Five vie for Superior School BoardThe Superior School Board will have at least two new members following April 3 elections.
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
The Superior School Board will have at least two new members following April 3 elections.
Five candidates are running for three open seats on the Superior School Board. Len Albrecht is the only incumbent seeking re-election. Current board members Bonnie Baker and Josh Christie are both stepping down after serving one term.
Besides Albrecht, other four candidates running for the open seats are Jonathan Asp, Adam Bennis, Robert Morehouse and Curt Vanderstelt. Candidates elected to office serve a three-year term beginning April 23.
As the only incumbent seeking re-election this spring, Albrecht enters the race with a clear vision of what the district has overcome and what still lies ahead.
“With what has happened to education in Wisconsin this past year there will be many difficult decisions that need to be made in the near future,” Albrecht said. “As a board member, I feel I bring a level-headed approach when decisions need to be made and will make sure that we look at what is best for the students and employees before anything is finalized.”
In the past year, the Superior school district has had to deal with a more than $2.7 million cut to funding and major changes to employees’ collective bargaining rights. The School Board is in the process of drafting a new employee handbook that will take the place of union contracts when they expire this summer.
“It’s not a secret that many of the bargaining rights teachers had in the past, and even the School Board’s ability to increase levies to offset state cuts, have been taken away,” Albrecht said. “I want to make sure that decisions aren’t made unilaterally. As I have stated in the past, I want to work together with district employees, parents and community members in order to do what is best for our district and its students.”
Albrecht was named to the Superior School Board in 2000, and he has served four 3-year terms, as president for four years. During his time on the School Board, Albrecht said he has developed a broad network of students and parents who offer feedback and bring him ideas to consider for the district.
Going forward, Albrecht said his priority will be protecting academic programs while working with school district employees to streamline costs, making cuts with the least impact to all involved.
“More now than ever before it will be important to keep an open line of communication between teachers, administration and the Board,” Albrecht said. “I want to make sure we do what we can to keep this the best school district in the area and strive to be the best in the state.”
As a parent with four children in the Superior school district, Asp has a vested interest in the decisions made by the Superior School Board. He has taken a more active role in the education process over the past four years and decided this year to step forward as a voice for parents in the community.
“I think I’m a good listener, and I enjoy meeting with people and taking ideas and putting them into action,” Asp said.
Asp is interested in promoting volunteer programs within the school district and increasing community involvement. He’d also like to see a wider range of classes and AP courses available to students.
But Asp is well aware of the budget constraints facing Superior.
“It’s important when we have a tight budget to work together and look for creative solutions,” Asp said.
One creative solution Asp believes has worked well for the district is the language immersion program offered to elementary school students during the summer school session. The program has grown each year but does not strain the district financially.
“It was a nice win-win situation,” Asp said.
Asp was among the parents who researched and presented the idea of a language immersion school to the Superior School Board in 2008. He said he was happy with the compromise reached.
If elected to the School Board, Asp said he would insist upon vigorous discussion for any proposed change on the agenda, especially those that directly affect students in the classroom.
“Obviously we don’t want to see any cuts to the district programs,” Asp said.
Superior’s recent influx of new manufacturing jobs has created excitement in the community. Bennis, director of engineering for Exodus Machines, has witnessed that excitement first-hand and sees opportunities for the school district.
“I eagerly promote Superior as a family friendly, community based area with excellent schools,” Bennis said. “It is an exciting time for Superior as we grow with quality manufacturing jobs.”
Through the senior project program, which is required for SHS students before they graduate, Bennis has brought students to Exodus Machines to explore possible career paths. Bennis said he’ll continue to help foster opportunities for students to learn about job opportunities in the community, and he feels he will add a unique voice to the School Board.
“I have had leadership roles and team building experience in a variety of environments and have worked with others towards common goals,” Bennis said. “I believe in respect for all people. With mutual respect, effective communication and good leadership educational goals can be met and surpassed.”
Bennis has three daughters in the school district, and he said school activities are a major pastime for the family.
“I believe in keeping kids involved in the schools through extracurricular activities,” Bennis said. “Athletic and academic programs keep kids engaged in learning and foster their development toward becoming a contributing part of our community.”
In a budget crunch, Bennis said academic programs are the priority, but extracurricular activities run a close second.
Bennis is also concerned the School Board handle the introduction of the new employee handbook properly. Bennis’ wife, Marcy, is a kindergarten teacher at Bryant Elementary School.
“The changes to the collective bargaining system have created significant fears among many of the union employees,” Bennis said. “These changes can be positive if managed well with good communication utilizing respect and honesty.”
Morehouse is a firefighter for the city of Duluth, but he is also a concerned parent living in Superior.
It was because of his two children, ages 4 and 7, that Morehouse decided to enter this year’s School Board race.
“In the last year, they’ve had some pretty extraordinary budget cuts that have come down from the state,” Morehouse said. “There are some pretty tough decisions that need to be made just to balance the checkbook.”
The Superior school district is likely to face another round of cuts for the 2012-13 school year, and Morehouse said he wants to ensure decisions are handled properly.
Whatever numbers are handed down from the state, Morehouse said Superior needs to provide the same level of education to its students and the same level of support of its teachers and staff. If a lack of funding does necessitate cuts, Morehouse said the School Board should make an effort hear as many points of view as possible.
“Let’s make sure everyone who is affected is at the table,” Morehouse said. “Let’s make sure everyone has ownership.”
If elected to the School Board, Morehouse said he’d work to represent parents as a whole rather than act on his own personal concerns.
“I’m running as someone who watches the news and is concerned for our children’s education,” Morehouse said. “Our school district has been a very good district — you can look it up. I, personally, want to see that continue.”
Communication is key for Vanderstelt in his run for a seat on the Superior School Board.
Within the next few months, board members will need to vote on the contentious new employee handbook. The school district also faces another reduction in funding that could lead to difficult cuts.
“This is a time for communication,” Vanderstelt said. “I’m not running on an agenda. There’s not a single issue — I want to have a positive impact on the community.”
Vanderstelt, lead pastor at North Bay Community Church, moved to Superior in 2007. He has been involved in youth sports as an official and a coach for years and has a daughter attending Great Lakes Elementary.
“She will be a part of the school district for the next seven years before graduating, so I have a vested interest,” Vanderstelt said.
As a pastor, Vanderstelt has worked with students for two decades in a church setting, and he also has served as a crisis counselor and substitute teacher. Through his work with nonprofit organizations, he’s gained experience dealing with tight finances.
“I’ve been part of a nonprofit work for more than 20 years,” Vanderstelt said. “I’ve experienced working with a budget during those 20 years. I have experience making a budget work when there are no funds.”
The key, Vanderstelt said, is to set the correct priorities. In his opinion, the role of the School Board should be to listen to the teachers and provide them with what they need in the classroom. When teachers have support and resources needed, he said, the students benefit.