School Board Candidate Responses – 2018

1. The public schools have a crucial role relating to the development of human resource talent in our community. With budget deficits, arguments have been made inferring that education quality will suffer if teachers’ wages are not increased. Do you agree with this inference? Do you believe a correlation exists between teacher salary and the quality of education? Please discuss your answer.

Allison Garner: Since we do live in an area where teachers in neighboring districts make as much as $10,000 more per year than OASD teachers, I think that teacher compensation packages are part of the bigger picture of what will need to be addressed to assure that we can attract and retain talented people. Because there is also a rapidly decreasing pool of teachers available in the state of Wisconsin, we may have to offer additional options that would further enhance working conditions, morale, and culture in our district.

James Evans: I do believe that there is a correlation between low pay and quality of instruction. Enrollment in collage education programs across the country are down because students are foregoing a career in education. Low wages is mentioned as a deciding factor of why they chose another major.

Liz Szilagyi: I believe that quality education is the result of multiple factors. These factors include facilities, staff, curriculum, and supporting programs. The metrics for measuring quality are complex and not specified in this question. My ultimate goal is to make Oshkosh a destination school district.

Teacher’s salaries is a factor that needs consideration as it relates to the recruitment of talent. In the specific circumstance of OASD, our first-year teacher’s salary was 20% below that of neighboring districts (according to the most recent public data). In any market with competition for talent, with multiple choices of employers offering the same work, would top tier candidates most likely pursue the job that offered the position for 20% less?

My personal experience suggests our district has hundreds of amazing teachers who are committed to our community. The question is one of sustainability, can we expect to be competitive if our salaries are not competitive?

Kelly Olmsted: Many studies have shown that better teacher pay leads to better teacher quality and that leads to improved student performance. I believe having competitive professional wages enhances teacher quality because it promotes competition and makes us attractive to potential recruits therefore we will get more and better teacher applicants.  This will also help OASD keep the current quality staff we have instead of them having to chose to leave for better pay.

2. When the OASD has funding shortfalls in upcoming budget year that force the District to cut education programs and/or classes, what aspects of current school district operations can be discontinued?

Allison Garner: I will aspire to protect student learning programs as much as possible. I would much rather increase enrollment so we could close our financial gaps by growing revenues instead of cutting expenses.

James Evans: Because oshkosh was a low spending district when spending caps were imposed, we are one of the lowest spending districts in the state. Because of those caps we have been consistently cutting programs and classes. All of the easy choices were made years ago. The hard choices were made within the last few years, what is left are the choices that will destroy the system. These include closing schools, consolidating sports teams and eliminating educational opportunities for students. Oshkosh is the 14 biggest district in the state frankly we should be embarrassed the we are also one of the lowest spending.

Liz Szilagyi: Our district needs to look at what costs are multiplicitous. We separately need to consider where there are inefficiencies. In recent years the district has gone to referendum and given voters the choice to either increase spending or support cuts. This leads me to assume the district knows what cuts can and should be made, but they are leaving the tough choices up to the voters. As a voter I would support measures that consolidate schools and save costs through those means, but those options were always carefully bundled in a way that make the referendums all or nothing. This creates a false choice. The school board has to accept its fiduciary responsibility and make these calls. It’s time to make tough decisions that will help us maintain a level of fiscal responsibility while also delivering quality education to our students.

Kelly Olmsted: OASD runs a tight budget currently. If operations aspects need to be looked at they should be prioritized for the needs of the students. Discontinuation of any operation should avoid negative impacts to student learning.

3. As a member of the Board of Education, what specific issues will be your area of primary focus?

Allison Garner: My top three issues are moving the needle on our literacy scores, improving the way we address the behavioral and emotional issues of our students, and continuing to reduce the number of students who open enroll into other districts.

James Evans: Literacy, staff retention, school parity.

Liz Szilagyi: My primary focus is to make Oshkosh a destination school district. Our schools can attract families to the area with attractive and well maintained school buildings and grounds. Our schools need to be located in areas that support potential growth. They need to be utilized to capacity and provide equity throughout the district.

All decisions should be driven by data. There is abundant evidence to show us how to create successful schools, and following that evidence is one of my top priorities. We can use data to close the achievement gap and help raise our student’s literacy scores. As we do these things, we can build a destination school district.

Kelly Olmsted: .  My primary focus is the best education for all students of Oshkosh.  Some issues that need focus are achievement gaps, expulsion rate, and our student mental health.

4. Please list the top strategic issues that the Oshkosh Area School District faces.

Allison Garner: The top strategic issues include addressing our need for sustainable funding, improving all communications related to the district, closing the achievement gaps, creating a plan from the facilities audit, and attracting and retaining talented staff.

