Oconto Falls School Board candidates share views at forum

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Spring general election is Tuesday

Warren Bluhm, wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com

Oconto Falls School Board candidates settle into their seats before a March 19 forum sponsored by the OFHS Student Council. From left, Tracey Krumrei, Ron Leja, Sharon Stodola-Eslien and Randy Vann. (Times Herald photo by Warren Bluhm)

The four candidates for Oconto Falls School Board introduced themselves and their educational philosophies to the public March 19 in a forum hosted by the high school Student Council.

“I just want to tell each of the candidates this was the most civil exchange of information that I’ve seen in politics in five years, and thank you very much for that,” said moderator David Honish, CESA 8 agency administrator, as the 40-minute forum concluded.

The candidates were handed eight questions 30 minutes before the forum began, to give them time to consider and prepare their thoughts. Student Council members took turn reading the questions, and the responses were rotated so that each candidate got to go first twice.

Two long-term board members — Tracey Krumrei, who said he has spent 18 years on the school board, and Ron Leja, who estimated he has served about 30 years — are being challenged by Sharon Stodola-Eslien, who has been a school social worker for more than 30 years, and Randy Vann, a U.S. Army special forces veteran who spent 20 years as chairman of the board of a Florida firm that works with children.

The four candidates agreed that the annual budget presents the biggest challenge for the school board.

“That seems to be what the school board spends most of its time on: How do you spend that $21 million?” Krumrei said, adding that at least 75 percent of the budget is spent on quality teachers and staff. “How do you keep them here for financial reasons, and how do you keep them insured … making sure we’ve got the best package for the teachers and the support staff?”

Leja said the board works to keep programs like advanced placement, technical education and extracurricular activities alive.

“Those are things that some schools, when the budget gets pinched, they want to cut out. But I think that’s a great detriment to the students when that happens,” Leja said. “So there is always a challenge to balance; we are limited in the amount of tax dollars we have, so we can’t just shoot for pie-in-the-sky type things. We have to live within that budget.”

Stodola-Eslien said budget decisions should always be made based on the needs of the students.

“One of the things to this board, I think, is creativity … I try to come up with whatever I can to help the student, help the teacher, work out a problem,” she said. “I think teacher morale is a concern. I think the attitude that teachers have filters down to the kids.”

Vann said he ran a $29 million business for 30 years and knows the budget starts the ball rolling, and teachers are right behind it.

“I would like to be an advocate for squeezing the budget, monitoring the budget, where we spend our insurance money, where we spend our repairs, our construction monies. There’s room, ladies and gentlemen; there’s room in those budgets,” Vann said. “And I think that room that we find needs to go to the teachers.”

Other questions the Student Council posed included policy changes the candidates may advocate to enhance student achievement; how the board contributes to the reputation of the school district; what role the state’s “district report card” plays in decision-making; and how they would gather student input to make informed decisions.

View a video of the Oconto Falls School Board candidate forum at this link.

Spring election

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday. Voters statewide will be choosing a state Supreme Court justice, and contested local races include:

• Pulaski School Board – Brian Chlopek and Sarah Brunette are running for an open seat in Zone 1, representing the village of Pulaski.

• Oconto School Board – Running for two available seats are incumbent Kristine Alwin and challengers Maria L. Cruz Roberts, John A. Windross and James Stiloski.

• Gillett City Council – In Ward 3, Alderperson Irene Drake is challenged by Debbie Rudie.

• Suring Village Board – Longtime Village President Jay Tousey is running for trustee and will be on the ballot with incumbents Harvey Miller and James Kohlwey and challengers Angie Whiting and Amber P. Wozniak.

• Brazeau Town Board – There are three candidates for two supervisor seats, incumbent Gerald Kempka and challengers Jean Grosse and Randy Nasgovitz.

• Lakewood Town Board – Supervisor Lee Spletter is not running for re-election; voters will pick two of three candidates: incumbent Tom Haberstein and challengers Ray Gardebrecht and Christopher Thomson.

• Lakewood Treasurer – Incumbent Virginia Nelson is challenged by Nancy Gardebrecht.

• Little Suamico Town Chairman – Incumbent Elmer Ragen faces opposition from Frank Nowak.

• Mountain Town Board – With Supervisor Lindor “Skip” Maletzke III running unopposed for town chairman, three non-incumbents are running for the two supervisor seats: Brenda Carey-Mielke, Joe Pelishek and Kenneth Ermis Jr.

• Pensaukee Town Clerk – Incumbent Jackie Manning will be opposed by Jody Samuelson-Liegeois.

• Stiles Town Board – Supervisor No. 2 Melissa Wellens is challenged by outgoing town treasurer Laurie Parisey.

• Stiles Town Treasurer – Jo Ann Usiak and Tanya M. Peterson are seeking the open position.

• Townsend Town Board – Incumbent Supervisors Linda Adamczyk and Dan Martin are challenged by Larry VanEperen and Claude Bowman.