State superintendent candidates offer divergent viewsThe state’s next top schools chief either will be a longtime education official who favors small class sizes and access to higher education in high school or a political newcomer who advocates for higher academic standards and merit pay for teachers.
By: By Amy Hetzner/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Superior Telegram
The state’s next top schools chief either will be a longtime education official who favors small class sizes and access to higher education in high school or a political newcomer who advocates for higher academic standards and merit pay for teachers.
Tony Evers, 57, the state’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, touts his experience in education as his foremost qualification for office. Rose Fernandez, 51, a parent advocate and pediatric trauma nurse, said her advocacy will be on behalf of the state’s children and families.
Voters will have a definite choice in the April 7 election to replace Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster who is stepping down.
Evers offers 34 years in public education, the last eight spent at the state Department of Public Instruction “There’s some large decisions to be made, and I have the appropriate experience that will allow me to hit the ground running,” Evers said.
Fernandez revels in her status as an outsider, free of constraints that she says come with ties to groups such as the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union. She was involved in setting up a statewide coalition to represent students when WEAC filed a lawsuit to close a school that offered an online curriculum. “In many ways, it really is the common guy saying we need to speak up for ourselves,” Fernandez said Friday during a stop in Superior.
On the issues, the candidates bring different perspectives:
Teacher pay: Evers has said he favors repealing the qualified economic offer (QEO) law restricting teacher pay, proposed in Doyle’s budget. As for merit pay, he expressed support for current department initiatives that boost pay for teachers who receive certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, with an extra stipend for nationally certified teachers who work in schools with a high proportion of low-income students.
Fernandez said she would like to keep QEO restrictions on teacher pay, but also allow districts to impose a merit pay system on teachers under the same law. Under the proposal, school boards could alter their compensation system for teachers to include some sort of pay-for-performance system, as long as the package offered a certain overall percentage increase in compensation for teachers.
School choice: As someone who has home-schooled her five children as well as enrolled them in a virtual charter school, Fernandez has been an enthusiastic supporter of school choice. “My experience was that the Department of Public Instruction just doesn’t have the respect it should have for parents’ ability to make good choices and the value of those choices,” she said. “Business as usual is really my foe in this … I’m running much more against the status quo, the entrenched bureaucracy in Madison.”
Evers cites the rapid increase in the number of charter schools in the state as an example of his support for school choice. But he also said voucher schools have not been shown to provide any more of an academic benefit than traditional schools in Milwaukee, and they should be held more accountable than they are now.
Milwaukee Public Schools: Fernandez was first to bring MPS into the race, introducing a “turnaround plan” that would replace the current school board with a seven-member team appointed by the Milwaukee mayor, Milwaukee County executive and state schools superintendent. The team could hire and fire employees, as well as oversee a curriculum overhaul. Implementation of the plan would require passage by the state Legislature and approval by Gov. Jim Doyle. Evers said he has been dissatisfied with the state’s approach and introduced his own plan for MPS, which included continued implementation of a plan under the federal No Child Left Behind law, part of which aims to increase the consistency of instruction across schools. He also touts small class sizes, an expansion of after-school offerings and a robust summer school program. He has proposed appointing a monitor to oversee federal stimulus dollars coming into the district.
Telegram Editor Shelley Nelson contributed to this report.
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