School Board Candidates Want More Communication, Accountability

Four of six candidates for the Greenfield School Board shared their thoughts on the issues facing the district at a candidate forum at the Performing Arts Center on Thursday.

The Greenfield School District is in dire need of improved communication from the administration all the way down to the citizens, and those who make tough decisions need to be held accountable regularly.

That’s the message school board candidates shared at a forum hosted by the Greenfield Parents for Education at the at the high school Thursday.

“Instead of being a more inclusive district and opening up the board to public comments and discussions, we’re becoming more closed off,” said Cathy Walsh, a former board member and the .

Only about two-dozen people attended the forum, which will be broadcast on public access television. And only two-thirds of the candidates participated. Incumbent Rick Moze was joined by Paul Palama, Russ Spahn and Walsh, while Len Cich and Brad Sponholz were absent.

All four participating candidates, who are vying for three open seats in the April 3 election, stressed the importance of open lines of communication and the dissemination of information to the public.

Palama said more information regarding topics to be discussed at board meetings should be available to the public before those meetings take place, specifically by posting it on the district’s website.

“We need to be more open so we can get the big idea of what everyone wants, not just a small picture of what some people want,” Palama said.

All of the candidates feel the district needs a strategic plan to keep it moving forward with defined short- and long-term goals.

“I don’t know if administration has totally bought into that idea,” of strategic planning, Moze said. “You have to get everyone involved from the community: business people, parents, students, teachers, administration.”

Spahn, the city’s former fire chief, said it’s unusual for leadership not to have a plan. He referenced a five-year plan he put in place with the fire department and said general components of it could be carried over to the district.

“Without those components, you have no idea if you’re going in the right direction,” Spahn said.

Palama posed the idea of a district report card.

“Now, if we do this, it’s gone. It’s done,” he said. “Somewhere down the line, we have to held accountable for what we did.”

In conjunction with improved communication and more accountability, all four candidates expressed their desire to increase board meetings to two per month.  Walsh said the decision to reduced some of the board’s power.

“The public must hold the board accountable and in turn the board must hold the superintendent accountable and the superintendent must hold the teachers accountable,” Walsh said. “It’s not a time to cut back on our meetings. We probably need more, and agendas have to reflect the needs of the community.

“(The board) needs to do a little more micromanaging.”

Moze admitted he and his fellow board members made a mistake with the reduction and agreed going back to two meetings is the right move.

The candidates said the district has many things to be proud of. Walsh praised the facilities and the continuously improving curriculum and programming. Palama echoed Walsh in regards to the facilities and said the district’s teachers are great. Moze singled out the high school’s ROTC program and , while Spahn highlighted the district’s sense of community.

“I think our culture and our sense of community is very strong and I guess that’s why some of us are here,” he said. “We have never left.”

Moze said the biggest challenges facing the district are the balance between a world-class education and what taxpayers can afford and a lack of community involvement.

“There are a lot of knowledgeable people in Greenfield,” Moze said. “We need to tap those resources and the people willing to help the district.”

Editor’s note: Greenfield Patch will run another story about the forum soon. Stay tuned!

