Two incumbents, former member vie for GC School board

GLENWOOD CITY — A pair of incumbents – Jon Mrdutt and Kevin Bonte – along with former board member Lisa Kaiser are vying for the two open seats on the Glenwood City Board of Education in next Tuesday’s (April 1) Spring general election.

All three candidates have extensive experience on Glenwood City’s School Board and are graduates of the high school.

Mrdutt has served as a member of the board for the past nine years and is seeking his fourth consecutive term. Bonte was first elected in 2008 and will be vying for his third term. Their challenger, Lisa Kaiser, most recently served as vice president of the board of education until she lost her re-election bid last year. Kaiser was first elected to the school board in 2000.

Jon Mrdutt is a life-long resident of the Glenwood City area and school district. He and his wife of nearly 24 years, Barbe, live just south of Glenwood City and have two teenage sons – Nick, a senior, and Nathan, a sophomore. Mrdutt said it has been a privilege to serve Glenwood City as a school board member. He is also spent many years as a volunteer assistant football coach.

Mrdutt is a product manager for Viking Electric Supply, Inc.

Kevin, 2967 County Road E, has lived within the Glenwood City School District most of his life and is a graduate of its 1986 class.

Bonte, who has been on the board for the past six years, is a truck driver by profession.

Lisa Kaiser was born in Forest but raised near the “Old Greenhouse” on Syme Avenue in Glenwood City and claims to have delivered every newspaper that Glenwood City had available.

Kaiser, who graduated from Glenwood City in 1981, did her pre-chiropractic studies at UW-River Falls before attending Northwestern College of Chiropractic where she obtained her doctor of chiropractic degree in 1987.

Kaiser then returned to Glenwood City the following year for an opportunity to own and operate three clinics, which she maintains today. She has been in practice for the past 26 years and says she still loves her job helping area residents.

Kaiser, who lives a few miles south of Glenwood City along Highway 128, is proud that all four of her children have graduated from Glenwood City. Samantha in 2003, Sarah in 2005, Casey in 2009 and her youngest, Allison in 2011.

The Tribune Press Reporter sent a questionnaire to each of the candidates. Following are their responses to the three questions asked.

1. One of the big issues in the community is the proposed sand mine located south of County Highway G. Realizing that the school has no legal authority to control any aspects of the sand mine. What are your thoughts or concerns about the mine and the Memorandum of Understanding the school is working on with Vista Sand?

Bonte: As you stated, the school has no legal authority to control any aspects of the sand mine, for that reason the Memorandum of Understanding is essential to ensure that Vista Sand addresses the school’s concerns. It is very important that the school district and Vista Sand cultivate a relationship that would contribute to negotiation in addressing the key concerns of the school while allowing Vista Sand to operate in an efficient and effective method. Both parties must be realistic and negotiate in good faith for the health, safety and welfare of the students and staff. Again, this Memorandum is the only real influence the school has with Vista Sand and without a memorandum, there is no legal influence.

Kaiser: As far as the Sand Mine is concerned, we were approached to have “Good Neighbor” dialog. It is the School Board’s responsibility for the “safety of staff and students”. This is and has always been the Board’s priority. The Memorandum of Understanding is an opportunity to set parameters or guidelines that both/all parties can agree with. There are very plausible concerns and to not investigate would be irresponsible. This is a scenario that to me, appears as though “good faith” was intended but the ball is being dropped. We are losing students and will lose more from my discussions with people. Our school is the largest employer in Glenwood City. The school that will have to look at cuts to personnel or programs when the drop of enrollment occurs. Also to consider is the decrease in property value. This will affect the amount of taxpayer revenue collected and create increase in taxes for the taxpayer as the monies will have to come from the local level to assist in the school’s budget. It has divided the people and this is sad. I am for industry, but will say that this sand mine proposal was poorly considered for the welfare of this community on its location.

Mrdutt: As noted above, the School Board has no legal authority to control any aspect of the proposed mine. We do not create or approve any zoning or safety regulations. However, the School District does have the ability and responsibility to make our thoughts and concerns be heard with regards to the safety and well being of our students and staff. As a result, we have created a detailed MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Vista Sand, and are currently working to negotiate specific terms of the MOU at this time. There are details yet to be finalized, but this legal document outlines key areas of concerns with regards to Air Quality and Trucking Operations as they relate to the Glenwood City School District. The MOU agreement would provide particular protections to the district and its students and staff should a mining project be proposed, approved and implemented.

