School Board Candidate Responses – 2021
Please provide some personal background information (name, occupation, list any community activities you are involved with).
Jim Evans (incumbent): Name – Jim Evans
Occupation – Business owner
List any community activities you are involved with – Four the past seven years I have been a board member of the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) I’m very involved in the arts including creating and running the monthly Gallery Walks for numerous years. Charter member of Art Space Collective Inc.
Kristopher Karns: Name – Kristopher Karns
Occupation – Business Office Manager-Advanced Spine Center of Wisconsin- Neenah
List any community activities you are involved with – Coaching youth sports through the YMCA and Oshkosh United; Oshkosh United Board Member
Robert Rigoni: No response.
Christopher Wright: Name – Chris Wright
Occupation – Health Care/ Screening Specialist
Community Activities – Current: I am a youth Basketball Coach for OWBC 4th Grade girls team, Prior: Elected official to the Town of Algoma Town Board (2 consecutive terms), Advocap Board of Directors, Winnebago IT committee, Reeve Union Board president, UW Oshkosh Student Board Chairman.
Elizabeth Wyman: Name – Beth Wyman
Occupation – Community Volunteer and Small Business Owner (The Waters and Ufit Personal Training)
List any community activities you are involved with – Currently I am a board member of the UWO Foundation, Oshkosh4Education and the lead the Oshkosh Yacht Club Sailing School Board. In the past I have been on many boards and committees where I have led, fundraised, and advocated for a better and brighter community.
1. What do you believe is your primary responsibility as a board member? What will be your most important objective if you are elected to the board?
Jim Evans: Board members by state statute have three responsibilities. We hire the superintendent, we set the tax levy and we set policy. If elected to the board my main objective going forward will be continuing the work we started with our Capital improvement referendum.
Kristopher Karns: The primary objective as a school board member is to do what is best for the students, teachers, and community. Education is the most important measure of a community’s health. It is the best way to ensure we have smart, educated, thought-provoking, intelligent, compassionate people with the ability to think critically and understand how we are only as strong as our weakest school. As a community, we must come together and work for the equity of all students, regardless of background, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender.
As a parent in the school district I have been disappointed in the current decision making process. Mostly because the communication around the pandemic has been limited and sometimes contradictory. Communication needs to be better and is a place we need to earn back the community’s trust.
We also need to address the divide between many groups in the community. It is important to listen to everyone, but some groups are looking at situations from only one perspective. It is vital that we make sure we are looking at issues from all sides and being civil in our discourse on possible solutions to those problems. Civility has been lacking lately and we all need to do a better job.
Robert Rigoni: No response.
Christopher Wright: My primary responsibilities as a school board member will be to set good policy, to collaborate with all stakeholders within OASD and to make sure that our resources are being allocated properly. The most important things that I’ve learned from past leadership roles is that you have to set solid policy based on a shared vision. The vision is created through collaboration, listening and community buy in.
Elizabeth Wyman: • First and foremost is to establish a vision. The OASD currently has a strategic plan which helps the district focus on five priority areas, but the bigger questions are who we are, what do we want and how are we going to get there. I want to be “The Public School District of Choice”.
• Develop accountability standards for the superintendent.
• Review and update policies
• Adopt a budget that fits the strategic plan.
• Advocate for the district and students
Each of these should always keep maximizing student achievement in the forefront.
2. A University of Pennsylvania study estimates that each month of school closures costs students between $12,000 – $15,000 in future earnings. Now that the OASD is returning to in-person learning, do you believe the Board of Education remote learning plan was an appropriate response, especially in the current school year, to the Covid-19 situation? Please discuss your answer.
Jim Evans: Yes, I believe that the districts virtual learning was absolutely appropriate. With no guidance from the federal or state levels, each of the 400 plus school districts in Wisconsin were forced to figure out 400 plus plans of operation. We consulted with the Winnebago Health Department and other medical professionals and using their input, we came up with our plan for operating school during a pandemic. to plan out our response because a pandemic should not be taken lightly or ignored.
