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MQ-TH School Board candidates on point

Six hopefuls vie for three seats in April 3 election

March 14, 2012

Mequon - Declining enrollment, discipline and decision-making techniques were among the topical questions posed to the six candidates vying for three seats this spring on the Mequon-Thiensville School Board at a forum Tuesday.

Incumbents Cindy Miske and Michele Ziegler are facing off against newcomers Ed Allen, Stephanie Clark, Gary Laev and Cheryle Rebholz. Incumbent Ann Brownfield is not seeking re-election.

What about enrollment?

Declining enrollment has long been a hot topic in Mequon-Thiensville because student population figures have been consistently trending downward, resulting in less revenue. When asked if the scenario is a strictly School Board issue, candidates offered myriad responses.

Allen said students need to be privy to what he considered a "world class education," regardless of the size of the budget. He said a number of possibilities, including virtual learning, are prospects he would like to examine further.

Clark cautioned against looking at Mequon-Thiensville's state strictly through the lens of a business since the district is not embarking on a "turnaround strategy." She said stability is key as future budgets balance quality programs and taxes.

As a business owner, Laev said it is important for a business not to sit idle when a market shrinks; he equated the scenario to Mequon-Thiensville's state. "There's an opportunity to see things differently here, and that's precisely why I'm running," he said.

While the School Board sets policy decisions based out of enrollment figures, Miske said she viewed the trend as a communitywide issue. "I think this is something that's important to everyone in the community," she said.

Rebholz said she would like to consult with a variety of business people to gain insight on how the district can address future projections. "You have to cope with the population you have," she said. "What a business person would do is get around this right away."

Ziegler said there are many factors leading to declining enrollment that are outside the School Board's control. "Parents are having fewer kids; that's not something we can control," Ziegler said. "All we can do is plan for the future and be fiscally responsible so we don't affect students."

Role in student discipline

Student discipline also has become a hot topic in the community with a recent high-profile incident that grabbed headlines. While the incident was an anomaly, policies and procedures related to discipline have endured scrutiny. When asked about the board's role in student issues, thoughts varied.

Allen said he has disciplinary challenges within his own home and believes there are issues within the school system. "But I don't think it's out of control," he said. "The school culture is important because it sets the tone."

Pointing to recent statistical information that reveals this has been a comparatively safer school year from prior years, Clark said she did not believe student discipline was an issue within the district. Any discipline should teach students the importance of consequences, she said.

Laev said student discipline might be best characterized by a lack of respect. "We are dealing with some hypocrisy that we all need to address," he said. "Adults set the example. The School Board has a responsibility to set the standards in accordance with state law."

Miske said she believes the status-quo approach is working effectively, with the superintendent having ultimate oversight over student discipline issues. "Our schools are safe, and our students feel safe in them," she said.

Rebholz said she believes student behavior has been an issue, pointing to the installation of security cameras and the practice of random Breathalyzer tests at school dances. "Every school has behavioral issues, and this district is no different," she said. "A handbook is only as good as the enforcement of it."

Overall, Ziegler said she does not believe student discipline is an issue. "There is a process that's set in the schools when it comes to discipline," she said. "The School Board has to stay neutral. These matters are delicate and sensitive."

With initiatives like the Community Conversation in full gear, communication with the greater public is an issue that has come under fire with some segments of the population. When it comes to making decisions and communicating them with the public, candidates expressed a variety of thoughts.

Allen said he believed engagement within the community is the core issue. "If people did more listening and less talking, I think we'd get a lot further in this community," he said.

Clark said she makes decisions after reviewing data and examining a number of angles. "I always want to make sure we've looked as deeply as we can," she said.

Aside from the district website, Laev was critical of current communication efforts and pledged to talk to teachers, students, community members and outside sources before making decisions.

Miske said she believed communication between the School Board and the various district stakeholders was a core issue. "I research and ask questions before coming to a decision," she said.

When it comes to core academics, Rebholz said she would not be willing to offer compromise because she holds them in high regard. "But I would reach out and seek the expertise so I could make an educated vote," she said.

Ziegler said the district has processes already in place that are designed to gather community input. "No decision is easy, and you can never make everybody happy," Ziegler said.

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