Two seats are up for grabs in New London
By Bert Lehman
Incumbent Virginia Schlais, and newcomers Chris Martinson and Mary Swifka are vying for two seats on the New London School Board in the April 5 election.
The help provide voters with information about each candidate, as well as where they stand on the issues, the Press Star sent a list of questions to each candidate. Here are the questions as well as the responses from each candidate.
Why have you decided to run for School District of New London Board of Education?
Martinson: I ran last year and came very close to winning a seat, but all of my opponents were incumbents. I would not have run this year, if the two incumbents had both run for re-election. I do think John Faucher and Virginia Schlais both have done a good job on there, and last year I believe the election campaign did cause a focus on the issues that I was most concerned about: local control and moderation of property taxes. When Faucher decided to step down, I decided to file in an attempt to carry on with the things that Faucher has stood for on the board. I would like to be a conservative voice on the Board.
Schlais: I am running for reelection first and foremost because of my conviction that all children deserve an excellent education in an environment that helps them grow to their best potential, with respect for themselves, others and their community. I want to continue to have a leadership role in this district whose mission “Success for all Students” is also my passion. My long experience on the board has given me a strong background to continue in a leadership role. By serving on the school board, I can give back to my community; the one in which our four children were raised.
Swifka: I’m running because I want to give back to the district that has given so much to our son and the rest of the school community. I bring knowledge of the needs of children with disabilities, a perspective that is absent from the current board.
What qualifications, either personal or professional, do you have that would help you when serving on the board?
Martinson: I am a lumberman with 29 years of a career in the hardwood lumber industry, working in sales and in management for several companies. For the last eight years, I have run my own successful business, Martinson Lumber, which is a wholesaling business that involves hardwood lumber.
I have been married 38 years to my wife, Ellen; have two grown sons, who have been students in the New London schools. With one of our sons in special education, I got to know many of the staff, especially in the high school, and feel I can be helpful to other parents trying to navigate the system.
We moved to New London in 2002. I am active in the community as president for the last five years of His Way Events, and have done lots of work with Church youth in New London. I am also a founding member, and secretary of Wolf River Area Patriots.
Schlais: Education: I am a registered nurse (non-practicing). My nursing degree came from Marquette University. Service: I have been on the New London School Board since 1997 (minus one year between elections). On the school board I have served as treasurer, clerk, and now vice president. I have served on numerous committees during these years.
I have strived to continue to educate myself on practices and issues related to education by attending conferences, conventions, and legislative breakfasts. The majority of opportunities are through the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, from which I have earned their highest level of recognition (Level 5). I am also on the board for our local library.
My husband and I have raised four children in New London. Our commitment to education has rubbed off on them as two of them are doctors, one is an engineer, and our last is starting a career in business.
Swifka: I am a 26-year environmental educator at Mosquito Hill Nature Center, a unique non-profit/government partnership with experience budgeting and spending taxpayer money wisely.
I was a participant in 2012-13 in Wisconsin Partners in Policymaking, an advocacy and leadership development program for parents of children with disabilities.
I’m completing a three-year appointment on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Special Education Advisory Council.
I’m also serving as Governing Board President of Catalyst Academy, a New London public charter school that provides an alternative learning environment for high school students.
What are the two most important issues facing the New London School District?
Martinson: A) Local control of schools continues to be 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 State Standards, while sounding good in theory, represents a taking away of local control, and makes it much harder for local citizens through their elected school board to have an influence.
B) Property taxes will continue to be an issue. I want to try to remind the board about the fact that there are so many empty buildings in our area, and businesses that have shut done, with less jobs than there were 10 years ago. Small businesses in our city can use a bigger voice on the board when decisions come up involving taxes and referenda. I believe we can provide a quality education and also be moderate in our taxes.
Schlais: I will name three that are ongoing and very important for student success. State and local funding of education is and probably always will be a challenge. Hiring and retaining excellent teachers is a very important issue. We need to provide an environment where teachers are given opportunities and support to grow in their profession. We need to compensate them accordingly. Another key issue is how education needs to adapt to our rapidly changing world. School districts need to provide the most relevant educational opportunities for our students. Their success depends on it.
Swifka: Budget: New London is a low-spending district. We need to work hard to stretch our already limited dollars to the best of our ability. That includes finding ways to attract and fairly compensate employees, seek out innovative learning resources and maintain our robust co-curricular activities — music and drama, sports, after-school clubs and service organizations.
Supporting all students: Whether a child has a 4.0 GPA, is autistic, has an intellectual disability or who is simply trying to live authentically in a world that can be hostile to them, we need to remember every one of them is valuable and important and worthy. Our community needs well-educated citizens who will remain in New London, work, raise families, be consumers and taxpayers. When we invest in schools, we invest in the future of our community.
If elected, what would you do to find solutions to those issues?
Martinson: A) Local control of schools: I believe we can join forces with other school districts who feel that it is important to preserve local control. By doing this, more influence can be exerted on the legislature and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to back off on some of the required standardized testing that hurts and interferes with the teaching process. In addition, we can inform parents as a district of their right to “opt out” of the standardized testing. I’m not saying that taking a test to measure progress is wrong, it’s just that the tests should be determined by the board, using local teachers, administrators, and local citizens to determine what test and when to administer. This should not be determined by the US Department of Education, or the Wisconsin DPI.
B) Property Taxes: Some may call me naïve, but I do believe that we can be among the top schools in the state academically, and still keep property taxes moderate. I think that one of the things that would have helped moderate the last referendum offered in 2014 would have been to hold a public hearing first on the roof crisis, and hear from the community and employees of the district, before deciding to go with a referendum and before setting the amount of the referendum. Often I have found in business the best ideas for improving the finances of a business are held by people who work for or interact with the business, but never asked for their ideas on what to do.
Schlais: These are the issues that I have had the opportunity to work on, with our highly skilled administrators and staff over the years. As a school board member I have had the privilege to be part of the hiring process for these excellent administrators. They and the board work hard on the above issues and many more. I thank our community for supporting us in our referendum last year to repair our middle school roof and to increase security at our high and middle schools. If you would like to see firsthand all the innovation in education, visit the high school, or one our charter schools. There you will see excellence in teaching and opportunities for our students in education.
Swifka: Collaboration is the key. We have an effective, competent and diverse group of individuals already serving on the school board but the best decisions are made when input is solicited from all parties: teachers, administrators, parents and students.
Why should voters elect you?
Martinson: Why should voters elect a 64-year-old lumberman to represent them? Because it is not about me. It is about the fact that many people see that public education in our nation has changed and become more politically correct and less common sense. They see the Judeo-Christian values that our nation’s education system was built upon eroding. Our local district has been better than most in keeping common sense, and still teaching good morals, but pressure from the US Department of Education, the DPI, and just from societal pressures in general will threaten that down the road, I believe.
I will try to be one of the voices on our board to preserve Judeo-Christian values in our schools. I thought of sitting this one out, but when Franklin Graham launched his Decision 2016 encouraging people of faith to become more involved, it was an inspiration to me.
Schlais: My long experience on the board has given me a strong background to continue in this leadership role. By serving on the school board, I can give back to my community; the one in which our four children were raised.
Swifka: I’m the parent of a New London High School senior and have been a resident of New London for 26 years. My service on the Catalyst Governing Board has given me insight into the workings of the district. My leadership skills, working cooperatively, listening to stakeholders and qualifications listed above will build on and complement the current board.