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School Board Candidates Square Off in First and Only Forum

The budget repair bill and controversial teachers contract created stark differences between the four School Board candidates running for two seats. School funding, contracts, and the budget were running themes throughout the 26-question forum.

From the start of the School Board Candidate Forum Thursday it was clear that the budget repair bill, teachers contract, and budget would be the focus of discussion for the evening.

Both Paul Tadda and Richard Houdek (R.L. Houdek on the ballot) set the tone early by stating their solid support of Act 10, or Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill, in the first sentence of their opening statements. The dollars and cents discussion would continue throughout the evening.

“I support Scott Walker’s reforms, and I will work to implement Act 10 thoughtfully,” Tadda said. “One can be a supporter of Act 10 and still support teachers.”

The Menomonee Falls Parent Teacher Student Association sponsored the 26-question forum at Village Hall Thursday night. Tadda, Houdek Michele Divelbiss and incumbent David Noshay are vying for two open School Board seats, which is the only contested local race on the April 3 ballot. Current School Board President Kathy Shurilla for another term.

Neither Divelbiss, who made it clear she has conservative values, nor Noshay openly stated their support of Act 10 in their opening statements. However, they later both took a larger picture stance on public education funding in the state, which has forced districts to do more with less annually. Noshay said the funding system itself is flawed.

“The funding formula is broken and has been broken for some time. It is an almost impossible insurmountable issue that someone needs to fix,” Noshay said. “We have done a herculean effort on the board to expand programming with the limited resources we are given.”

The governor’s repair bill vastly limited the collective bargaining rights of teachers, which became the most controversial aspect of the bill. Houdek said he is not in favor of collective bargaining, and blamed public unions for locking the district into an insurance agreement with WEA Trust, which he claimed has cost the district millions over the past 20 years. Divelbiss also shyed from supporting collective bargaining.

“I’m not a fan of collective bargaining. Unfortunately, sometimes unions support some of the lowest performing employees. I’m in favor of having the administration have more flexibility,” Divelbiss said. “However, I’m not in favor of completely annihilating working collaboratively with teachers.”

Noshay said collective bargaining isn’t the School Board’s fight, and that the board’s focus should remain on the children and local decisions. Tadda said teachers can choose to vote and certify their union, and if they wanted to keep collective bargaining he wouldn’t have a problem with it. However, according to Act 10, teachers would be limited to bargaining only for wage increases based on the Consumer Price Index.

However, all four candidates vowed that their personal beliefs or political affiliations would not cloud their focus on children, taxpayers, and fellow board members.

The Teachers Contract

In May, the School Board found itself embroiled in controversy after it the teachers contract before Act 10 was law. Many residents were further frustrated by the manner in which it was passed. The board reached a tentative agreement with the teachers union on a Friday, and approved the new contract on the following Monday before the public had an opportunity to view contract.

The School Board was faced with a deadline to approve the contract, which included $1.2 million in savings by from WEA Trust to Humana. If the board had not ratified the contract by July 1, the district would have been locked into the agreement that was already on the books and the savings wouldn't have been realized.

The contract debate resurfaced on Thursday during the forum, and created clear distinctions between the four candidates.

Noshay defended his decision to vote on the contract, and said he would still vote the same way if given another chance.

“I stand by that decision. We argued for weeks and weeks about that decision,” Noshay said.  “The current contract allowed us to achieve all the mandatory savings in Act 10. There is nothing in the contract itself that I would change.”

Divelbiss also stated her support for the contract agreement.

“I supported it then, and I support it now,” Divelbiss said. “I knew the values they were putting into that contract and I spent the time in meetings as they discussed it. I believed then and I believe now that it was a good thing to do.”

However, Houdek and Tadda were staunchly against the contract agreement itself and how it was passed.

“I wouldn’t have voted for it. I think it was a cop out by the board to get under the deadline when Act 10 would be implemented,” Houdek said. “Other districts faired better by enacting contracts after Act 10 was law.”

Tadda said he also would have voted against the contract, but also criticized the board’s lack of openness during the discussions. The teachers union and the negotiating team signed a confidentiality agreement that restricted the board from releasing the document to the public before both the board and the teachers union approved it.

