There are four candidates vying for three seats on the New London School Board Tuesday, April 7 election ballot.
Jeremy Gorges, Connie Neely, and Bill Schmidt are currently on the board and seeking reelection. Chris Martinson is a challenger in the election. The top three vote receiving candidates will be awarded the seats on the board.
To help inform voters where the candidates stand on the issues, the New London Press-Star asked the candidates a series of questions. The questions and their responses are listed below.
Why do you want to serve on the New London School Board?
Neely: The board has a vital role in the design of the district’s strategic plan, which reflects not only seven board member’s wisdom, but also the insight of staff, students, community, and business leaders. I encourage voters to keep this in mind when voting for the three candidates. “What will they bring to the table and also can they work well with others?” This is not a one person show.
Martinson: “Want” is not the right word. “Willing to step up,” despite my short-comings, and do my best is more accurate. I am told that my ideas on stopping Common Core and on rolling back the property tax increase are out of step with the board. People have asked, “How can one person make a difference?” The answer is that “I don’t know if I can (for sure), but I’ll never know without trying.”
The truth is I never envisioned myself running until the last moments before the deadline. It was only after a lot of prayer and a lot of encouragement from others. The two issues I mentioned are big reasons, but I want to stress that I believe there are many things the board is doing that I believe are right also.
Just to name a few, I really like the “Bulldogs of Character” program. I also support the fact that the district has partnered with the Christian community on several things, such as the Backpack Program, TeenServe, and bringing in dynamic youth speakers who give inspiring assemblies on making good choices, and resisting drugs, alcohol, and other temptations.
Schmidt: I believe that it is very important to give back to your community. New London is where we raised our daughter, and we could not have asked for a better environment for her to grow up in. I also believe that I bring a valuable skill set to the school board that I have developed over years as a manager. There are difficult years ahead for the school board to navigate due to a variety of issues, and I believe I bring the skills and abilities necessary for the board to be successful in that journey.
Gorges: I am a proud resident of New London and have four children in the district, so I am passionate about the education that we are able to offer. We have made many strides in the last few years, but we have set the bar high for ourselves and our students. I am committed to serve on this board and continue working to assist in bringing us closer to our goals.
What are the three most important issues facing the School District of New London?
Neely: 1) Due to the logistics of how our school district is layed out, New London is showing a declining enrollment. 2) Keeping policy makers informed on how important our rural schools are. 3) The average poverty rate in New London schools exceeds 40 percent. Some of our elementary schools is over 50 percent.
Martinson: 1) Local control of schools is a big issue. Wisconsin is by law a local control state, meaning that the local citizens through their elected school board, accountable to the citizens, control standards, choices in books and curricula, hiring of personnel, educational goals, etc. State and Federal mandates are a big interference with the sovereignty of the local district. Common Core represents “mandates on steroids.”
2) Regressive property taxation is also a huge issue. Adding property taxes into an area that is hurting for industry and jobs is counter-productive. How many empty commercial and industrial properties do we need to have before we say there is enough of a property tax burden? It is also difficult on people with fixed incomes, and families who are struggling to send their sons and daughters to the great private schools in our area. While many average homeowners may look on the recent increase as minimal, the members of the board should consider the most vulnerable in our community, also.
3) Accessibility of board members to citizens is also important. I believe that board members are first and foremost accountable to the citizens of the district, and (if elected) I will strive to be accessible to hear from all citizens of the district, no matter whether they agree with me or not.
Schmidt: The three most important issues I see facing the school board are teacher retention, funding, and making the best use of resources available to the system.
Finances are always going to be a concern in education, but we have a very analytical and diligent staff in place that provides recommendations and options that ensure long term sustainability of the New London School District.
Recruiting and retaining quality staff is a concern for schools moving forward. Our budgets are tight, and finding ways to reward and recognize those staff members that go above and beyond for the success of students is challenging. We need to ensure we are able to retain quality educators.
Teamwork and accountability are so important between home and school. We need to be sure that we are supporting one another, and not allowing for excuses on either side. It is in everyone’s best interest to instill values in our children that will help them to become responsible and contributing adults who believe in taking advantage of lifelong learning opportunities.
If elected, what would you do to find solutions to those issues?
