Dunn County voters met six Menomonie school board candidates who will be on the April ballot.
About 60 people attended the Thursday forum at the Dunn County Judicial Center, hosted by the League of Women Voters-Greater Chippewa Valley.
Two board members, Tanya Husby and John Sobota, will not run for their seats again. David Styer is the only incumbent running. Five challengers have filed papers: Chris Freeman, Bayard Godsave, Urs Haltinner, Nell Heifner-Johnson and Clint Moses.
The six candidates agreed that the district should highlight art and theater programs in addition to sports.
Candidates differed on how school board candidates should communicate with communicate groups. Several board members in November criticized former board president Dan Paulson over communication with a local group about funding for the Menomonie High School sports complex.
“I don’t know I’d be so concerned about putting certain parameters about the chain of communication,” said Menomonie native Heifner-Johnson.
UW-Stout history professor Freeman said the school board has a fundamental communication problem: “For me one of the biggest questions was left off the table: How does the school board communicate with our students and teachers, the two biggest stakeholders who never seem to be invited to the table?”
Godsave, a teacher of 20 years, said he sees community members frustrated after they attempt to communicate with the board during meetings. Moses, a chiropractor, called for improving communication on the board, said the group has “some level of dysfunction.”
“We can do better. There is a lot of work involved in nurturing healthy habits within a board,” said UW-Stout professor Haltinner.
Six-year board veteran Styer said it’s important for board members to follow policy and not cross the line into administrative duties, but said being a “sounding board for the community” was also vital to the job.
When asked about bullying, accommodating LGBTQ students and providing gender-neutral bathrooms, consensus was largely similar.
Styer praised district staff’s handling of minority-group students, and said the district has students that identify as transgender that are using restrooms of their choice without incident.
“This hasn’t been an issue in our district. From my standpoint, when it’s working I don’t see a reason to change it,” Styer said.
Educating students about diversity “has to start in kindergarten, go through grade school,” Freeman said, adding that schools in the district “don’t feel like they’re creating a space where we put values first.”
Bullying is a community issue, not just a school problem, Haltinner and Heifner-Johnson said. Godsave and Moses agreed that inclusivity and more teacher support should be a part of curriculum planning.
When asked about arming teachers as a school safety measure, “I’m not sure I’m convinced that’s a particularly effective response to school shootings,” said Godsave. Moses called the idea of arming all teachers “crazy,” and called for each school building to have a crisis manager.
Arming teachers is a danger to students, Haltinner and Heifner-Johnson said.
While over half of the states in the country support teachers concealed-carrying in schools, Styer said, adding a second school security liaison officer to the school district is the “realistic … route we’re going to go.”
Haltinner has served three years on the board but lost a re-election bid in spring of 2018. Freeman also made a bid in spring 2018, but lost narrowly to Penny Burstad.
Members of the school board are elected in the spring and serve three-year terms.
In the city of Menomonie, five incumbent council members are running unopposed.
On Tuesday, April 2, voters will also choose between state appeals court Judge Brian Hagedorn of Oconomowoc and Second District Appeals Court Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer for an open seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Also on the ballot, incumbent Judge Lisa K. Stark of Eau Claire is running unopposed for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge for District III, which covers Dunn, Eau Claire and Chippewa counties and all of northern Wisconsin, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.