The agreement also guaranteed a “yes” vote from board members Lori Blodorn and Gina Palazzari, who were members of the negotiating team.

“I would have voted no. I think the confidentiality agreement when the contract was done was also wrong,” Tadda said.

Tadda was later unclear about how he would have incorporated other aspects of Act 10 into the contract agreement with the teachers. Houdek said he wasn’t up to terms with what was in the contract to comment.

Noshay, who voted for the contract, did say he would have changed how the vote was taken. Noshay said he would have preferred a more open approach by the board before making a final decision.

“If I had to pick one item I would do different it would be in the area of communication in the teachers contract,” Noshay said. “I would change how that was communicated at that moment in time.”

For Tadda, public openness was one of the top three priorities he outlined early in the discussion.

The Budget and Education

Education and the budget are inextricably linked year after year, and finding the proper balance between the two is perhaps the biggest challenge for School Board members.

When it came to the budget, the four candidates agreed that cutting teacher pay and benefits to the bare bones would not be favorable for anyone in the district. They also agreed that cutting administrative pay wasn’t a positive course of action either.

“I’m a big believer in the free market, and offering competitive wages and benefits is important,” Divelbiss said. “We can’t just slash things. We do want to keep our best and our brightest teachers.”

Houdek echoed the sentiment of the four other candidates when it came to cutting administrator pay.

“That’s not the place to cut. That’s where the decisions are made,” Houdek said.

However, Houdek and Tadda were vague on other areas they would cut and neither offered an answer. Divelbiss said adding fees for certain programs could be one small solution. Noshay said finding places to cut outside emplyee pay and benfits is a challenge.

“Unfortunately, 80 percent of expenses are in salary and benefits. We’ve already trimmed most of the low-lying fruit,” Noshay said. “We are always looking at general operations across the board. However, you always have to look at the staffing, it’s the only way to get at the bulk of the cuts.”

All four candidates also agreed on developing a merit-based system of employment for teachers. However, they were unable to offer details on what that system would look like, specifically. However, Tadda proposed incorporating student and parent evaluations of teachers in the overall assessment of teachers.

Houdek said the most important issue for him was to increase the test performance of students in the district to remain competitive with other districts in the area. He also wanted educators to expand opportunities for students.

“I think that there’s weaknesses where high school ends and tech school begins. People need to be better prepared coming out of high school for opportunities that are available to them,” Houdek said.

Divelbiss said the district is on the right track toward improving education and program offerings, and said the board is on the right path and she wants to continue moving things forward.

Tuesday was the first and last time the four candidates will all appear together publicly in a forum. Stay tuned to Menomonee Falls Patch for more updates about the election as it moves forward. If you feel strongly about the claims made by a candidate, please submit a letter to the editor by emailing Carl Engelking.

