Candidates examine challenges ahead for public schools
All four Waupaca School Board candidates agree that reduced revenues are among the most critical challenges facing public schools.
Each, however, has a slightly different approach to the district’s financial issues.
Don Writt said the drop in enrollment figures and cuts in state funding have been a primary cause of the problem.
“For some things, like fixing a roof, the taxpayers can pass a referendum, but for day-to-day educational expenses, the state needs to provide more funding,” Writt said,
He said he would like to see the state make cuts elsewhere to its budget in order to free up more money for education.
Writt also noted how area residents and state government were more optimistic about the future a decade ago.
“We built great facilities. In fact, we overbuilt because we expected a lot of families to move into Waupaca because of the Highway 10 project. I also think we built our schools before the state ran out of money,” Writt said.
“Budget, budget and budget due to our currently declining enrollments, the revenue caps and the financial pressures that we are under in our local economy,” Steve Shambeau said when asked about the district’s biggest challenges.
“We must continue to be fiscally responsible and prudent with the budgets that we create,” Shambeau said. “Make no bones about it, these are going to be tough times financially for school districts and tax payers. However, I believe that our district has positioned itself well to weather the challenges on our horizon.”
Shambeau believes that a school board comprised of members with experience in maintaining facilities and relationships with employees will be critical in maintaining high educational standards.
“Assuming that we can maintain those goals, we will be successful in graduating young adults that are prepared to share their place in society,” Shambeau said.
Sandra Robinson said her biggest concern was how the struggling economy was affecting local families.
There are “more students whose learning is affected by hunger, and family worries about money and jobs. Greater constraints on district resources – the result of declining enrollment, revenue caps, the state’s equalized aid formula and a highly stressed local economy,” Robinson said.
“Our district and our community work together, through programs like Project Backpack, to give individual help where it is needed. District administration, staff and board members studied options and reached consensus to make changes in health insurance that saved the district several hundred-thousand dollars,” Robinson said.
Robinson said while the budget affects how the district operates, “we can’t let it affect the basic tenets of what we do or why we do it. We must live up to our mission.”
“Our challenge will be to make decisions that serve our mission in ways that are reasonable, that take a long view, and that fairly balance their short- and long-term impacts on people and resources,” Robinson said.
“I think we’re at a critical time in our state right now,” said Betty Manion.
Manion pointed to the state budget cuts and to the elimination of collective bargaining as the district’s biggest challenges.
She said the Waupaca School District has seen, over the past several years, more collaboration among teachers, administrators and board members. This ability to work together toward common goals will serve as a foundation for an uncertain future.
“It’s not a we/they mentality any more,” Manion said. “We all want to provide the very best education possible with what we have been given.”
Manion said the collaborative environment in the past has made the current transition from contracts to a policy handbook easier.
“I’d like to continue with the collaboration that we have established, particularly now that we are in uncharted waters,” Manion said. “There are so many districts that are in dire financial straits or that have tensions. The trust we have developed speaks well for this community.”