School board forum answers: Tony Wedel
Position #7 (At-large) candidate
Knowing the current budget position and potential future reductions, would you support or oppose reopening the Vinland and/or Marion Springs schools at this time, and why?
Regardless of my position it may not be fiscally possible to reopen VES and/or MSES. If it is possible, I would support reopening one if not both schools. The $420 thousand dollar savings that was promised basically boiled down to two things: firing 6.5 teachers and reallocating money to the rest of the district. The only true savings was in the 6.5 teaching jobs that were eliminated. I think it was a poor decision to close them in the first place for numerous reasons. First, the district now has empty buildings that still have money owed on them.
Second, MSES and VES are some of the highest performing schools in the state. USD348 has always maintained a high academic reputation, and this starts to erode that foundation.
Third, the current elementary schools will be over capacity in three to five years, and there needs to be a plan to deal with this.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, what happens when the district gets funding cut again? There isn’t much left to cut, and VES and MSES were supposed to be a last resort. There is no backup plan now that they have been closed.
If elected, what will be your top three objectives, and why?
My most important objective is to develop a short and a long range plan to deal with the budget. More cuts are expected to come from the state, so a plan must be developed to absorb them. In the long term, the district must learn to function with a smaller budget and still provide the excellent level of education that we all expect.
Second would be to rein in what appears to be out of control spending. This district is infatuated with having the best and latest technology which isn’t needed to educate. An example of this is the SMART Boards that the district has. I don’t know the specific models that the district owns, but the low end starts at $3,000, and it goes up to $11,000. This district owns more than one of these modern chalk boards and they are not needed. Technology is a tool for teaching, but it is only one tool.
Third, would be to go back to what was abandoned recently: the emphasis on K through 5 education. This is the foundation for all students. Without a solid foundation, a student will struggle throughout their academic career, as proven by numerous studies, most notably the Tennessee STAR project.
In a time with so many negatives within our school district, (job losses, budget cuts, closing of schools, etc.), how can you promote a more positive climate as a board member?
The best thing that I could do as a board member would be to regularly visit the schools. Taking the time to talk with the teachers and listening to their concerns and suggestions would go a long way towards healing this district. Open communication and having a true, open mind about all suggestions is vital to being a good board member.
Sports and extracurricular activities are viewed by many as part of a well rounded educational experience. With the strain on the districts budget, at what point would you consider cutting the funding on these activities?
I played sports in school and even received scholarship offers. I know how important they can be in a young person’s life. However, one must consider cutting funding to extracurricular activities now. How many teachers have to be fired and how big do class sizes need to be before this is considered? The ultimate goal of a school district is to educate our children. If given the choice between education and extracurricular activities, I will choose education every time. After all, less than one percent of children will become a professional athlete, but 100% of them will need an education.
In your opinion, what is the goal of public education (K-12)?
A public education should supply our children with the skills and tools to be able to provide for themselves after their graduation. Some of these tools should be the ability to think critically, the ability to communicate (both written and spoken), the ability to read at an adult level, and a basic understanding of algebra. Some students will not go on to college, and a high school education should provide them the ability to succeed in the world.
Do you believe that the current board and administration is performing their duties at an acceptable level, why or why not?
As an outsider looking in, this is a difficult question to answer. There are many things that the general public does not have access to concerning administration. Therefore, I can only go off of what I have observed.
My observations would lead me to believe that they are not performing at a level that the parents, children, and taxpayers of this district deserve. It is under their guidance that the district has landed in the financial situation that we are now dealing with. It was poorly timed to suggest another bond issue when the economy was already starting to turn south. It was poorly timed to close two schools and leave an incoming board to deal with the ramifications of that decision. These are just a few examples of an underperforming board and administration.
What other issues, besides the budgetary concerns, do you feel need to be addressed? Please explain.
Bullying is a problem that needs to be addressed more. The district does have a policy in place to deal with this issue and is working on a character education policy. Unfortunately, I feel the district is not being proactive enough in dealing with bullying. After speaking to some parents, this problem is more widespread and accepted than I had originally thought. It will end up costing this district millions if not dealt with immediately.
A second issue is classroom crowding at the PC and IC. Projections show that the PC and IC will be over-capacity in three to five years, and the district must have a plan to deal with this that does not include another bond issue. In addition, I have spoken with a few people who work for BNSF Railroad, and the Intermodal WILL bring families to Baldwin. This will increase our enrollment, but will we have a place to house those students?
Describe your personal and professional experiences that you feel make you the most qualified candidate for the USD #348 School Board?
I have taught and tutored children and adults of all ages. I have been immersed in education all of my life. My wife is a teacher, and my mother taught for 30 years, so I understand what it takes to make a successful student. My current job dictates that I solve a lot of unique problems efficiently. Some of the best solutions are not conventional solutions, and the ability to solve problems with unconventional solutions would serve this district well.
I take the time to research issues before coming to a decision. A person must fully understand what impact a decision will make before they make it. There are many studies that have been done on education and these studies are tools to help guide a person in the right direction.
The biggest attribute that I can bring to the board is a passion for education. Too often the goal of educating our children gets lost in the operation of a school board. Education should always be a board member’s first thought.
Assume that you have been elected to the school board and the district is faced with needing to make an additional cut to its budget. The school board is given the following 6 categories to make those cuts, list the categories in the order in which you would look to make those cuts (1 – the 1st category you would cut, 6 – the last category you would cut):
2 Sports/Extra-curricular Activities
5 Support Staff
Baldwin has always had excellent teachers, and will continue to in the future. Cramming more students into a classroom provides no benefits. It is for this reason that I would cut more teachers as a last resort.
Support staff is stretched thin as it is within our district, so it too would be hard to cut any more positions.
Curriculum might be an option to look at. This district is not the size of Lawrence. There are limitations to what can be offered at the Junior High and High School levels. It is unfortunate that we cannot offer all things to all students, however we can make sure the basics are offered.
Maintenance and repairs would be somewhat difficult to cut funding to, but I believe it could be done. It might mean parents and community members volunteering to help.
Extra-curricular activities and my thoughts on cutting funding were previously covered. Please see question number four.
Administration is one of the first options that needs to be considered having cuts made. Asking the top levels of our school district to take pay cuts should be explored more. The board should also consider consolidating principals and/or vice principals at schools that are very close in proximity to one another. This could provide real savings without greatly affecting the quality of education that our district strives to achieve.
What are your thoughts on the district adopting a “shop local” policy, in which the district would look locally for goods and services whenever possible? If adopted, what percent advantage would you give an in district merchant over an out of district merchant? 5__%
I do not believe that the school district can adopt a “shop locally” policy in the current economic climate. The district needs to maximize its return on investments and overspending for items is not a good way to do that. In my opinion, large expenditure items need to be sent out for bid to ensure that the district can get the best quality at the lowest price. In addition there are very few merchants in district that provide the goods and services that the district would require.
If this policy were passed, I believe that the advantage must be low for the reasons I stated above.