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School board candidates talk about Hudson district's future

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Two incumbents and two challengers are in a race for two seats on the Hudson Board of Education in the April 5 election.

The incumbents are Richard Muenich and Daniel Tjornehoj. Their opponents are James Baker and Curt Weese.

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The Star-Observer posed four questions to the candidates who responded as follows.

Why are you running for school board?

Baker: As a lifelong learner, publicly educated student and adjunct professor, I have always been deeply interested in education issues. I initially decided to run for school board over a year ago, driven in part by a desire to improve the public educational system and fulfill my oath as a licensed attorney to work pro bono publicum (for the good of the public). Now that I have had an opportunity to observe the workings of the current school board, I believe it is time for a change of school board leadership in order to restore public trust and accountability to the voters.

Muenich: I have a strong desire to give back to the community that has been very good to my family and me. Education of children is a top priority with me, and community service is important in any community.

Tjornehoj: My experience and knowledge of the school district are important qualities that are needed during this critical time of change. I want to utilize this experience in helping successfully guide this district through the selection process of a new superintendent and in helping develop an effective plan to address the future needs of this growing district. We've held down the mill rate. With our per-pupil costs among the lowest in the state, I believe we can accomplish this in a fiscally responsible manner. For me, it is all about educating, challenging, supporting, encouraging and preparing our students for the future.

Weese: I am running because the current board is in need of some balance. This board appears to make decisions without proper discussion and deliberation. The incumbents seem to be of the mindset that additional spending is the solution to any situation. Minimal consideration is given to the taxpayers' ability to fund additional programs and expenditures. With a yearly cost to the taxpayers of nearly $11,000 per student, it is imperative that we begin to analyze our current way of doing business. Otherwise, the children that we are educating today won't be able to afford this system in the future.

Do you support the recommendation of the Hudson Facilities Planning Task Force for construction of a new elementary school and new 10-12 high school? If not, describe an alternate plan?

Baker: No. I appreciate the task force's efforts in reaching the only conclusion possible under the board's constraints, which precluded curriculum review and class size adjustments. However, I do not support the board's approval of the task force recommendation to spend $67 million on a build plan virtually identical to the $25 million referendum overwhelmingly rejected by the voters. I believe we can responsibly plan for enrollment changes while maintaining educational quality by eliminating "fluff" electives, increasing average 10-12 class sizes, relocating administrative offices from the high school, and spending-down the $15.3 million reserve fund to add classroom space if needed.

Muenich: Yes, I support the recommendations.

Tjornehoj: The task force, composed of a diverse group of individuals from our community and schools, performed an admirable job in researching, discussing and developing a recommendation for the board. I have a great deal of trust and confidence in this process and believe their recommendation would meet the needs of the school district. The task force acted independently in utilizing outside experts in gathering and evaluating their own data, and I appreciate the fact that they developed a plan that addresses the district's needs for 10-15 years. Ultimately, the final proposal must be affordable to the community while maintaining quality education.

Weese: I do not agree with the task force recommendation. Building capacities have been modified downward by an architectural firm that stands to gain financially from new construction. Any discussion about curriculum, classroom usage and class sizes (the three main components that determine capacity) were deemed to be off limits by the current board. Future expansion might be necessary, but it is shortsighted to recommend a $66.5 million referendum without first addressing curriculum, classroom usage and class size. We must be certain that the space in our district is utilized as efficiently as possible before asking the taxpayers for additional funding.

What qualifications and experience would you look for in the candidate for the next Hudson School District superintendent?

Baker: Aside from the basic requirements of strong administrative and strategic planning skills, coupled with a clear commitment to promote a fiscally responsible public education for all children, I would look for a superintendent who has a new attitude towards public involvement in school district affairs. Because this is the public's school district, I would seek out candidates who recognize the paramount importance of restoring public trust in our administration through open, honest and frequent two-way communication with the public. This requires a superintendent willing to listen respectfully to views from all constituencies, and to respond to the will of the voters.

Muenich: I would look for a strong leader with good communication skills and someone who is a good listener. I would like the new superintendent to be a team builder and motivator with high academic standards and excellent technology skills. That person should also be adept at strategic, long-range planning.

Tjornehoj: The next superintendent in Hudson must be equipped to deal with the emerging and changing needs of this district. That person must lead the district in achieving its short and long term goals and be capable of working effectively with all the various stakeholders within the school district. That person must have strong communication skills and possess the strong work ethic that will be needed to successfully tackle a variety of new and existing challenges. I also would like to see a leader with positive energy and that is visible in all of our schools and community.

Weese: The next superintendent of the Hudson School District needs to be honest and have a high degree of integrity. The new superintendent's primary focus should be to carry out the mission set forth by the school board. I would look for someone that has a solid work history with a record of building an efficient organization and obtaining excellent student achievement. It is also necessary that the superintendent gets along with the public at large and responds to people on both sides of an issue in a positive way.

What one issue do you want the board to place on a high priority for resolution immediately following the election?

Baker: The highest priority issue for the board to address relates to the need to plan for future enrollment changes in a fiscally responsible manner while improving educational quality for all children. I sincerely believe that it is possible to manage enrollment growth while enhancing educational quality without committing our children to a bleak economic future. I do not equate education quality with spending money on bricks and mortar, and promise to work with the public to identify and implement solutions to manage growth and improve education quality without changing the social fabric of our community through unwarranted property tax increases.

Muenich: My first priority would be to address classroom and facilities needs in the school district due to the rapid and ongoing growth in the Hudson area.

Tjornehoj: I want to see the school district maintain its commitment to quality education. We have growth and overcrowding issues at our schools that require our attention. I also want our schools to be safe environments for our children. This includes ensuring that they are drug, alcohol, smoke and violence free. We need to keep our focus on meeting the needs of our students and properly equipping them for the future.

Weese: The ninth-grade transition class, voted in by my opponents in a split-board decision, is now a mandatory requirement for all ninth-graders. Students who do not have problems with transition will be forced to forego a more academically challenging class or study hall that may be more suitable and have to take ninth-grade transition. I agree with the recommendation of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards that this class should be an optional summer course, not a semester-long requirement. This should be re-examined at the board meeting this May.

Candidate forum

The candidates will participate in a forum Monday, March 28, 7-8:30 p.m., at the Willow River Elementary School auditorium. The event is being sponsored by the parent groups at Hudson's five elementary schools.

Meg Heaton can be reached at mheaton@rivertowns.net.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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