Menomonee Falls — At least one new member on the School Board is guaranteed after the April 1 election, as incumbent Gina Palazzari is retiring.
There are three candidates for two seats: incumbent Ronald Bertieri, and two first-time candidates, Lowell Kellogg and Mark Nadolski.
Bertieri, 77, is a retired business owner. The two-term incumbent has made unsuccessful bids for village president and trustee in the past. He earned a bachelor's in business administration from Duquesne University.
In the next three years "I'd like to see our facilities issues resolved," Bertieri said at a candidate forum sponsored by the Menomonee Falls PTA/PTO Council. "We may be looking at reopening Thomas Jefferson (Middle School) and making other changes in elementary schools, but no decisions have been made."
Bertieri said a 25-year capital improvement study should be ready by fall.
"By the end of the year, we should know if we need a referendum for either capital improvements or operational expenses," he said in an interview.
At the forum, Bertieri said "no decisions have been made on a referendum. I could support a referendum if it's necessary to maintain the quality teaching and programs we have."
Candidates were asked at the forum about their views of Act 10, the state measure that severely restricted public employee unions. Bertieri said the board had sought to "keep a cordial relationship with our faculty," and had approved new contracts with unions representing teachers and support staff before Act 10 took effect. He said afterward that unions "agreed to let us use all the tools that would be available under Act 10," with increased contributions towards health insurance and pensions.
Bertieri told the forum audience the district is "receiving national recognition for our efforts" in quality improvement, and said that "compared to other districts, I don't think we are top-heavy" in administration.
Kellogg, 48, is an adjunct instructor at Carroll University and a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician for Menomonee Falls. He has a bachelor's degree in geography and a master's in science education, both from the University of Iowa.
"I've been in the trenches, I know what happens in classrooms," Kellogg said at the forum, referring to his 21 years as a teacher, including 16 in Menomonee Falls as a science teacher. "I'd like to get teachers back into the classroom and reduce class sizes."
Kellogg was laid off in 2013, along with about a dozen other teachers.
"Yet district office staff has increased," he said. "Quality education is getting more teachers in the classroom. When we go to war we don't remove soldiers and sailors and increase staff at the Pentagon."
Afterward, Kellogg said that "I think they're going to lay off four elementary teachers and they want to hire another information technology person at district headquarters."
On the future of Thomas Jefferson, Kellogg said, "Right now I think we should hold onto it. It would be unwise to unload it."
Kellogg said Act 10 "has allowed school districts to hire on the cheap. You're going to see turnover, educators with too much on their plates and lack of consistency in schools. The career educator is going to be extinct."
Responding to a question at the forum about possible inconsistencies in disciplinary policies, Kellogg said the district "is a revolving door when it comes to administrators, so they're sending mixed messages."
Nadolski, 40, is assistant director of finance, operations and technology at Northwestern Mutual. He has a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and a master's in information systems from Keller Graduate School of Management.
Nadolski said his job "has taught me to make difficult decisions and manage a large budget. Tighter resources for our schools means more difficult decisions about how they spend their money." He said his goal is to "maintain the quality we have while making efficient use of resources. I think it's nice that school districts have a little more freedom for efficiencies in their operations."
Regarding Act 10, Nadolski said, "I think it helps give schools more opportunity to right-size their budgets. My own company has adjusted pensions for employees. This gives us the same freedom. I think it's nice that school districts have a little more freedom."
Nadolski said that a referendum "is best used for one-time situations that can't be (addressed) through operating budgets." But he voiced optimism that "hopefully we're seeing the light at the end of the tunnel" that fiscal pressures on schools will ease.
"The School Board is on the right path in difficult times," Nadolski said at the forum, citing the district's self-insurance program as an area that requires more staff, but should lead to savings.
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