All content, of both the original and this blog, is written from my point of view and is my opinion. I believe it to be accurate at the time it is written. ~ Kyle Prast, Brookfield resident since 1986

Thursday, March 29, 2012

2012 Elmbrook School District election picks: Meg Wartman & Jean Lambert

On March 23rd, I attended the Elmbrook School District candidate forum Q&A. It was a great opportunity to compare the views and style of incumbents Meg Wartman (At-large) and Jean Lambert (Area IV) with their opponents Lynn Thomas and Paul Byrne. The following posting is my account of a few highlights from the forum.

This is written from my point of view and answers are taken primarily from the notes I took at the meeting. Italicized comments are pretty close to what was said, though not necessarily a direct quote. Comments in parenthesis are my filling in the blanks.

If you have cable TV, I encourage you to watch the forum for yourself on Time Warner 13 & 96 at 7am, 5pm and 11pm every day.

Bottom line? Meg Wartman and Jean Lambert are against adding 4K; Thomas and Byrne are in favor of adding this costly program. Wartman and Lambert are against adding more Open Enrollment / 220 students; Thomas and Byrne seemed more open to Open Enrollment. Closing Tonawanda is not an issue. (More on this below.)

Usually there are few surprises at these events, but Meg Wartman, first to give her opening remarks, pleasantly surprised me after her opening statement chronicling how she lived in the district 25 years and served on the board 9 years as Treasurer, President, and Vice President. Then she happily reported that in the past, forum questions centered around budget cuts (what to cut--how to meet budget shortfalls), but this year, those (budget cut questions) weren't the topics! I thought, now that is a refreshing change.

I wish I could say the pleasant mood continued, but challenger Lynn Thomas spoke next. She began well enough, saying she would bring a new perspective to the board as it shifts from finances to curriculum and that her experience as a private school teacher and mother of 2 young children would help.

Then Thomas made everyone sit up and take notice when she switched her campaign mode voice to what I can only call very emphatic, controlled anger--a slow boil--as she said she was deeply disappointed by the tone around her candidacy in regard to some emails circulating and blogs (not mine) bringing politics into this forum. She concluded by slapping her hands (or table, I couldn't see her from where I sat) to emphasize her point. I have never heard any candidate speak that way in a forum before. There was an uncomfortable moment that followed, and I wondered if she realized her performance would be playing on cable broadcast for all the world to see.

Jean Lambert put things back on track. She opened with, I have a lot to offer... and she does. Lambert believes they need to work on student achievement and continued fiscal policy--balanced budget, among other issues. Her experience in the private sector as a senior financial analyst for Froedert Health makes Jean a great asset to the board.

Paul Bryne, self described Milwaukee native, stated he went to private and public schools. He currently works for a company in Racine and is an Elm Grove resident. He wants Elmbrook to be competitive and stressed transparency at the board level.

Question #2: Do you support the state changes in relation to Act 10? All 4 candidates said they did, more or less.

Jean Lambert answered 1st: I am supportive of provisions of Act 10. Then she added that what it has done for us is positive. That we came from the point of budgetary struggle, and we are not at that point anymore. It enabled us to sit at the table with the teachers to talk about issues directly, instead of through a 3rd party. I look forward to working together to build a stronger district.

Paul Bryne answered that it changed the nature of relationships. The negative being that you have also taken away incentive for a long career in one district, our teachers could be poached.

I would add that this is where free market principles come into play, even though it is a taxpayer funded position. Elmbrook can, and often does, offer a better pay scale. Benefits can be used as an incentive. And certainly, most teachers would rather teach in a prestigious district such as Elmbrook rather than in an economically or academically struggling district.

Meg Wartman expressed wholehearted support by saying, I too support Act 10. Then she mentioned the cost savings achieved: $3.8 million, $1.7 million, $2.3 million, and $80,000 in short term savings, adding up to around $7 million total. I don't know where we would have cut that... it saved teachers' jobs and classroom size. Before (Act 10) 85% of cost was for staffing and we couldn't make a dent in that...

Now it was Lynn Thomas' turn. What would she say after her opening remarks? Thomas said, I agree with Paul, ...the former model was unsustainable. But be mindful of the demoralizing effect this had on teachers. She believes they need to develop a strategy to retain teachers.

Question #3: Regarding the number of Open Enrollment and Chapter 220 students, increase or decrease?

Paul Byrne: I can't say. Open Enrollment & 220 is good for taxpayers because they get credit (on property tax bills) but (it) doesn't help the students. He says, District 1st: Structure the district for people in our district, ...but using excess space is good. We're at a reasonable rate of 8 - 10%. (If we have more room) we should take them.

Meg Wartman: In our opening remarks, we all said we moved here because... If we give lots of other options to those not living here, there are costs to that. We haven't taken any 220 for past few years, I would keep it that.

Then Wartman made a surprising statement, at least to me, because I have been saying this for years. We really don't get any net gain on open enrollment students... maybe $1,000? ...not profitable...

