Metro Wire Staff
The Stevens Point Area Public Board of Education has nine candidates on the Feb. 15 primary.
Nine candidates will compete for four open seats on the board. Incumbents Jeff Ebel, Barb Portzen, and Rob Manzke, are being challenged by newcomers Jennifer Bushman, Miguel Campos, Alex Sommers, Kari Prokop, Dennis Raabe, and Lisa Rychter. The top eight vote-earners will move on to the April ballot.
Questions by Brandi Makuski. Verbatim answers from Jeff Ebel follow:
Why do you want to continue serving?
“When I came on the board in 2013, I’m sure you recall that the board was having…challenges. If anyone needs a reminder of what those challenges are they only need to go back to those videos. I think the last five, six years have been the most productive of our school district out of the last 20. We’ve accomplished some major milestones.”
Give me some examples.
“Well, the referendum was a big one. We had seven years that we had contracts with the unions, and we got all that current. We hired a superintendent who’s been with us for almost six years now, so there’s been some stability in the administration. We created the strategic plan five years ago, and that was one of the things I wanted to achieve, a plan that represents the wishes of the community. I think it’s important to understand the strategic plan wasn’t my plan, it wasn’t what I envisioned, but I think the process ended really well, we had 45, 50 people involved in that process. I think it’s a really good plan because it’s what my community wants. And we created a supplemental pay plan for teachers and staff.”
You’ve had the interesting opportunity to sit on an elected body during a pandemic; the pandemic itself was a challenge, but then there are all the side effects that came from district decisions—e-learning is a big one, that it’s really affecting the students emotionally, the lack of in-person learning and the lack of socializing. What are your thoughts on having to do that?
“We have to look at the big picture and do everything we can to keep kids in school safely. That’s always been our number one goal. And I totally agree with you that it’s been devastating on our kids. The parents seem to have more issues that the district makes than the kids. The kids don’t care about the masks; it’s just not an issue for them. But what’s happened is we had teachers and staff out sick, where we don’t have enough to hold classes. They had to close down certain schools because we didn’t have enough teachers—that’s a bigger problem than people being sick.”
What, specifically, do you bring to the board?
“I’m a pragmatist. I think I bring a very pragmatic approach. My agenda is to understand what the community wants out of their district; also, my agenda is to communicate to the community what the school district needs to fulfill its mission. So it’s a two-way street. That’s my approach; I don’t have any other agenda.”
Is there anything I didn’t ask you feel is important to include?
“I have no problem staking my belief that we did the right thing letting the superintendent make the calls. But this is a lightning rod, and nobody hears anything; they’ve dug in and they go to their corners and get ready to fight. But one of the biggest things facing the board is, there are things we can’t talk about, and it’s crazy. I don’t know how to get past that; everybody seems to get digging in deeper. I like to engage people who have a different perspective, and I think we avoid some important conversations because of that.”