Menoparent March 21, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Another thing, if the district moves to being self-insured, do you realize that personal private medical information of a teacher will be disclosed to school officials in the event of an appealed denial and who know what else. That will be great for teacher morale don't you think!
Tulsa March 22, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Wow.. Meno take a breath, I worked for a employer who is self-insured and HIPA rules still applies , insurance co's have a national data base that they share information just ask a insurance agent if you need confirmation. Keith Best what about people who have signed the recall of Dale Schlutz "not a worthy candidate" your direct quote. Act 10..... fat chance that it will be repealed... Time for the School Administration to start sharing the pain , If I ran for the board. I would cut 15 % wages / personnel Administration and direct it to technology for the students. If the Ad's don't like it !!! move on to St Louis or wherever.
Menoparent March 22, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Now that I can agree with, school administration sharing in the sacrifice. I posed that question at the meet the candidates meeting and they all said "no way, not a chance" and laughed a little. Especially the super, they are paid a lot. We'll see when the salaries come out this summer. But I don't believe that teachers are overpaid and they are now paying more for their benefits and got a reduction in their benefits. Re: self-insured, all I know is a relative of mine was self-insured and she wanted a surgery that was denied, she could have appealed it, but decided to pay cash for it because she didn't want people she had worked with knowing her personal health issues.
Craig March 22, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Chris Davis is right....HIPA protects against that- won't happen. Oh, and usually only the administrator would have personal information. Administration is usually hired out to an insurance company.
Menoparent March 22, 2012 at 01:32 AM
"usually, only the administrator would have personal information and administration is usually hired out" Doesn't sound very Hippa like to me. Do you really think the district's we need to save money is going to hire out, I don't think so. My relative was probably right in doing what she did. And she was in very high upper-management of large company. If this applied to our smaller school district, would not be good.
#1 son March 22, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Nice try Keith, but more bad propaganda, from the same person who promised 250,000 new jobs and instead delivered over six straight months of job loss. The only open in Wisconsin is it's borders because the unemployed fled. They didn't have to go far, our surrounding neighbor states have been creating jobs for months. He boasts low unemployment but this has nothing to do with his promises. The economy is on it's way back, some have left the state and others simply have stopped looking. WISCONSIN IS NUMBER ONE IN SOMETHING, BUT NOTHING TO BE PROUD OF, NUMBER ONE IN JOB LOSS IN 2011! Don't try to tell me it is working. I would like to see him start working. He has spent more time out on the road soliciting money for both his recall campaign and his defense fund, rather than working for us. $840 million dollars in cuts to education last year and more on the way for this year while at the same time taking that money and turning it over to his contributors and giving 2.3 billion in tax breaks. He claimed during his campaign that he would sit down at the table and negotiate. Once elected he turned is nose on the middle class, I will not only not negotiate, I will take away your right to negotiate- Heil Walker!
#1 son March 22, 2012 at 01:42 AM
Should have known better, Keith is one of Walkers little cronies. Do you even live in the falls?
Craig March 22, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Menoparent...United Health Care is an administrator for private insurers. The School District would not try to manage that themselves and it would not be cost effective. Health insurance claims is not the typical monkey's job and is better left to the professionals. Your family member was either mistaken about privacy rules, or just made an assumption.
Tulsa March 22, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Hooray Menoparent : I knew we could find common ground , Yes teachers were not happy with paying more but this is being done in private co's and some Co's do not offer anything near what the teachers received in benefits. You know Meno there are a lot of people just hanging on with some not working at all. You and I can't too much about that, other then offer aid to some who need it. Yes these are strange times we live in and for some a 1930 economy . The salaries need to be adjusted to refect what going on in todays society and what the payer's can afford. I am sorry about your relative but she should have appealed if she was denied and if it was life threatening but if was for elective surgery the choice was hers . Also I really don't care what others think or know at work , she lives for her family , and if co-workers gossip ' the hell with them. Meno: Let's roll the boat together see you this summer.. Be well
Craig March 22, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Administration should have been cut already. That should have been decided before implementation of the benefits of Act 10. In the private sector, many companies have had wage reductions. Management leads by example, and well run Companies understand this.
#1 son March 22, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Keith- Full Disclosure, you were one of the organizers for the Walker Campaign here in Waukesha County. Act 10 is working to divide the haves and have nots, to suppress middle class workers, all by his own admission in an effort to break the union vote. Chris Davis, I would rather this non-partisan race refrained from recommendations by person with such inherent bias.
Bryant Divelbiss March 22, 2012 at 03:43 AM