Lynn Thomas: I understand the focus on district students, we spent a premium to be here, but we don't want higher class sizes. (She favors) limited non-resident enrollment as place holders, so (we don't need to) close and open schools.

Jean Lambert: No 220 and Open (Enrollment). We (are the) primary taxpayer (in our district.) Focus on our students, our residents, not state tax funding. I believe Jean was saying, Elmbrook should keep its focus on its district students.

Me: I believe projections indicate there won't be any need for quite some time to open schools! Elmbrook is a donor district. Adding students is not a money maker for our district as it may be in other districts.

Question #7: What are your thoughts on 4K, does it have an educational value?

Paul Byrne: I am strongly for 4K. Finding child's weak spots early on...4K is a soft-start...its an advantage. It helps us be competitive--future residents will look at this.

Me: No, they look at the overall quality of the district. See What? Families who HAVE 4K petition to join Elmbrook WITHOUT 4K? Elmbrook does offer early screening to help residents catch some of those weak spots.

Meg Wartman: I have not supported 4K. (And I agree, she has not; she has been strongly against it for years.) Then she again surprised me with, One reason districts start it (4K) is for financial reasons. Their funding comes more from state taxes not property taxes, but our funding would come directly from property taxes. Other kids need an early start, but Elmbrook has other excellent opportunities. (Private 4K offerings)

Frankly, we haven't seen a dip that others talk of, families continue to (move into the Elmbrook District).

Lynn Thomas: I'm strongly supportive of 4K. I did research. Our duty as a district is to offer it. If Elmbrook offered it would be excellent. ....I have reservations for the cost to taxpayers but it would make our community more competitive.

Jean Lambert: I've studied 4K for many years, (her children) had 4K in private school. I would have to beg to differ with the research (which shows it to be some benefit to poor children). Our students at our (upper) socio-economic level, they have advantages. (Implying they don't need 4K.)

Then Jean added an important factor: I don't think we need to take this (4K) away from private schools (private sector jobs) and put it on the taxpayer dime. She concluded citing the incident when Waukesha petitioners, with 4K, filed to join Elmbrook School District with no 4K.

The 2nd Question from the Audience: Do you think the district should stick with its plan to close Tonawanda? Now the answers to this question rather took the wind out of the Save Tonawanda crowd and candidates Thomas and Byrne.

Meg Wartman: There isn't a plan to close Tonawanda!

Lynn Thomas: I know there isn't a plan but I think it is a definite (one for future?) There has been talk of it in past and would cause over-crowding. I would not support...its the only school in the heart of Elm Grove.

Jean Lambert: I agree with Meg, there isn't a plan to close Tonawanda. As we look ahead in our financial plan, our future looks bright.

Paul Byrne: I'm for neighborhood schools...I wouldn't want to see that happen. I'd like to see us more aggressive in getting kids into our schools.

After a few more questions, they concluded with closing remarks. I am citing only Wartman and Lambert here.

Meg Wartman: The MacIver Institute just named Elmbrook as the Top Large School District (in the state) Milwaukee Magazine puts us in the top 3. I am optimistic; We've had tough years with the budget... but (Meg concludes on an upbeat note.)

Jean Lambert: As a 40 year resident, I bring a demonstrated commitment to this district. I have 30 years private sector experience and 3 years on the board. I would be honored to serve.

After the forum, I briefly spoke with board member Glen Allgaier. It was obvious he admires Jean Lambert and Meg Wartman and then mentioned how well this board works with each other. They have the ability discuss things, even though they don't always agree, in a productive manner. I would like to see that relationship continue.

I think Jean Lambert summed it up well in Elmbrook incumbents face challengers: "'I'm running because we have, for the past couple of years, done a lot of heavy lifting with regards to Act 10 and decisions about Open Enrollment and the closing of Hillside,' Lambert said. 'Now we can concentrate on student achievement, acclimating the new superintendent and building our school communities as we have needed to redistrict.'"

Meg Wartman is one of that collective "we" Jean spoke of in the above quote. They have done heavy lifting. They have made tough decisions and our Elmbrook School District and the Elmbrook taxpayers are the better for it.

We should reelect Meg Wartman and Jean Lambert to serve on the board another term.

Remember that everyone in the Elmbrook School District votes for both school board races, regardless of where you live in the district.

More Reading:
Elmbrook gets high marks in two studies
MacIver Large School District Report Card
Brookfield Patch Elmbrook Candidates Debate 4K, School Closing
BrookfieldNow K4 dividing line in Elmbrook School Board race
BrookfieldNow Elmbrook incumbents face challengers
Past Posts: Elmbrook Candidate Forum & District 7 Info meeting
What? Families who HAVE 4K petition to join Elmbrook WITHOUT 4K?

Practically Speaking, Fairly Conservative, RandyMelchert, Betterbrookfield, Jay Weber, Vicki McKenna, WisPolitics Quorum Call, Wisconsin Reporter, CNS News, Mark Levin, Breitbart BigGovernment, The Heritage Foundation

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