Wyeth has passion for district and work as board member
Passionate is the word Priscilla Wyeth uses to describe how she feels about her work as a member of the Hudson Board of Education. She is seeking re-election to a third term in the April 4 election.
As part of the board for the past six years, Wyeth has come under fire from district critics, but it doesn't dissuade her from running again.
"The education of our children is a great asset for our community and for our society at large. I like being part of the effort. That's what gets me to the meetings and the committees. That's our job as school board members - to support student learning to the highest level," said Wyeth.
Wyeth says residents of the district have reason to be proud of the education students get in Hudson. She points to student achievement tests, Advanced Placement classes, high graduation rates and an experienced faculty and staff.
"There is so much more to this district. We have five teachers who have earned national certification with two more in the process of earning that distinction. That is a self-initiated and very demanding process. We are constantly improving the tools we use in the classroom to do more evaluation in order to deliver better instruction. We have started a string orchestra this year. And we have developed a strong partnership with the community through initiatives with the Rotary clubs, through the SMART mentorship program and Community Action. The list is long and impressive, but it is the very best investment we can make."
Wyeth says she understands that residents of the district are concerned about their taxes, but she says that isn't what she looks at first when she gets her tax bill. "I don't look first at what I owe but what the value of my home is. I don't recognize that amount. There has been a property value explosion in Hudson. Now that's good, but it is a mixed blessing. Because, even with a decline in the mill rate, the tax will go up based on the value of our homes, and school taxes are the biggest share of the bill."
Wyeth said how school property taxes are calculated are based on state statute and the concept of equalized value. "We happen to live in a property-rich community, and the way it works, districts like ours give back a portion of their taxes to help support districts where property values are lower. We as a community and a state value quality education of every student in our state. That is not something the school board controls," said Wyeth.
That said, Wyeth said the school board and administration are "astoundingly conservative" when it comes to the financial operation of the Hudson School District. Comparing the district to a large corporation, she said, "To run a growing company and still lower the mill rate and the levy is a really remarkable feat." She says this is especially impressive when the number of unfunded mandates from both the state and federal level is increasing with every year, and student population and the staff to teach them continue to grow.
Of the district's general fund, which critics have said is too high, Wyeth believes the district has had "prudent financial management." Recently the board voted to earmark a portion of the fund balance for future facilities, but Wyeth makes no apology for the fund. "This district is in an enviable position to safeguard taxpayers from short-term borrowing, but also prepare for the future and new facilities."
Wyeth said that "any enterprise gets value from constructive, productive criticism based on an understanding of the issues" and that she and the other board members welcome questions and criticism from the public. But she believes some of the district's most vocal critics aren't interested in any point of view different from their own.
"It is easy to criticize, particularly if you rely on misinformation. We value those who want to partner constructively with the district. And there are areas of criticism where we have taken steps to change things. We have always responded to legitimate criticisms and will continue to do so."
Wyeth said a random survey taken in the district last year indicated that 82 percent of those responding said Hudson delivered a good or excellent education to students. But she also noted that in the same survey, people indicated they wanted to hear more about the schools and the whole array of things that affect it."
She believes the board has taken some very effective steps to improve communication with the public beginning with the hiring of a communications specialist, publishing of a district newsletter, the superintendent's column in this newspaper and the listening sessions she has conducted around the district, and improvements to the district's Web site. Wyeth said the Web site is a good place for the public to access documents and information that are public record. She hopes that meeting minutes will be available on the site as well.
Wyeth and her husband, Rolv Slungaard, an attorney with Doar, Drill and Skow, have lived in Hudson for 17 years with sons David, 18, and Alec, 16. She says the personal criticism aimed at her has saddened her. "Only because the issues they raise are not about one person or even this board or district. The concerns about taxes and school funding involve the federal, state and local government, all interrelated and sometimes pretty complex. No Child Left Behind is an example. We did not ask to have that, but it is a mandate and we have to comply in order to safeguard funding."
Wyeth said she and the rest of the board have managed to do everything they need to with limited resources. She points to the success and reputation of the district's special education program as one that is committed to providing every student in the district with what they need to achieve. "That takes resources since not all of the programs are fully funded, but it is the right thing to do for those students."
She believes the board is committed to not only supporting learners in Hudson, but also to making changes that will make things better in the district.
As a board member, Wyeth supports expanding the foreign language curriculum and adopting a more extensive math and science program. She also believes students must learn critical thinking and analysis in the age of the Internet.
Wyeth supports the vision for the district articulated by Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten. "We are about supporting student learners. That means preparing them for an increasingly global society with the best curriculum, the best technology and tools and the best teachers. Our most important job is to teach students to be lifelong learners who will be engaged and continue to contribute wherever life takes them."