Neely: 1) With the help of the community, we have to be good advocates for our school district. Bigger is not necessarily better. I have attended many Wisconsin School Board Association conventions and one National School Board Convention, and I sit on our local CESA board and I have found New London to be on the leading edge in many areas. We are working on our website and other social media to inform the public what we have to offer; but word of mouth is still a great way to get the word out.
2) Being involved with legislators to keep them informed of what we need as a school district. I am going to continue to be involved with Wisconsin Association of School Boards, attending conventions and I will continue my seat on the CESA board.
3) For many youth, life is difficult. At-risk young people need the promise and potential that their “community” will guide and protect them not just the “schools.” We have had community support thru the back pack project and other groups but there could be more. Possibly, a committee could be formed to help with these out of school issues.
Yes, we have homeless children. Come on volunteers, I know you are out there. We are talking about being “Future Ready” always scanning the horizon. It is a fact people are living longer and we are going to need these youths to be good contributors to our society.
Martinson: 1) Local control of schools: I believe that New London District should resist the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and develop its own standards for the New London School District. This would not be easy, but I do believe that we do have the talent within our education staff and our community to do this.
The Germantown School District made a good an example of what we could do here by repealing Common Core standards and developing its own standards. The board (not the state) should decide which standardized testing (instead) to use, consulting with the education staff. The district can also make it clear to parents and guardians that student participation in these tests is optional, and parents may opt out on behalf of their children. The board can also (by resolution) encourage the legislature to repeal Common Core in Wisconsin, and leave standards and testing decisions to local boards.
2) Property taxes: I encourage the board to work to try to save money by making cuts, to make it possible to roll-back last fall’s property tax increase. If the whole community, along with the staff can work together to find ways to save money, the board may be able to roll back the referendum before it expires, or at least partially roll back.
Wisconsin’s Act Ten has given the district tools to save money, and they have used these tools to save money in the past few years. We need to try to dig deeper to avoid higher taxes. Public hearings can on saving dollars inviting staff, and community to give testimony on ways to save money would be one good step to make.
3) Accessibility: I will be accessible to all citizens to the best of my ability.
Schmidt: I believe the key to retention as well as making the best use of resources available is dependent upon ensuring teachers have the opportunity to truly focus on the student as opposed to ancillary issues. In addition, I believe it will be important for board members to work with district administration to ensure teachers are being utilized in a manner that makes the best use of the training they have received, and are performing in the role that they feel most comfortable in.
With regard to funding, it will be imperative that the board work with district administration to ensure we are maximizing any and all dollars available to the system. Our per student funding from the state is well below the norm, so working with administration to make the best use of every dollar available will be critical.
Gorges: We have so many positive things going on here in the New London schools. I believe that we are well on our way to success as long as we retain focus on the goals before us which are outlined in our Strategic Plan. We are passionate in our mission, and no decisions are made without careful consideration. We engage our parents regularly by providing updates and hands on opportunities to be involved in their child’s classroom. We are researching compensation plans that make sense for our district, and we are forward thinking with issues related to financial sustainability.
What steps will you take to lessen the possibility of the school district coming to tax payers again via a referendum to help fund projects?
Neely: We are starting a fund that will be used for maintenance of our buildings. Again, our children are the assets to our future. Why would anyone be so selfish about spending money on the most important things in our world.
Martinson: First I believe the board may want to set “no new taxes” as a goal, publically, and welcome the voters to hold them accountable to that goal. It has been said that you can’t reach a goal that you don’t have. Once it is a public goal, then we can put the best minds in our community to work on that goal through public hearings, through seeking ideas from staff and citizens.
I do like the fact that the board has recently set up a special maintenance fund to try to plan ahead for maintenance issues.
Schmidt: As was stated above, the board will need to make sure that they are working with district leaders to maximize the use of every dollar available to us. In addition, we need to look at what resources we can share with neighboring districts to reduce costs were possible. Gorges: We have recently established an account for needs that are identified in our 10 Year Facilities Capital Projects Plan. This account will allow us to save for future needs that are identified in the plan, an option not available before. The plan is available for viewing on the district web page under Business Services.
