Three vie for two seats on Mequon-Thiensville School Board
Candidates, board have to balance decreasing aid while keeping district's quality high
Mequon - Incumbent Mary Cyrier, as well as newcomers Alex Leykin and Kathryn Houpt will be on the April 2 ballot for the Mequon-Thiensville School Board.
Board member Bob Perry is not running for re-election.
Cyrier, who owns a consulting firm, has served on the board since 2006. Last year, the School Board completed its strategic plan. Cyrier wants to see goals laid out in the plan come to fruition.
"It gives an organization like us or others a really clear path on the board level and we can make decisions around that," she said. "It's important work to me, I care about the kids in the district and I'd like to continue to follow through on the strategic plan and all the other initiatives we started in the district."
Leykin, an executive with a local mortgage company, is running to change the dynamic "that guides our board of education from one that is driven by the administration to one that is driven by the board of education."
He said the authority over the district needs to come more from the board than the administration. His tipping point was changing the schedule to a trimester.
"It's not that I don't like it as a discussion point, it's that the reasons given had very little to do with education and a lot to do with administrative purposes and to me that is not as much of a priority as the educational purposes," Leykin said. "If administrative purposes are being served by a reduction in educational opportunities for kids, that's not acceptable."
Houpt, a financial manager for her family-owned business, is not new to the schools. She currently serves as chairman for VOICES, a collaborative board of parents, MTSD staff and administrators who advocate on behalf of students who struggle in any respect, socially or academically.
"I've worked with many of the schools, not just the ones my kids have been in and it's really important to have an overall perspective of the district, and I will always think what's great for students K-12 and what's fiscally sound in the district," Houpt said.
Maintaining school services
With lower enrollment in the MTSD over the last 10 years and less dollars coming in, the district needs to continue supporting the areas that make the district one of the best in southeastern Wisconsin, Houpt said. This will attract new families to the district.
From offering Latin, French and Spanish at the high school and middle school, to having an award-winning debate and forensics team, as well as a strong focus on fine arts such as band orchestra and Best Buddy, Houpt said, "these items set us apart from surrounding districts.
"It's really important we do an excellent job to market these things and that's what will continue to attract people and as long as we provide these activities, we can attract families to the area who value these activities."
She said when it comes to spending, the strategic plan is a resource for which everything can be measured and acts as a map of how to achieve district goals and provide the best education for students.
"My vision continues to be that the district uphold its excellent reputation for superior offerings and we meet the needs for all our learners and evaluate our delivery models and our offerings against other superior districts in the Midwest and nationally," Houpt said.
To continue providing a solid education and protect taxpayers, Leykin said the district needs to be scaled "instead of wasting time growing our district." He said there needs to be prioritization from the board level in looking for ways to improve programs instead of increasing revenue.
"Adding administrative positions is not good prioritization," Leykin said. "Good prioritization is to worry about potential programs for the children and how do we improve programs for the children? How do we not cut those programs? Those are the questions we need to ask every day. I will not support tax increases for our community, and I believe our school district is funded adequately, and I will adjust priorities and scale it to be able to afford continuing our world-class education."
Strong financial planning
When it comes to the budget, Cyrier said the current board has and will continue strong financial planning, including a thorough annual budget process, as well as mid- to long-term budgetary planning. They also keep an eye on details when putting a budget together. For example, the 2013-14 budget is looking to cut 1.5 employees based on what students chose to take.
"We need to continue to look very hard at the finances, continue to manage compensation and benefits, which is 78 percent of our budget, and look at how to make the most efficient use of those dollars," Cyrier said.
The board has been innovative in delivering education, she said, for example, adding Mandarin as a class next year as there has been a decline in students taking German.
"It's not always about cutting, but looking at what's the best education for kids and the trade off," Cyrier said.
Should he be elected and the trimester schedule remain, Leykin said he will work to ensure each student does not go without a core subject at any point in the year. He said his son, a junior in high school, has gone a semester without a math class.
"They need to teach math, science, history and English for the entire school year and they need to find a way to do it and I'm happy to show them how to do it," he said.
Houpt, who has worked with administrators and the board of education through VOICES for many years, said board members need to look at the broad scope of the district and not make emotional decisions.
"I want to safeguard the educational opportunities that set us apart and allow us to offer a world-class education in Mequon-Thiensville," she said. "We must continuously innovate and evaluate on behalf of students in the district so I want to make sure all our energy is spent on all students K through 12."
Being a School Board member is multifaceted and Cyrier said those on the board need both a strategy to follow, as well as be ready for any unexpected issues. She said it is important to listen to all viewpoints from parents and teachers to administration before making a decision at the board level while taking a "solid, data-drive, systematic" approach to problem solving.
"To me it's important to be able to think very broadly and be open to evaluate new issues in a very systematic way that looks at data. It's very easy to get emotional, and it's our job to look at what's best for kids," she said. "The community doesn't have to wonder how I might vote, they can look at my record. I've voted against taxes going up, voted for salary freezes, but at the same time I voted for additional AP classes and a new language course."
Board members serve three-year terms and are not paid. The top two vote-getters are elected.
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