Kristopher Karns: I think it is important to remember we are in a pandemic and we need to be making the best decisions possible when it comes to the health of our community. There are a lot of factors in play when it comes to safety during a pandemic, with school districts being the safety net in many places.
I also think it is fair to say we had months to prepare for a better opening of the school year back in September 2020. The main issue I have had with it is the lack of clear communication from the district.
Robert Rigoni: No response.
Christopher Wright: I believe that we will look back at our remote learning plan as a catastrophic mistake. Other surrounding school districts figured out how to navigate the COVID 19 situation a lot more quickly and efficiently then we did. Because of the unwillingness of our administration and board to innovate and collaborate with local health care leaders our students lost precious educational opportunities, and our community lost trust in OASD leadership. Right now our district is in the middle of a mental health crisis, a student achievement crisis “40 percent of students are failing a class” and an enrollment crisis “a net loss of 400 students have left the district”. In my opinion we could’ve collaborated with local health care providers more quickly and in a more precise manner to put safe plans in place for the kids to return to school.
Elizabeth Wyman: It would be nice to have a crystal ball and always make the right decision, but the board made the decision based on the facts that they believed were appropriate. The item that was missing in the decision-making process was an open dialogue with local health care professionals. Had there been more open dialogue I do not believe the BOE meetings would have gotten as negative and strained.
3. Long Range Planning – There has been a shortfall of long-range planning and some might say crisis management by planning in three-year strategic plans. With more than a few of our schools at 75+ years, please describe how you plan to completely change the steering process as a member of the OASD so that we are looking and communicating out 20+ years for facilities, preventative annual maintenance and mid- to large-capital needs.
Jim Evans: Our strategic plan that we have know is a 5 year plan. We currently plan out a 10 year plan for our facilities. Larger capital improvements to our buildings are not intended to be part of our annual budget, rather they are meant to be funded through referenda. If we were to plan on doing a major project with our current number of schools every 5 years it would take 100 years to rotate through our 20 schools. This is one reason why we are looking at consolidation with the hope of getting down to 14 schools.
Kristopher Karns: This is an area I am not super familiar with and look forward to learning more about. From what I know we do need to do a better job maintaining our buildings. The community and the school district are closely tied together, so making sure we have great facilities to allow our teachers to teach and our students to learn will have a positive effect in our community.
Robert Rigoni: No response.
Christopher Wright: Our old schools and annual preventative maintenance costs are the by product of decades of poor long-range planning. We need to envision and plan at least 20 years out so that we aren’t trying to tackle decades of mismanagement in a short period of time. We should complete cost analyses of our building structures and at the same time we should analyze how building locations affect our local economy and the ability for kids to access schools. Based on the data we should determine what buildings should be maintained and what resources should be used to build better and more efficient structures.
Elizabeth Wyman: There needs to be more upfront conversation with the community. There is a long range plan which was approved by the board in February 2020, but much of the public has little to no idea that it exists https://www.oshkosh.k12.wi.us/district/communications/district-news/details/~board/news/post/oshkosh-school-board-approves-long-range-facilities-plan
It is exciting that the referendum for two new schools passed in November 2020. We have the opportunity to use this as a starting point to rebuild both externally and internally. What is lacking is communication and excitement. The day after the referendum was passed, I would have had a LARGE sign that was installed on the new Merrill property that would have said, “Site of the NEW Merrill Middle School, Thank you Oshkosh”. We missed an opportunity to get the community involved and bring them into the fold for the future. We found out just how important community conversation was in the Smith School closing. It was well known within the district, if the roof failed, the school was going to have to close. That information could have been given to the families two years ago so they had time to prepare. We need to take a more proactive approach to communication and believe in our community to see the big picture.
4. Tech Education – the old Industrial Arts programs – has been slowly going away for many years for various reasons. Please describe your thoughts as to the need for these programs. Describe how much emphasis/weight you personally would put on this in your decision-making process as well as from a policy, expectations and accountability stance?
