Voters in the Weyauwega-Fremont School District will narrow down the candidates for one of the seats on the school board when the Feb. 18 primary is held.
Three people are running for the town of Weyauwega seat.
They are Kurt Duxbury, Reuben Larsen and David Veeser.
One of them will replace Tony Beyer, who is not seeking re-election in the spring election.
The two people who receive the most votes in next week’s primary will be the candidates on the ballot in the April 1 election.
All voters throughout the school district may vote in the Feb. 18 primary, not just those who live in the town of Weyauwega.
Duxbury is a native of Mosinee who has a degree in elementary and middle school education and a Master’s degree in educational leadership.
He has lived in the school district since 1998, which is the year he was hired as a middle school math teacher.
Duxbury also served as the dean of students, athletic director and principal before joining Quantum Dairy full time in 2005 as a partner and general manager.
He and his wife, Anna, have two sons: one in first grade and one in preschool.
Larsen grew up in the town of Weyauwega and has lived in the district for more than 25 years.
He attended school in the district up until the beginning of eighth grade. Larsen said he then pursued self education through the family business, J.R. Larsen Company, and by reading.
He has owned the business for about 2 1/2 years. While he has no children, he considers partner Shaun Gates’ daughter like his own. The couple homeschools the young girl.
Veeser’s father was in the military, so he lived throughout the country. He graduated from Neenah High School and studied architecture, engineering and psychology.
A resident of the school district since 1999, Veeser is a retired small businessman.
The widower has a 16-year-old son, who is a junior at W-F High School.
For more than a year, the school board has been debating the merits and cost of the proposed fitness center.
The three candidates were asked how they would have handled the issue if they had been on the board when it was proposed, whether they support the project and what the board should do moving forward.
Duxbury said, “Somebody needed to grab the horn of the bull quicker.”
The value of the equipment the booster club wants to donate and overall cost of the project should have been determined.
“Anybody who donated money wants to see if it will go into action,” he said. “I am confident that in the first two months, they (board members) knew what their decision was. Vote.”
Duxbury said it is not acceptable for community members to personally attack anyone who is raising money for the community.
He supports the project.
“Quantum Dairy pledged $50,000 toward the project. Almost all of our employees live right here in Weyauwega. They have super busy schedules. Most are younger people,” he said.
Duxbury said it would be nice for them to have a fitness center closer to home.
“We did it from the business side,” he said of the pledge. “It’s about keeping them healthy, giving them something to do in town.”
In addition, Duxbury said his family is active and wants to stay healthy.
He said the students need a better facility. As a coach, he saw what facilities other school districts have.
“I look at our facilities – our curbside appeal is not the best,” Duxbury said.
If a family is deciding about whether to move to Weyauwega or Waupaca, they will drive right past, he said of his community.
“It’s in the news every single day that obesity is a problem,” Duxbury said.
A fitness center would not just benefit student athletes. It would help teach students about making physical fitness a way of life, whether it is going on a treadmill, lifting weights or doing yoga.
Duxbury said he would not be surprised if it is an area which shows up as in need of improvement if the district does the long-range facility study it is considering.
He said moving forward, the board has three options.
They are to do nothing, match the booster club’s funds and cover the shortfall, after the board voted to accept the equipment from the club with no value attached to it.
“My vote would be No. 3. It’s not going to get cheaper in the future,” Duxbury said.
Those who have donated toward the project deserve an answer, he said.
If Larsen had been on the board when the project was proposed, he said, “I think the first thing would be to get more assessment for community support. From the meetings I’ve been to, they have consistently showed a lack of community support. That should have been done before anything happened.”
Larsen said he sees it as the booster club was trying to project certain outcome rather than presenting options.
“Lay all the ideas on the table and compare them fairly,” he said. “The community center aspect of it is a decision for the school board to make. If it’s going to be cash flow positive, memberships would probably have to exceed private. A small margin is there that it could be cash flow positive and competitive with private business. The community aspect is what the booster club used as a sales pitch. The school board has to make that decision.”
Larsen said he would not support it as a community fitness center, saying if that is the idea, funding and maintaining it should be a joing effort involving other local municipalities.
He said the board should have followed its policy from the beginning, referring to its Matching Funds Policy.
“There should have been more planning in what would happened if they did not meet their goal by June 1,” Larsen said.
He does not support the project.
“The school’s priorities should be on education,” Larsen said. “There’s room for improvements.”
A decline in enrollment frees up space in the district’s buildings, and the district has the old middle school, he said.
“The building is the biggest expense but also the most committed expense,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that I’m completely opposed to the programs that would be offered. It’s that we already have space or sell the building (old middle school).”
Moving forward, Larsen said the board should “wait and see what the long-range facility planning shows.”
If Veeser had been on the board at the time of the fitness center proposal, he would have requested a “professional, properly prepared project proposal with the exact figures and plans, as well as the projected cost. Until I had not received that, I would not have carried it any further. Show the exact cost. Put together a properly prepared proposal and let the board make the decision based on the real numbers.”
When asked if he supports building a new fitness center, Veeser said, it was a “little careless” for the board to commit funds without all the details of the project.
He said, “Until a proper project proposal is submitted, a decision shouldn’t be made.”
Veeser wants to know the monthly maintenance cost, whether those funds are allocated in the budget and also how many students would benefit from the addition of a fitness center.
“I’m not against it, but I don’t support the school carrying the lion’s share,” he said.
