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 the Stevens Point Area League of Women Voters. Candidates Jeff Ebel and Kari Prokop did not submit responses.
Barb Portzen’s answers follow:
Why did you decide to run at this time for the position of Stevens Point Area School Board member?
I’m running for a third term because there’s still work to be done. As a former educator, I empathize with our staff and support them 100%. As a parent, I feel for our families that have had to endure true frustration dealing with a pandemic. As a taxpayer, I’m concerned that our tax dollars are being spent wisely. I have two grandchildren in this district. My passion is education, and I want our children to have a great educational experience. I believe I’ve proven myself to be a caring, capable board member.
What is your relevant background and experience to be an effective School Board member?
I’ve been involved in education my entire lifetime. I taught for 33 years, retiring in 2008. For about 14 months, I served as the School Board Secretary which gave me an inside look at how things run. During the past six years, I’ve worked with the other board members to pass the referendum and to provide a safe, healthy environment to learn during a pandemic. I believe in following the science; therefore, I believe we’d done what is absolutely in the best interests of the students. As a very involved grandmother, I know what the kids need to be successful. In addition, I volunteer with the Playhouse Theatre Group, a children’s theater group. One of my greatest joys (that I’m currently missing) is visiting the elementary schools and reading to the kiddos.
What do you see as the top three issues currently facing our Stevens Point Area schools and how would you address them?
Learning loss–our students’ learning has suffered from the pandemic because of remote learning, confusion, lack of technology, and absences from being a close contact or testing positive. We must allocate money for additional staff to alleviate this problem.
Staff retention–our staff is exhausted. We desperately want to retain these people, because they’re GREAT employees. Covid is tough on everyone; recognition of a job well done is essential. One way to keep them is to start talks about bringing back some of the retirement benefits they lost during Act 10.
Funding—we need additional supports for learning loss AND staff retention. Hopefully, we’ll get some additional state & federal support. If that doesn’t happen, we may need to go to referendum again.
What is the School Board’s role in ensuring that students from all races, classes, creeds, and gender are given opportunities for a high-quality education within a safe and respectful setting?
We have an absolute commitment to every child who enters our district. Bullying, exclusion, racism have no place in our buildings. Currently, there is TOO MUCH of that happening—towards minorities, special needs kiddos, LGBTQ students, and others. It’s not OK and it has to stop. If I can figure out a way to solve this situation, I’ll be a very rich woman.
Schools are being asked to handle the increasing mental health concerns of students. Would you support increased funding and policy changes in addressing these needs?
I already have shown my support for increased mental health resources, not only for students but also for staff. This pandemic has taken us down! It will take some understanding and patience to return to some semblance of normalcy in our schools. Children are seeing their parents being divided on different issues within our schools which doesn’t help the overall mood. The challenge is that no two kids are the same—a conundrum for anyone to deal with.
Do you agree with the actions of the School Board aimed at keeping students, staff, and teachers safe during the Covid pandemic? If not, what would you do differently going forward?
I absolutely agree with and voted for this method of dealing with the pandemic. It was absolutely essential that our leadership be given the authority to make spur-of-the-moment decisions regarding the safety of our staff and students. It would have been impossible to call a special board meeting every time there was a decision to be made. We have complete trust and faith in our superintendent and his cabinet. He was constantly in contact with his cabinet and the Portage County Health Department and followed their guidance.