This is a non issue since none of the Candidates signed the Recall in this race. Michele clearly supports ACT 10 and using the tools along with the other 2 extremely unqualified conservatives in the race . I do not know how Noshay feels about this.
Bryant Divelbiss March 22, 2012 at 03:47 AM
So you think having a person who is angry about the contract but too lazy to read it will do a better job? Michele is ready to use tools to be fiscally responsible but has the added advantage of putting forth the effort to actually have a clue, unlike Houdek or Tadda.
Royal Eddy March 22, 2012 at 04:29 AM
Hat tip to Drewdy this morning. If in fact "beestrong" is Beth Strong, no wonder "Bee" didn't reply when I suggested we improve the situation by having an open discussion with our actual names. She blasted me saying "neighbors" don't treat each other this way, and if whitepages.com is current (matching her Walker recall signature four months ago on Nov. 15), she lives in Milwaukee, not Menomonee Falls, and has the audacity to lecture me about "our" schools. Saul Alinsky would be proud. Check out the interests and activities on her facebook page... Everything from recalls to Kloppenburg to social justice Wake up Menomonee Falls... These are the folks who support the status quo of our current seven board members.
Tulsa March 22, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Royal Eddy : Beestrong = Beth Strong and lives in Milw, so you said she is a Imposture ? Is she a WEAC plant ,, what's up with that .... what a Low life to deceive MF residents if this is true.
#1 son March 22, 2012 at 03:34 PM
Chris- so is Keith Best a plant? Let's be fair, she could have students in our district, doubt it but to jump to a WEAC plant you are beyond funny to ludicrous!
Tulsa March 22, 2012 at 05:32 PM
# 1 : It was Drewdy and Royal Eddy who posted that Beth Strong was WEAC NOT ME read the Blog posting SIR. .....I asked Mr.Best some Questions of which is has not answer me ... I know Mr Best is Waukesha Co Rebublican PR person for the party and I belong to NO party. Get your facts right on who said what !!! You #1 .....said on blog posting you are a "liberal progressive Democrat".. Ok great.
Lyle Ruble March 22, 2012 at 06:46 PM
I can't believe how this thread has morphed into a contest on who is the most conservative. There is a reason why school board positions are to be non-partisan, It is rediculous to require a "conservative acid test". You want the most qualified people available to direct the district for your children; that could be a liberal, conservative or independent. Someone truly committed to the job of directing the district will not let their personal political ideological override their judgement to the needs of that district.
Lyle Ruble March 22, 2012 at 06:51 PM
@Keith Best...Why are you sticking your nose into this non-partisan contest. When you comment, are you commenting like me as a private citizen or are you commenting as Keith Best member of the Waukesha County Republican Executive Committee?
Steve ® March 22, 2012 at 07:00 PM
Can't help create any jobs when the democrats keep Wisconsin in a constant state of recall and voting. And you burned that talking point when the mining bill was not approved. The rest of your post is jibberish liberal internet nonsense debunked many times over.
Steve ® March 22, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Class sizes in the union excuse to hire more teachers. Are you in the union?
Lyle Ruble March 22, 2012 at 07:03 PM
@Bryant Divelbiss...You need to get off this thread and let Michele handle it. You're confusing the issue. I could easily see that people would wonder if Michele is truly independent or just your pawn. In my opinion, I think you made a major error in trying to establish Michele's conservatism. You have violated her non-partisan status and brought serious question to her credentials.
Steve ® March 22, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Liberals generally go along with the union which as we all found out was robbing us blind with no recourse until Saint Walker was elected. The acid test is valid IMO. More conservative and fresh the better. Flush out the long time members that have ties with the unions and are buddy buddy with the handouts. At some point we need to force the gov. to live within their means.
Menoparent March 22, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Steve, I am not in any union, just a Fall's parent with common sense!
#1 son March 22, 2012 at 07:45 PM
@Lyle and Bryant- I agree @Chris Davis- Maybe your turn to take a breath, I simply responded to your question asking if she was a plant. I never accused you of being apart of any particular party so why do you accuse me? I too am unaffiliated, I live in the falls and I have students who attend our schools. Just like I don't like Best chiming in, I wouldn't want a WEAC rep posting either.
Tulsa March 22, 2012 at 08:38 PM
#1 : Read your response , I took it as a dig @ me ,,This is what you have bloged before that you are a "Liberal progressive DEMOCRATE " your words not mine. #1 so your a unaffilated liberal progressive democrate,,,,, Good for you. I was asking Royal Eddy not you #1 about Beth Strong - Reference ---------------- Royal Eddy blog posting March 21 wends @ 1129 pm .
Tulsa March 22, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Lyle : Exactly to your posting @ 2;03 ----3/22/12 ..
#1 son March 22, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Chris- no dig intended at you, I am sorry you took it that way. Bloggers accused me of being a liberal and have thanked them for the compliment if they implied that I was open minded and progressive rather than conservative- closed minded and unwilling to change.
#1 son March 23, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Steve- just because you don't agree with me doesn't debunk my statements.
#1 son March 23, 2012 at 01:01 AM
@Chris- re your 3:38 post- I reviewed all my comments and don't find any evidence to confirm you accusation. Date and time stamp?

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