The first step now is to present a professional plan, followed by a look at the long-term expenses, who would benefit and why it should take precedence over music, art or vocational education, he said.
“Can we get our children prepared for a job that they can support their family on? We have to be more effective and efficient with where we put our focus and energy,” Veeser said. “One size does not fit all.”
Larsen does not support the implementation of the Common Core Standards.
“It’s everybody using the same solution nationwide,” he said.
He sees it as a lack of control for the school board and the community over the curriculum.
“I think that it makes a big statement that the school board in Germantown has stopped Common Core in its school with a unanimous vote. We should take that into serious consideration as to why they made that choice,” Larsen said.
He said, “It comes down to traditions that we have in our community, such as family farms and a hardware store on main street. All of these small privately owned businesses that used to make up the community and keeping those traditions strong has a lot to do with what the next generation is being taught. Or, are we teaching the kids in schools that the traditions in a small community are to go on to college to get careers that are only outside of our small community. This isn’t saying we’d want them to be ‘stuck’ in a small community but there are viable career paths within our community as well.”
Veeser said, “Common Core is the law of the land. With that said, there’s good and bad with everything. We are not living in a local market anymore. We’re living in a global market, global world.”
He said the job of a school board member is to listen to the people.
“We need to teach common sense, critical thinking,” Veeser said. “I think we have to teach our children to love to research.”
He said those who do not like the Common Core standards need to “change it at a higher level (federal and state), because it’s the law of land.”
Duxbury said the district needs to be in alignment with what the Wisconsin Department of Instruction says it needs to do.
“We need our kids online to meet graduation requirements. Stopping at Common Core is not enough. We need to go beyond that,” he said. “The Common Core standards are a good outline of what we need.”
Duxbury said students also need to be taught how to be good citizens and hard workers.
“Do that,” he said, “by letting them take the courses that interest them, by exposing them to the work world and by being honest with them about what their strengths are. Sometimes, I think we’re too soft with our kids. Everyone needs a trophy, a pat on the back. It’s competitive in the real world. Graduating from high school is a stepping stone.”
When Duxbury was a teacher in the district, he always told his students they had three choices when they left: go into the workforce, go to college or join the military.
“Anything else is not acceptable,” he said. “In our business and in a lot of businesses in town, we need peole who just want to work hard and to work right away. They’re super valuable to us.
Duxbury said his parents and his wife’s parents taught them to “work hard and be nice to people. Everything takes care of itself.”
The candidates were also asked if they have concerns about how school board meetings are conducted.
Veeser said, “I love the openness and willingness of the school board to listen to all sides, whether they want to hear it or not. It is through the diversity of everybody that it makes us stronger, and the school board has permitted that.”
When there is tension, it is because of passino, he said.
Veeser would like to see more people attend meetings and said if elected, he would represent the residents, with no hidden agenda.
“Certain school board members have agendas. That’s what I see,” he said. “They need to stop with their own agendas and put the children first and primary. It’s their future we’re dealing with. There’s always room for improvement.”
Veeser said, “It’s not my way or the highway. It’s our way.”
Duxbury said he believes there is some over-analyzing that sometimes takes place at meetings.
“I’d like to see all the school board members have an equal voice. I think there’s some dominance going on at school board meetings,” he said.
He believes the board does a good job of following procedures.
“I think we need to celebrate more of the successes in school rather than finding something or someone who is doing wrong. It needs to be a comfortable, safe environment to share views and vote,” Duxbury said. “I think we need to focus on each board member has their right to vote, and it’s not acceptable to prolong votes. If someone is unhappy about a topic, they’ll argue it to the very end instead of just taking it to a vote. Items need to be voted on in a timely manner. If not, it’s emotions and wastes time and money.”
Duxbury would like to see the administration stand up a little more and said the board needs to treat the members of the public who attend meetings with respect.
“There are few and far between going. If they are there to be a constant negative feeder, I’d like to let them know I’d like to see something positive at some point. I truly believe that most boards, people vote you in because they want you to represent them and make good decisions for them. The commitment has to be there. It just should be a welcoming environment.”
Reflecting back on who was on the board during his tenure in the district, Duxbury said they were supportive and gave him opportunities.
“That’s what the school board should be doing,” he said. “It was all positive. It was really great, and I think that’s the intention of a lot of people on the school board. They’re just maybe not the loudest voice.”
As a father, he wants his children to have the same opportunities he had as child.
“The Weyauwega-Fremont School District gave me great opportunities when I came here,” Duxbury said.
Larsen believes minority opinions are not given the attention they deserve, both within the school board and in the public.
“When school board members or the public asks a question of the administration, they are often told call or stop in the office for follow up rather than discussing it openly before the public,” he said. “I see a lack of questions and preparedness among school board members. I would say it is the job of the board to have a critical view of everything.”
He would like the public and board to have more time to voice their opinions.
“I’d like to see less emotional involvement at the meetings. Stick to just the facts,” he said.
Larsen said he is the only candidate who can claim he was at every school board and committee meeting in the last eight months, the only candidate who can claim he was born and raised in Weyauwega and the only who can claim he is recording local meetings and putting them on YouTube to show transparency.
“Whether I’m elected or not, I will continue to be involved,” he said. “It’s just a matter of which side of the table I’m sitting on. I’m sure there’s a few people who disagree with me, but I’m the candidate that’s making the most efforts toward transparency.”