I will not mislead you, the board may need to come to you at some point in time to fund additional projects identified in the plan. In my home, I know that I will eventually need to spend money to replace things like my roof, furnace and water heater. They either break or become inefficient and it makes more sense to replace than repair. The same holds true with schools, and as stewards of district resources it is important that we keep these resources in good condition. This board believes in exhausting all options before asking taxpayers for additional funds.
There has been a lot of discussion about Common Core, what is your view of Common Core and how the School District of New London is handling it?
Neely: The School District of New London is not letting the politics interfere with how we are teaching our children. We still have local control and we plan to keep it that way. We want our teachers to teach the best they can and keep the politics out of SDNL. For more information you can go to Free white paper at www.common-core-answers.com.
Martinson: I wrote a guest editorial for the in January 1, 2015 issue of the Press-Star called “Replace Common Core with Common Sense.” I gave five reasons why the Common Core State Standards Initiative should be repealed by our state and resisted our school board.
Common Core was put together by a group of elite people chosen by the education establishment, with no accountability to voters, or elected officials, by-passing the self-governance that has been (in my opinion) a strength of the American system. The standards have been highly criticized by educators and parents, including some educators who served on the validation committee but refused to sign their names to the final product.
Common Core is an attempt to federalize education standards, and in a free nation that should never be accepted. Our state should abolish Common Core as our state standard, and our local school board should encourage this abolishment and resist the implementation of Common Core in every legal way possible. Parents do need to know that they have the right to opt their sons and daughters out of the Common Core “Smart-balanced testing” that begins in Wisconsin this spring.
Schmidt: I am in favor of Common Core as it provides a standard benchmark for performance for all students. Critical to the success of Common Core is the ability of local systems to set their own course for how those benchmarks will be attained.
The teachers I have spoken regarding this and are virtually unanimous in their support of Common Core. To date I believe that New London school District administration has done an excellent job of handling transition to the Common Core benchmarks while ensuring local staff have guided how that transition will take place.
Gorges: I think that this is a hot topic for some, when it doesn’t need to be. I am proud of the way our district has addressed Common Core. I am certainly not a curriculum expert, so I rely heavily on the experts we have on our staff. They bring the board data that supports their work, and keep us apprised of their efforts. It is important that we don’t allow political agendas to paralyze the great things happening in our schools.
Why should voters elect you?
Neely: I believe in every child and no matter their circumstance, I want to support them in achieving their highest level. The last thing I want to be known as is a “gray haired lady that sits around a table and makes up rules.” I want our students and staff to understand I am there for them and to make their worlds a better place.
Martinson: First of all, if voters are looking for someone with a lot of formal education, I am not the most qualified. I have a high school diploma, and that is the highest degree I have. Also, if you are looking for someone who has local roots here, or has already a great understanding of the day-to-day workings of the school district, my opponents all have me beat. If I am elected, I will have to learn a lot of things from the other board members.
However, if you are concerned about state and federal mandates, such as Common Core, you may want to give consideration to voting for me. If you believe that raising property taxes was not the best solution for fixing the roofs, you may want to consider me. I am never deterred from speaking up if something is not right.
Some have also accused me of having old-fashioned traditional values that don’t fit modern times. But I do believe that the “old-fashioned” Judeo-Christian values that this country and its constitution were founded upon are very relevant today, and we need to keep them in public education.
I am grateful for a great public K-12 education and great teachers that gave me inspiration, and prepared me well for my occupation as a self-employed lumberman. I believe we can provide a good education today for our children and youth.
Schmidt: I have functioned in leadership positions for over 20 years. During that time I have developed a skill set that helps me problem solve complex issues, similar to the issues that the New London School District will be facing in the years to come.
Also, I am not coming into this election with the goal of advancing my own agenda. Rather, it is my goal to work with school district administration to ensure that we are utilizing all of the resources available to provide every student with the best education possible, positioning them to be successful when they leave school.
Finally, having worked with boards for over two decades I understand the role of the board is not to run the district, but rather to support district administration, and oversee and ensure that the actions taken by school administration will meet the long term goals of the district.
Gorges: I do not believe in bringing my personal politics into our schools, and have no agenda other than moving our district and students forward. I believe that much of my success in life is due to the education I received here in New London.
I have been influenced by an accepting community that gave me the core values of what I believe to this day, the ability to love and care for others, the drive to work my hardest even when it seems like the world is fighting back, and to enjoy the people around me.