Four candidates - David Maass, Kathee Molus, Nick Szablewski and Zach Wisniewski - are vying for two seats on the South Milwaukee School Board in the April 7 election.
School Board members serve three-year terms and are paid $3,000 per year.
Incumbent David Maass, 58, is seeking a third term. During the past six years, he said, he has had a front-row view of the decline in the quality of programs and services offered to students that has been brought about by budget cuts.
"We have a statutory, structural deficit in our school district, imposed upon us by the state," Maass said. "I think incumbent upon every School Board member and every informed citizen … is to put pressure on our elected representatives in Madison."
One goal of the budget process, he said, should be to protect elementary class sizes and programs. He considers fully funding those grades imperative and would consider cuts to the elementary programs only as a last resort.
"You have to give the kids in the primary grades a strong foundation," Maass said. "Playing catch-up is very difficult."
His other principle goal is maintaining and improving student achievement, he said. He believes giving teachers time to collaborate is one of the best and most low-cost ways to do so. Through team meetings and in-service days, teachers can discuss classroom units and compare what approaches work. Maass says common curricula also help this process.
"The goal is not to teach kids to pass, but to teach them how to think," Maass said.
Maass, who earned a bachelor's degree in sociology, is a retired network and PC technician and has a 17-year-old daughter.
Kathee Molus, 46, said she wants to give the school district back to the children.
"Every kid deserves an all-around education," Molus said. "Having an all-around education just makes that a better person coming out into the world."
She said she is against cutting any program that affects the welfare of students, especially special education programs.
Molus, who is an accountant and owner of Molus Accounting, feels her background in finance will help her better understand all facets of the budget process.
"I don't think a lot of people realize … that the school district is made up of different funds," Molus said.
She also wants to relay how the budget works to district parents.
Her other goals include increasing students' college preparedness by enforcing stricter deadlines or having a college professor teach a class at the high school.
Molus said she aims to improve communication between the district and families. She would like to see the minutes e-mailed to parents. Lastly, she wants more accountability for teachers.
"Our staff is one of the highest-paid districts in the state," Molus said. "I want to see test scores to reflect that high payment to staff."
Molus, who has a bachelor's degree in accounting, has a 12-year-old and a 6-year-old and two adult children who also attended district schools.
Nick Szablewski, 37, views the state funding formula as the cause of South Milwaukee's budgetary problems. He said he believes the state needs to reconfigure how it distributes money to municipalities and school districts.
"It's a statewide problem causing local problems," he said.
He does not want to see any reductions in special eduction as some kids need the extra help.
"The district should think outside the box for different kinds of fundraisers for programs at the schools," Szablewski said. One way might be to get local businesses to sponsor district sports teams.
He said the safety of students in school is a top priority, even though he does not view district safety as inadequate. In addition, he would like to enhance the level of communication between the district and parents via the Web site or newsletters.
"The elementary schools' lunch menu is often not updated until a couple days into the month, and that can pose problems," Szablewski said.
Lastly, he supports incentives, such as maintaining competitive levels of pay and benefits, to keep teachers in the district.
Szablewski, a high school graduate who attended one year of technical college to study police science, is in purchasing and has two daughters, 13 and 11.
Zach Wisniewski, 33, knows that cuts have to be made to the district budget because of the state aid formula, but he would like to see the district cut from the top instead of from the bottom.
"If you acknowledge that (a cut) will negatively affect the students, why is it even on the table?" Wisniewski said.
He maintains that cuts need to be made for the right reasons and that each cut must be considered on a case-by-case basis.
While he said it is not possible to make the necessary budget cuts without any affect on students, he does believe that cuts negatively affecting the kids most at risk to fail should be off limits.
"They are not as likely to become productive citizens," he said in reference to students not graduating.
Wisniewski also wants to see improved communication within the district; local parents have expressed dissatisfaction about the district in that regard, he said.
In addition, he would like to see health promoted in the schools and a quality education provided for students, which is tied to attracting and retaining quality teachers, he said.
Wisniewski, who has a bachelor's degree in social work, is a probation and parole agent with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. He has a 10-year-old stepdaughter and 5-year-old son.
Julie Ann Marra can be reached at (262) 446-6634.
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