Bushman answers readers’ questions on school board campaign

Jennifer Bushman is running for one of four seats on the Stevens Point Area Public Board of Education.

Questions submitted by Metro Wire readers.

Q: There has been a lot of communication between candidates and members of the public on social media, particularly on Facebook, that is not available to the general public. Do you believe Facebook is the appropriate place for such communication, and if so, why?

Bushman: I believe ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ Social media has been effective for me to reach the masses and consume their views. I’m able to connect regarding my platform and upcoming events, so it’s helpful in that way. It’s not helpful because it’s used to harass, attack, and intimidate, which is what I’ve been experiencing online. No matter how much time I take to deliver a response, it gets contentious and often hateful comments from non-supporters. We opened our campaign page in late December and in mid-February, after the primary, we turned off the comments because it wasn’t helping, one, my mental health, and two, it wasn’t productive. I decided to turn my focus to meet-and-greets and going door-to-door, and most people who really care to learn will turn away from Facebook. We often lose the human element when we go online. Social media dehumanizes us.

Q: There are a lot of group pages on Facebook that contain labels like ‘Progressive’ or ‘conservative’ or some variation thereof. Do you think that could be furthering the division in our community—especially considering that none of these positions are partisan?

Bushman: “Yes, it does, if people lead with their political affiliation and they become so tunnel vision that they lose the forest through the trees. That’s my experience. The reality of it is if we don’t spend our time trying to understand and find common ground instead of tearing each other down solely because of where someone’s political leanings are, it just further divides. We lose focus of what should be front and center of every discussion, and that’s children. We could all benefit if we paused and realized humans are complex and our beliefs go far beyond labels.

Q: Based on your experience being out in the community, shaking hands, and knocking on doors, do you have any ideas on how we can close that division?

Bushman: I appreciate that question because I think of it often. As school board candidates, we need to truly seek to understand, have open minds, and the ability to empathize…we’re going to have to coexist regardless of politics, and regardless of who wins the election. We need to bring back human decency. I’ve never experienced so much hate and name-calling in my life. Nobody should have to worry about their safety just because they’re running for school board.

Q: Can you define Critical Race Theory, and what is your position on it?

Bushman: I’m not an expert on this topic and don’t pretend to be, but I’ve done some research because this keeps coming up. What I do know is, I think we’re at a point where we’ve lost focus on where our energy should be set, and that’s student achievement.”

Q: Did you support the creation of EDI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusivity) positions in the school district, and do you support continuing to fund those positions?

Bushman: “I appreciate diversity and inclusion; I’m diverse myself—I’m half-Chinese, half-Irish, I’m raising multiracial children, I was raised by a mother who is an immigrant. So I see beauty in diversity. I have an ethnic lens that most on the school board don’t have; I’ve experienced racism in many ways, as a person of color. So ensuring that kids feel safe and that they belong in our schools is very important. Now, regarding the EDI positions and continued funding, these are very new, newly-created roles in the district, so my business mindset automatically goes to needing some clarity to better understand. For instance, what are the success measures? What are the outcomes we’re looking to achieve with these positions? I want to understand how we arrived at creating and hiring for these two positions, versus one. What was that rationale? Especially given the budget deficit we’re facing. The fiscally responsible person in me wonders how these positions were funded. If they were funded through ESSER Funds, what plan was made to sustain the funding? I am concerned about the overall spending in the district. If we continue on this spending trajectory we’ll likely see another referendum.

Q: Where do you think parental authority ends and school authority begins?

Bushman: I see parental authority legally ending when a child turns 18. And I see school authority beginning when a child is enrolled in school. I see them working in tandem with parents to ensure student achievement, to ensure children are proficient in core subjects, and to prepare them for life after school.

Q: How should the school board balance the need for providing quality education with the need to respond to taxpayers’ concerns about the budget?

Bushman: I’m concerned about the spending in the district and the trajectory that we’re on. I don’t see how we can continue on this route without a referendum. We need to ensure that we’re delivering the highest-quality education to all students and maximizing the effectiveness of every dollar spent. And it’s time that we really scrutinize where we’re spending our money.”

Q: Because of social media, there’s a lot of fake news out there, rumors, etc, that different groups seem to believe, and some people seem to stick with those groups for news, so there’s some “group-think” out there. Some groups in the community have become quite vocal and local government meetings. Based on that, what would you say to people who believe that the district is “indoctrinating” children with certain controversial topics?

Bushman: Transparency is key and educators should remain neutral in the classroom. Open communication between the teacher and parents is crucial. People need to reach outside their own echo chambers, use basic tenants of critical thinking, and have conversations outside their comfort zone.