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School Board candidates debate class size, school overcrowding

March 31, 2009

Overcrowding and class sizes were among the topics debated by the Germantown School Board candidates March 26.

About 20 people gathered for the forum organized by members of United for a Better Germantown.

Incumbent Tom Bowe and former board member Erin Jex will vie for Seat 7 and Jayson Stemo and Kim Fischer will compete for Seat 1 in the Tuesday, April 7, election. The winners will serve three-year terms.

Some disagreement

All four candidates said it is in the best interest of the district to keep class sizes as small as possible, especially at the elementary level, but there was some disagreement about how that will be possible as district enrollment is expected to continue increasing.

Fischer, Jex and Bowe said they want to find ways to get the community more involved in searching for solutions for dealing with district space needs rather than defaulting to offering some programs, like art and music, on a cart.

"The arts stimulate creative and critical-thinking of students," said Fischer, who is the kindergarten through fifth-grade gifted and talented coordinator for the Mequon-Thiensville School District. "If there was not art, (physical education) or music, there would be a lot of students who would feel lost, so there is just too much at stake for the kids."

While he spoke against any elimination of music programs, Stemo said he views the idea of making art and music mobile as a possible solution to the overcrowding issue, at least in the short term.

Other ways to pay

Each of the candidates agreed something should be done to reduce overcrowding at elementary schools, but Stemo took the discussion a step further by challenging the use of a referendum as the best way to pay for a new school or other building improvements.

"My view on expanding is we save and then we spend, just like I do at home," said Stemo, who is a division manager at Metal Improvement Co. "In our case, we save the money and then we build an addition wherever it makes the most sense."

Communication an issue

Each of the candidates cited the board's decision this year to overturn its decision last year to eliminate all-day kindergarten as an example of the need for better communication between the board and residents.

"There was a big timing issue where people think we were trying to leverage the kids for the sake of the referendum, and that wasn't the case," said Bowe, who is vice president of marketing and engineering for Metrix. "It was messed up. I can certainly understand how it looks, but the sequence of events had the best interest of the kids and community at heart."

Jex, who is a math teacher at Badger Middle School in West Bend, said the way the board handled the elimination of the program reflects poorly on the district's long-term planning abilities.

"(The decision) forced parents to look elsewhere, and if those parents made alternative decisions we lost that family for a year, if not more," Jex said of eliminating the program, which is in its third year. "I think it was a double strike and doesn't paint the district in a positive light when we're trying to gain community support."

Ty Finke can be reached at (262) 446-6621.

What's on the ballot

VILLAGE

Seat 1: Bill Steitz, Terri Kaminski

Seat 2: Jim Langer (i), Daniel Wing

Seat 3: Al Vanderheiden (i), Dennis Myers

Seat 4: Art Zabel (i)

SCHOOL DISTRICT

Seat 1: Kim Fischer, Jayson Stemo

Seat 7: Tom Bowe (i), Erin Jex

COUNTY

Mid-Moraine Municipal Court Judge: Steve Cain, John Grundahl

STATE

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Rose Fernandez, Tony Evers

Supreme Court: Shirley

Abrahamson (i), Randy Koschnick

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