Jim Evans: I think there will always be a need for Tech Education, now called Technology and Engineering (TE). The district has been working on curriculum improvements, partnering with local businesses and facility and equipment upgrades like the new Fab Lab at ONHS to address declining enrollment in this area. Hiring and retaining high quality staff remains a major obstacle when other districts that are not operating under our constraining spending caps, can offer more in salary than we can. Also people with these skills are highly coveted in the private sector. Having a passionate teacher in the number one reason programs grow and we have struggled to retain our top TE teachers.
Kristopher Karns: Tech Ed programs are important, just like a number of other classes (Art, Science, Phy Ed, Photography, Math, History, English, etc.). We should be doing what we can to educate our students in many areas and making sure they have the offerings that interest them and prepare them to be intelligent members of society.
Robert Rigoni: No response.
Christopher Wright: We have to make sure that we are preparing our children for the ever-changing workforce. It is our job to ensure that our children are qualified for well paying jobs and to succeed. Some Tech Education jobs pay very well and there is an abundance of need for those skills in our community. Plumbers, carpenters and electricians earn a very good wage. If we are presented with opportunities to enhance our students skills in Tech Education I would personally be in favor of that. I believe an opportunity to attract students back to the district is to look at innovation and exciting classroom opportunities. Our curriculum should not be stagnant but should be a way to engage our students and provide them enrichment opportunities.
Elizabeth Wyman: I taught business classes at FVTC for over 10 years. The quality of education given to students was stellar. The best part of tech colleges is that they are focused on a career immediately and the time is shorter to graduation and ultimately a career. College is great for some but not for all. To me it is more important to continue to learn post high school in whatever manner is appropriate for the chosen career.
It is critical to keep Tech Ed classes alive in the high school. Our current economic structure relies on those careers which are tech related. I’m so excited to see the complete change in the ONHS tech room to the newly created Fab Lab. It is now relevant and will be used. We need to continue to partner with businesses to see what they need from our graduates. If we can give them a quality product, I believe they will help financially support the programs and sites which are critical to everyone’s success.
5. OASD Fund 10 expenditures have grown $20,905,000 (a 20.3% increase) from ~$102,919,000 in 2015 to $123,824,000 in the current budget while student enrollment declined by 638 students (6.4% decrease). What measures will you suggest to lower expenses during a period of declining enrollment?
Jim Evans: First off the enrollment is based on a three year average expressly to avoid huge fluctuations like this year. What also is never mentioned when people talk about the 638, the latest number is 601 students that open enrolled in other districts is the 217 students that open enrolled into the OASD. Another part of this is the number of parents that chose to not enroll their children in 4K. our estimate of the actual number is closer to 300 net loss. Still concerning but what we won’t know until later is hoe many will come back.
Kristopher Karns: I would love to look at ways to increase revenue and bring back the students that open enrolled out. We should be a destination school for many, and with that comes additional funds. Our city deserves an exceptional school district that educates and graduates amazing, smart and intelligent individuals.
Robert Rigoni: No response.
Christopher Wright: At the last school board meeting a current School Board member stated that OASD’s recent audit revealed that OASD was overstaffed in comparison to other comparable school districts. I believe that we should be making sure that the bulk of our resources are getting to our teachers and to the direct staff. We have to ensure that our capital is being used to better prepare our students for our everchanging world. If the position isn’t providing direct value to our district and student’s then we need to ask ourselves the question, “is this position needed and is our capital being used wisely?”
Elizabeth Wyman: Reductions:
It will be difficult to reduce expenses because there just isn’t that much fluff in the budget.
• Reducing the number of schools will help. Many of our current schools are inefficient and expensive to operate.
• It would be easy to say cut teachers salaries, but that is not realistic given they already make about $10,000 less per year that their neighboring counterparts.
• Health insurance costs continue to rise, but given the salary structure in the OASD, it is possibly the one benefit which makes up for the low salary.
