School board elections take place on April and in order to help you make a more informed decision at the polls in this race, which often flies under the radar, we’ve asked each of the 11 candidates — running for five seats on the 9-member board (there are eight regional districts and one at-large seat) — to respond to a list of questions and we will run them in the weeks leading up to the election.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us about your background and how your experience will be an asset to the Milwaukee Public Schools board.
Mark Sain: I became a firefighter in 1980 and retired after a stellar career in 2008. I held multiple positions from firefighter up to assistant chief. As the assistant chief, I provided leadership to the 1,100 members of the Milwaukee Fire Department. I managed an annual budget of $92 million and was responsible for supervising six bureaus: Administration,
Communications, Training, Emergency Medical Services/Special Operations, Equipment Repair / Maintenance and Firefighting.
I continued being an active member of the community. I worked with the Helen Bader Foundation’s Homework First Program at Phillis Wheatley School. I tutored MPS high school students in reading comprehension. I sit on the advisory committee of the Blood Center of Southeast Wisconsin’s Community Blood Donation Drive Campaign. I have worked with
Marquette University’s Mediation Program.
I come from a background that stressed responsibility and accountability. I want to bring my experience and ideas to MPS that will help our students improve the community they will shape in the future. I believe all of Milwaukee should have a vested interest in our children and know that education is the key to their success. If our children succeed, our community succeeds.
OMC: Are you a graduate of MPS or other public schools? Do or did you have kids in MPS?
MS: I am a lifelong resident of Milwaukee who graduated from Washington High School. My wife and I are the proud parents of four daughters and two grandsons. The eldest grandson is a third grader at Gwen T. Jackson School in MPS.
OMC: What do you think is the biggest issue facing MPS and what is your plan of attack?
MS: With a new administration at the state level it seems there will probably be continued reduction of funds allocated for MPS. One thing we do know is the funds follow the student. We must improve our community’s confidence in MPS. When parents are making the educational choice for their child(ren), MPS should be their school of first choice.
Maintaining fiscal responsibility to ensure budgeted funds are spent wisely is paramount. We need to look at alternative funding such as grant dollars and how we can secure them for the district. We should seek external programs in which the federal government and private foundations are offering funds to school districts for elective educational programming such as art, music, robotics etc. We need to establish community partners to assist in areas where both sides can receive value for their service.
OMC: What is your opinion on talk of expanding the voucher and Milwaukee Parental Choice Program?
MS: The MPS budget is established from money received from state, federal, grants and property taxes. Any educational system that is receiving money to provide education services to children should have to meet the same standards to receive money as MPS. Cap should not be lifted.
OMC: Is there an opportunity for MPS to hold on to students and even draw some back via expansion of specialty schools or other means?
MS: I see value in specialty schools. When you look at a program like the one at Marshall/Morse and the partnership with the GE Foundation, it’s great for the district as well as the students. On the other hand, we must
improve our community’s’ confidence in MPS. When parents are making the educational choice for their child(ren), MPS should be their school of first choice.
OMC: How will you work to engage parents in their schools?
MS: We need to continue to help parents understand that teachers and administrators can’t do it alone. Our schools should be a place were teachers and parents can come together to discuss issues regarding student development, how they can help students perform better on test and most importantly how we can get more parents into the building while being involved in the schools success.
OMC: How do you think MPS can best expand on the successes in the current system?
MS: We need to advertise our successes. Utilizing the office of Business and Community Partnerships, we can get the word out on the great things that are going on in MPS. Something as simple as using the marquee in front of our schools to deliver pointed messaging. People drive by them every day and there would be minimum cost to the district.
OMC: There has been much discussion lately of vacant MPS buildings. What is your opinion on the future of these buildings?
MS: Some of our buildings are very old and we may have to demolish. The cost to bring the buildings up to code maybe very expensive. Property value in this economy is undervalued and we may not get the fair market value of the building. With the changing population trends in our city, it’s hard to forecast which neighborhoods families will reside. We need to stop leasing buildings for our students and make room in our current buildings. Continue to work through MPS charter schools to find classroom space in some of these properties. We also have to maintain buildings in the event of an emergency — fire, flood, etc. — to occupied schools. Moving them into a vacant school will help keep the students on task with little disruption.
OMC: Finally, do you think spring school board elections are problematic? Do they guarantee low turnout at the polls?
MS: I don’t know…