Greenfield Resident Too! March 16, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Communication is great and involvement from parents/individuals is also important, but too many times the clicks of the school parent groups can and stop people from getting involved. Sorry to say but to much Bigotry among these individuals.
David Pettersen March 16, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Editor or anyone else who attended this: Did any of the candidates say where they stood on a start time change>?
David Pettersen March 16, 2012 at 10:40 PM
That's true!!! Time to work together!
David Cotey March 16, 2012 at 11:46 PM
David, the candidates were given 10 predetermined questions and school start times were not one of them. It also did not come up during any of their responses.
Daren March 17, 2012 at 02:00 PM
How can Russ Spahn serve on the school board when his wife works for the school district? Isn't that a conflict of interest? Wouldn't he be prohibited from voting on anything related to wages and benefits?
Pat March 17, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Very good point Daren as that would be perceived as a large conflict of interest. Many successful companies do not allow this and it makes good business sense especially if a break-up arises, etc. How could Russ possibility not be biased when decisions need to be made on compensation packages, pay & benefits -- not only for his wife but all her friends that work there. There should be some type of rule stating this is indeed a conflict of interest in the Board rules and this should never be allowed. It opens a BIG can of worms! New blood is indeed needed on this board as the members on the board who have been on for years are not doing any favors for the taxpayers nor the children. We need fresh blood like current board members Don Carlson & David Richlon, who listen and disseminate the information they have before them and come to sensible conclusions.
4 Greenfield March 18, 2012 at 04:09 AM
I believe there is no state or federal law prohibiting a member from serving on a school board if his spouse works for the district. He would just need to recuse himself from participating in discussions or decisions regarding clerical wages and district-wide insurance packages. I think there are many board members throughout Wisconsin that currently serve in districts where their spouses work, so it is quite common. I seem to remember some past members of the Greenfield board who served with distinction. I think we need to look at more important factors when picking our new board members: education and/or experience, knowledge of school law and finance, past contributions to our community and a desire to provide the best public education for our kids in the most reasonable manner.
Concerned Greenfield Resident March 18, 2012 at 02:19 PM
It's called having ethics
Greenfield Resident Too! March 18, 2012 at 02:26 PM
In addition, one question should be asked about electing a school board member will he/she be as predictable, single-issue advocates, or do they approach each decision with an open mind? I think some of the individuals running might not have that "open mind", but might be perceived as this...don't be tricked!
4 Greenfield March 18, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Recusing himself from (not participating in) discussions and/or decisions regarding the determination of clerical wages and benefits of his spouse is a prime example of having good "good ethics."
Greenfield Resident Too! March 18, 2012 at 02:39 PM
http://www.azsba.org/static/index.cfm?contentID=122 - Board members cannot be, or have a spouse who is, an employee of the district when assuming office or during the term of office.
4 Greenfield March 18, 2012 at 05:35 PM
The website listed by Greenfield Resident Too is from the state of Arizona, not Wisconsin!
Concerned Greenfield Resident March 18, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Greenfield Homeowner -- it is not just clerical wages & benefits, he would need to recuse himself from many issue regarding the middle school. They live together & therefore discuss their days. Is this constantly fair to the other board members and school administration to always need to justify his vote. There are others running who would not incur this.
4 Greenfield March 18, 2012 at 09:44 PM
So, let me get this right. If Mr. Spahn has access to more information- that would be unfair to the other board members? Right now it seems the only info the board members receive is from administration. I would think the public would want the board to be receiving information from many sources. Also, I think you need to consider integrity- I have never heard that Mr. Spahn lacks in this area, so why does it appear that some of you trying to create an issue where none exists?
Greenfield Resident Too! March 19, 2012 at 11:53 AM
Concerned Greenfield Resident. Yes the link below is from Arizona (that is why I posted the link to prove it was valid) as I googled "can a spouse run for school board member...." and this was the first link that came up and there were others. My point was to confirm that there are states that prohibit this and not to write a textbook of all the states. If you would like and if time permits I will research Wisconsin!
Joe Greenfield March 19, 2012 at 03:45 PM
So Russ Spahn would be biased because his wife is an employee for the schools... It could be argued as well then anyone with children in the the school system or who graduated from the school system would be biased. If you never had children go through the school system, would they be more likely to be less informed? I am certain we could find a way that each candidate COULD be biased. Maybe we could actually discuss more credible talking points?
Russ Spahn March 19, 2012 at 06:09 PM
Good Afternoon: I would like to address the doubt that was raised about my credibility as a school board member due to the fact that my wife is an employee of the Greenfield School District. I understand that some voters may be troubled by this fact. Although a State law does not exist that prohibits this in Wisconsin, I empathize with those who are skeptical. I will tell you that I am not a typical politician who will dazzle you with an eloquent vocabulary, clever wit, and perhaps be wonderfully charming. Those who know me understand that I am direct, forthright, and ethical to a fault. My peers and working associates know that my decisions are always based on the best outcome for the organization and not necessarily an individual. As a fire chief, I made daily decisions that often made people unhappy, but a true leader knows that it is impossible to make everybody happy all the time. In fact, it is very difficult in today’s economical environment to make anyone happy. The stress of making difficult decisions was eliminated for me when I looked at my organizations Mission Statement and followed it. My philosophy is to make a decision based on the overall benefit of the organization and its Mission. (continued on next post)
Russ Spahn March 19, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Current and past school board members have had children in the District while they were in office, were they not allowed to run for school board, or were their ethics challenged because they were only going to be concerned with the school their children were attending? Is it unethical for a school board member who has school age children in our district to send them to a private school? I have lived in Greenfield since 1967, graduated from Greenfield High School in 1972. I married a Greenfield graduate, we’ve been married 37 years, and have two sons who also graduated from Greenfield High School. After working with the city for 39 years, I retired as the Fire Chief for the Greenfield Fire Department last June and my wife has worked for the school district for over 20 years. If you wish to challenge my personal and professional ethics I invite you to do so because I am proud of my family, work experience, and education that I have acquired in my lifetime. (continued on next post)
Russ Spahn March 19, 2012 at 06:12 PM
If elected to the Greenfield School Board, I will take an oath as I did for fire chief. I will foremost protect the interests and education of our students. I will also protect the interest of the district staff, as well as those of the taxpayers. I plan to do it in a fiscally productive manner and to be accountable to all those involved. Although I believe discussion about these matters is important, I will not respond any further with this issue, but simply wanted to provide my viewpoint. I also provided this information up front and honest as Russ Spahn and did not use an alias as many people on this forum do. Thank you, Russ Spahn
David Pettersen March 19, 2012 at 09:15 PM
That was a great post! After reading this post, you made me think! I'm a high school student at GHS, and I think you'd be great for school board! Mr. Spahn led the Greenfield Fire Dept. with honesty and now I think everyone should give him a chance to help lead the School District of Greenfield with honesty! Part of electing a leader is actually trusting the person, and I think that people in Greenfield should have trust in Russ Spahn to not have conflict of interest! Mr. Spahn seems like a leader we can trust (on school board, even though I can't vote yet).
David Pettersen March 19, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Mr. Spahn seems like he's an honest person--after all, he would have to have the power to work with others effectively as fire chief...I think he is someone that Greenfield can trust!
OldKnight March 26, 2012 at 09:12 PM
And now Mr. Spahn and Mr. Moze, why did you sign the recall petition against Gov. Walker? And don't you think it's ironic that you're running for a board that you want to give control of, back to the teacher's union? If you 2 get on the board and Gov. Walker is recalled, who watches out for the tax-payers? Feels like a double slap in the face.


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