually visit the schools.”
Manion believes the trust that has developed among the board members, teachers and administration is helping them work together as the district tries to cope with declining state funds and changes in state law.
“I think the current members all bring various talents and gifts to the school board,” Manion said. “We work well together, and we work well with the staff.”
A 1972 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Robinson has a bachelor’s degree in education.
She spent 11 years working in museums and the past 25 years working with the U.S. Curling Association, a non-profit organization based in Stevens Point.
In addition to serving 19 years on the Waupaca School Board, Robinson has also served on the CESA 5 Board of Control, on several committees for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, as well as a member of the state Department of Public Instruction Committee of PI34 (professional licensure) trainers.
As a school board member, Robinson has held the office of president, vice president and clerk. She has chaired several board committees and volunteered as a judge in school creative problem-solving competitions and FFA speaking contests.
“I consider my most important contribution to the school board to be fairness,” Robinson said. “I have served on the board’s Personnel and Negotiations Committee since 1993, and for most of these years have been the committee’s chair. Whether negotiating contracts, hearing grievances or considering staff layoffs, I have worked hard to make fair and reasoned decisions.”
Robinson noted that recent changes in Wisconsin labor law required the board to change how it does business with employees.
“Fairness is key to developing solutions that will be productive and sustainable. A prime example is that the district must make the transition to using policy and employee handbooks to cover what had been included in contracts with employee groups,” Robinson said. “During years of contract negotiations, the board worked with employee groups to strike a fair balance between the sometimes competing needs of our constituents and district for quality and affordability.”
Robinson said the board is now taking a “steady as she goes” approach to the task of developing an employee handbook.
“Our intent is not to surprise or harm staff, and it is not to circumvent the new laws. Our intent is to keep the best interests of the district in mind, and to be fair to staff and to the public we serve as we make choices based on what the law requires and what the law permits,” Robinson said.
A 1967 graduate of Waupaca High School, Shambeau earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1971 and a master’s degree in finance in 1972 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He graduated from the Marquette Law School in Milwaukee in 1975 and immediately returned to Waupaca to practice law.
“Over the years I have served in various capacities with the First United Methodist Church, Riverside Medical Center Board of Directors, the Waupaca Country Club and the Waupaca Chamber of Commerce,” Shambeau said. “I also currently serve as the secretary and director of the Albert and Mary Rhoades Museum and Charitable Foundation which provides substantial high school scholarships not only in Waupaca but also the Fox River Valley area. “
Shambeau was first elected to the board in 1999 after working on the Facilities Planning Committee, which was responsible for planning for the construction of the new high school and the remodeling of the other facilities. He has been board president for the past three years.
“As I travel through the district spending time in the facilities, it makes me very proud of the condition of the buildings, knowing that we only have another nine years to retire the debt on them,” Shambeau said. “I believe that the experience I have in both financial and building issues can be valuable to the board over the next few years, especially given the current state of Wisconsin school finance,” Shambeau said.
Shambeau also noted that school board members visit the school buildings monthly, “observing the teaching processes of our children and viewing how are facilities are kept up. This gives the board first hand information to help make the decisions necessary to keep our educational standards as high as we can and our facilities in top notch condition.”
For 40 years, Writt taught seventh-grade social studies at Waupaca Middle School. He retired from teaching in 2009.
Writt earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1969.
He is on the board of directors of the Waupaca Historical Society and volunteers for both the Waupaca Area Food Pantry and at a school.
“One of the reasons I’m running for the school board is that I care about the children in our community,” Writt said. “I have a lot of empathy for my former colleagues, but the kids come first.”
Writt said he expects the Waupaca School District will face challenging times ahead as it tries to deal with declining enrollments and declining state revenues. He also believes that last year’s changes in the state law, which resulted in demonstrations in Madison, could lead to animosity between the school board and teachers here in Waupaca as new policies are established to replace the policies that had been negotiated as part of contracts.
“The state has stepped in and made it impossible for unions to negotiate with the school boards,” Writt said, noting that he believes the board needs to take a balanced approach to developing new policies by encouraging input from staff.
He is also concerned that cuts in state aid may lead to cuts in art, choir, band or the Gifted and Talented program.
“We always get enough money from the state to pay for our challenged students, but we do not always get enough funding for our advanced, or even our average students,” Writt said. “We might save money by closing these programs, but it doesn’t really help the kids. These programs offer more opportunities and motivate students to be more interested in academics.”