2. What are your feelings about the proposed Common Core education that has many supporters and just as many people that feel it is something that is not for us and takes away local control of our schools?

Kaiser: Common Core is a guide system not much different than ordinances that a city may set up. It is a guideline to follow that can make it easy for teachers to teach and kids that may move from one district to another. They have some consistency. Everything takes a road and path that we feel we may loose control over, but I believe that our District is doing “cutting edge work” and feel that we will find ways to continually grow and make certain that our kids get the best that we can offer. Common Core is a different approach to make students integrate/collaborate core classes, encourage independent thinking and more problem solving aspects. It engages more than to feed them data and have them regurgitate that information back.

Mrdutt: In June of 2010, Wisconsin adopted the Common Core State Standards as Wisconsin’s “new” standards for English language arts and Mathematics. They were created by the National Governors Association in order to set a clear and consistent “blueprint” for what students should learn from grades K-12. These standards should enable all GC classroom teachers to better collaborate between all grade levels and all classes at a higher level in order to improve teaching and educational results for all students.

Please keep in mind however, that these are Federal “minimum” Standards being adopted at the state level. In Glenwood City, we will strive to not only meet, but to exceed these standards, and have set our sights on higher learning goals and expectations. All curriculum and teaching decisions are still made by our professional teaching staff, school administrators and ultimately the school board. This will enable local control to remain at the district level. My hope is that these state standards will improve student achievement by improving classroom strategies that help our children become better learners.

Bonte: Common minimum standards are necessary to establish what all students should know and be able to do at each grade level. This will ensure all students are on a level playing field and that students transferring between districts or states do not fall into any gap. These common minimum standards allow for establishing a baseline for uniform assessments for students across the state. With that said, I believe that individual districts should have the ability and responsibility to create more rigorous and comprehensive standards if so desired. Local control must be maintained rather than allowing legislative control over educational curriculum.

3. School property taxes are the largest item on peoples’ tax bill. How could the school board work to protect local property tax payers from the increasing tax load, especially for those people that are retired and on a fixed income?

Mrdutt: Property taxes – not a popular topic for any of us. However, the best example of how the School Board can “protect” local property tax payers from an increasing tax load was demonstrated last year in my opinion. The district had several large scale capital improvement projects that were completed last year. We realized that aging, unsafe and outdated classrooms and facilities needed to be addressed. Rather than levy the expense to the tax payers, the district borrowed the maximum amount allowed by the state – and managed all financial effects “in-house” within our own budget! There was NO TAX IMPLICATION for district residents regarding these large scale improvements to our school! The upgrades and improvements we made to the school and facilities for the students and community were amazing. What’s more amazing is that we created a community “owned” project that fostered an extra-ordinary amount of volunteerism and community involvement and pride. The district managed the finances here without a localized tax impact, but the value of the community coming together to accomplish great things is what makes Glenwood City a great place!

Bonte: Education expenses are the largest expense that many rural communities face, it is essential there is a balance between providing the best education possible to the students and controlling the related expenses. In order to provide the highest quality education, it is essential to recruit and retain the best staff possible. Students need to be in an environment that is conductive to a high quality education so it is equally important that we have modern facilities and offer cutting edge technologies. It is also important to have a quality offering of extracurricular activities (not only sports and music but also Academic, Agriculture, Technology, and Business opportunities) to broaden the educational experience for students. This must all be done while controlling cost as much as possible.

The only other influence the district has besides reducing expenses is to increase revenues. This can be done independent of property taxes by finding alternative sources of funding, such as grants, donations, fundraisers, and other revenue generating opportunities. Within the property tax options there is the option of spending cap referendums or another way to increase property tax revenues without increasing individual’s property tax is to increase the tax base, which increases tax revenues from new sources.

Kaiser: The Board is and has always been conscientious in reference to the budget and the affects it has on our staff, students and the taxpayers of Glenwood. There are needs that the District has, just as any other business, to be productive and successful. A concern to me at this time would be the effect of the number of students we have lost/are going to lose with the induction of the Sand Mine. This has been stated heavily by many residents, parents and grandparents with the discussions I have had with people. The impact of this will be the reduction of the State Aid dollars per student that the District will no longer have. A student/parent has the ability to Open Enroll to another District will minimal limitations. This will greatly affect the our local taxpayers as the student numbers decrease, the State Aid reimbursement is reduced thus placing a larger burden on the taxpayer. This concerns me deeply for our community and I wish this not to be the case, but the ball has been put in motion by the city with their hopes of helping the finances of Glenwood City.