• We need to get students back into our district. Interestingly enough, I watched the school board meeting with interest last night and at no time did they ever talk about or did the superintendent put out a plan as to how to get students back from private schools, in home learning in another district, other public-school districts for the 2021-2022 school year.
• Talk with legislators about low revenue limit adjustment. Because of the decision made many years ago we are not able to tax at the same levels as some of our neighboring school districts.
• Develop business and community partnerships. When the district can show and prove academic success from our students, community members and businesses will invest time and dollars to increase the chance of future successes. Investors want to invest in a winner and we need to prove as a district that we can be just that. They want to feel welcome, respected and part of something bigger.
• Promote and engage the Oshkosh Education Foundation. Theresa Duren is the new director of the foundation and she is poised to make a difference. The foundation has the opportunity to fund raise for short term needs and to build an endowment which will fund projects well into the future.
6. Ten years ago, Wisconsin school districts were in dire financial situations. ACT 10 gave local districts the tools to better manage their operations. It addressed the root of Wisconsin’s budget problem – unchecked labor costs. It limited collective bargaining for public sector unions to just base salary and wages. Act 10 didn’t just fix the state’s financial problems. It also gave school districts the tools they needed to keep their budgets balanced. Previously, most school districts were required to buy health insurance through the state teachers union. After Act 10, they were allowed to shop for the best deal. In the past 10 years, Act 10 saved Wisconsin Public schools over $5.2 billion in retirement and health care cost. In your opinion, has the OASD fully utilized these provisions? Are there areas that you would suggest the OASD could further cost savings? Do you support maintaining these provisions? Please discuss.
Jim Evans: Since the State of Wisconsin is constitutionally required to have a balanced budget I still fail to see how we were broke (the reasoning for enacting Act 10) with that being said I think that the OASD has utilized what ever “Tools” Act 10 gave us as much as we could and still keep a workforce. As for additional savings we are moving towards a self funded insurance model that is expected to generate savings. We have recently been examining our staffing levels in comparison to like sized districts finding where we are overstaffed and being able to alter these areas for budget savings.
Kristopher Karns:When it comes to the details of the district’s finances, I am interested in learning more about what we can do to make our school district more successful. I want to look at how we can support our teachers and give them the tools to be successful. Many great teachers left after Act 10, so what can we do to either bring them back, recruit new teachers, or more importantly, retain the exceptional teachers that we already have? Act 10 may have helped in some areas, but it created a lot of problems as well that school districts are still trying to work through.
Robert Rigoni: No response.
Christopher Wright: I think that the school district should use any tool that it has available to them to become better. One idea that could possibly result in potential savings to the school district could be the self-funding of insurance. Many school districts have started to self-fund health insurance to cut down on costs and to provide a better service. If you are a large enough employer like OASD is you can negotiate better rates and require a better product to be provided. This is an idea that the current OASD business manager is looking into and I would encourage him to continue to research it. Finding better value can result in cost savings that will allow us to deploy our capital more efficiently. Additionally I believe that our high performing employees should be paid accordingly. A merit system should be put into place so that we can reward our best employee’s that go above and beyond. We haven’t been doing a great job at retaining high performing employees. Almost always the loss of high performing employee’s results in more incurred costs for any employer.
Elizabeth Wyman: The positive part of ACT 10 was that it gave power back to the teachers. They are now able to be autonomous and manage their day without someone looking over their shoulder. Some may say that ACT 10 did not go far enough in cutting retirement benefits. However, this is one area that helps us retain staff. Especially true in our district where our salaries are substantially less than our neighboring counterparts. I do think retirement benefits for those reaching age 55 could be revisited. Because people are living longer, 55 seems to be a young age for full retirement.
7. What reforms, if any, would you support to fund public school operations?
Jim Evans: I have been and will always be a believer in STEAM education. I will continue working towards making the OASD the first district in Wisconsin to fully embrace STEAM Education.