James Evans: Improve literacy rates across the district. School security and helping the new superintendent get acclimated into the district and community

Liz Szilagyi: The top strategic issue is making Oshkosh a destination district. Our district should be the place where people want to work, locate their businesses, and educate their children. I have spoken to people who move to the area after accepting a job here only to see them move out of the district because of the better schools elsewhere.

Kelly Olmsted: Most districts are facing the same strategic issues as OASD.  The top issues are the national and state educational budget cuts and the mental health of our children.

5. Is there something that the Oshkosh schools are not presently doing that you believe will significantly improve educational quality? What is that and why do you believe it to be desirable?

Allison Garner: Now that all students have access to technology, I would like to see us continue to leverage it to make education more individualized for each student. By not treating all students as though they have the same learning styles, students will be able to find an approach that suits them best making it more likely for them to do well and succeed.

If possible, I would love for our teachers and building leaders to be encouraged and rewarded for trying new and different things. This would allow us to find better approaches for our students and be able to implement them quickly and efficiently.

Lastly, I would like to see us move away from high stakes, standardized testing to looking at additional metrics that take into account other student characteristics. As we know, standardized test scores are a single snapshot of how a student is performing at that moment and does not show progress and growth over time in various areas. We can take some of the pressure of our kids and staff by showcasing multiple metrics of success for our students.

James Evans: I believe that changing our STEM (Science,Technology Engineering and Math) programs into STEAM (Adding the arts to the above) would be very beneficial. Every study that I have read indicates that students learn faster and retain longer when the arts are incorporated in to the curriculum.

Liz Szilagyi: Based on my own experience as a teacher, the most impactful changes I experienced were made through the teacher evaluation program. As a board member I would like to review our teacher evaluation system and look for ways we can replicate the success I experienced. I would also like to review efforts being made to improve our overall reading scores. As a Middle School English teacher, I relied on data and reading intervention programs to help promote student literacy in my classroom. The data collected in my teacher evaluation showed that my students’ growth exceeded expectations. Using data and reputable intervention programs, we can see the same results in our district.

Kelly Olmsted: I believe OASD is providing quality education to our students.  I would like to expand and grow our diversity training and cultural relevant instruction.  These programs will impact all of our students and help make Oshkosh a stronger community.

6. What priorities will guide your actions as fiscal pressures impact facilities, staffing, programs and services?

Allison Garner: My top priority is always student learning.

James Evans: We have held a number of budget resolution sessions where the public works with the administration to come up with a list of painful and merciless cuts that if enacted would be the end of the district but if were necessary we would be forced to enact these measures. I would hope that people would realize how draconian these cuts would be and would act accordingly.

Liz Szilagyi: I am dedicated to instruction that prepares our children to be competitive in their post secondary pursuits. As a district we must improve our reading scores and I believe we can do this as we analyze and dissect data. Any adjustments we choose to make must be made in a way that does not interfere with our efforts to improve student growth and learning.

For example, when it comes to school and class sizes, we have large inequities across the district. I believe addressing these inequities is one way we can save money. I am a fiscally responsible person who will prioritize long term costs over short term fixes.

Kelly Olmsted: Maintaining a high quality education for all students is my priority and will guide my actions related to financial needs for the district.

7. Bray Architects performed a Facility Condition Assessment for the Oshkosh Area School District that estimated over $100 million of facility improvement projects for our area school building. Please discuss your thoughts on how to address these improvements.

Allison Garner: My understanding is that Bray produced a facilities audit that will serve as a guide for our district and BOE to make informed decisions about future facilities projects. If elected, I plan to use the Bray audit to help us create a long term facilities plan.

James Evans: This number would have been much higher if not for the energy savings program that OASD utilized to address long term deferred maintenance projects and it is a shame that this program is no longer available. The study was a snap shot of the current needs that we are facing. It is not a to-do list. With an average building age of 80+ years we will need to consider weather it is more economical to rebuild or remodel some of our buildings. We will be asking the community what their thoughts are on the possibility of closing some long time neighborhood schools and replacing them with a larger more regionally located building. Deferring maintenance like the district has down in the past is not the answer and in fact one could argue that is a major contributor to the position we are faced with now.

Liz Szilagyi: We need to develop decision criteria to determine what we should do. For example, the numbers represented in Bray’s findings did not address capacity analysis or optimal education value. Before any decisions are made we must find the answers to these questions. Are our buildings filled to capacity? Do they optimize teaching and learning? In the long term, is it more efficient to rebuild a few of our outdated buildings and consolidate others?

As we look for answers to these questions we must consult with experts like Bray Architects, but we also must listen to local input. As a school board we must look above the issues affecting a single school and determine the path forward for the district as a whole. If we have a framework for strategic decision making this would provide context for making more detailed decisions affecting investments such as the building improvements described in the Bray work.

Kelly Olmsted: Bray Architects performed a facility study to help us develop a long range facilities plan.  We look forward to evaluating the options from Bray and we are currently following the organizational process plan.