Kristopher Karns: I would want to look at ways that we can focus our investment in our school district in areas that need it. When a community invests in their students (and school district), it comes back in the form of higher property values, empathy for one another, smarter and educated decision makers, and an option for open enrollment from outside the district.
Robert Rigoni: No response.
Christopher Wright: Right now half of all public school funding is funded through local property taxes. Right now the formula factors in the number of students in a district, the money the district spent on education the prior year, and the property values in the district. The state then allocates more aid to districts with lower property values. Right now there are two different funding formulas being floated. The fair funding formula that would disperse money based on poverty and a model that allows vouchers and school choice. Both of the models are highly partisan so I wouldn’t anticipate that we would get any type of new funding model soon without compromise on both sides of the aisle. Ultimately this issue is an issue that will be decided in the legislature. I would like for them to agree upon a model that benefits our students and taxpayers the most. At this time I don’t personally know what the compromise could be.
Elizabeth Wyman: The state needs to continue to look at reforms for the following:
• Per pupil funding – In some cases it doesn’t make the impact that it should. This is especially true in our district where education may require more funds based on needs of the students.
• State education formula – Is based on only property value. That may not be the best measure of need for a district. It is also a difficult measure when the enrollment is declining in a district. The need for education is still there but the district takes a funding hit.
• School Choice – The voucher program for private and not in district charter schools stretches resources for public schools very thin.
All of these items need to be looked at so we are funding in a smart manner. There will always be challenges but just like everything else, reform is critical to maintaining a current and effective public education system.
8. The OASD lost student enrollment due to the Covid-19 situation. How do you plan to stop the exodus of children from our district either going to private schools or surrounding districts? How do you plan make up for the lost dollars from all of the students who have left the district in the last 12 months?
Jim Evans: I talked some on the decline in students in a previous question. To further elaborate This issue really needs to be looked at through the lens of COVID-19. The unknowns are how many of these students will come back to the OASD? Many students chose to enroll in a online school that was not run by the OASD but uses the same platform as we do. We will be reaching out to those students that want to remain online to enroll in our E-Academy. New schools transforms neighborhoods, new families move in and student numbers increases and we have two new schools in the process of being built. I feel that the future of the OASD is bright if we continue in the direction we are going.
Kristopher Karns: During this pandemic we lost many students due to poor communication from the district. That needs to change immediately. I would also love to look at ways to increase revenue and bring back the students that open enrolled out. We should be a destination school for many, and with that comes additional funds. Our city deserves an exceptional school district that educates and graduates amazing, smart and educated individuals.
Robert Rigoni: No response.
Christopher Wright: First and foremost we have to do everything that we can to try and get as many of these children back into our district as possible. We need to have an aggressive campaign to reach out to these students and their families. This campaign will require us to have a clear and concise message highlighting all of the positive things that are occurring within Oshkosh School District. If we aren’t able to get the children back into the school district we will have to make cuts. We can’t lose a whole school worth of students and maintain the same staffing and service levels without cuts. So it is paramount that we put together a great plan to get our children back into OASD.
Elizabeth Wyman: We need to have a plan to reengage families which have left the district. Students equate to dollars. In order to do that we need to be THE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT OF CHOICE.
• Recreate a positive culture for teachers, families, and all stakeholders.
• Determine which learning mediums are appropriate for each child.
• Determine which classes, which students and what curriculum can be taught differently to maximize learning which is very exciting.
• Reengage with businesses to determine we are teaching classes that will benefit the student in the future.
• Implement a learning plan for each student. It is more work for the teachers initially but the benefits for the student are great.
• Engage families throughout the district to encourage participation and two-way communication.
• Reinvigorate PTOs at each school and community wide PTO.
• Set up town hall meetings to have two-way dialogue between community members and the district. Understand and listen to their concerns. Being proactive increases understanding and reduces negativity and misinformation.
• Reengage Oshosh4Education. They are not a threat but rather a community advocate group which reaches far and wide.
• Let Katie Nieman, the marketing manager run with a campaign to promote the district. We need to be much more proactive and positive.