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.
Susan Schmidt: As a founder of a local non profit foundation, The Scooter Foundation, I have spent the last four years working one on one with at risk children to reduce violence. After losing my brother to gun violence in May 2005, I can relate to the anger and frustration the children in the city are dealing with on a daily basis. I am a parent who is active in my children’s education. I am running for school board because our present board is not getting the job done. We cannot allow our schools to fail our children and
our community. There is no time left on the educational clock. Either we act now to fix all that is broken, or we will leave our children with no chance to succeed in life. That option is not acceptable.
OMC: Are you a graduate of MPS or other public schools? Do or did you have kids in MPS?
SS: I am a proud graduate of public schools. I have two children in MPS, Fernwood Montessori and Reagan High School. I am extremely impressed with both of these schools, and they prove we can do better. That is why I am running.
OMC: What do you think is the biggest issue facing MPS and what is your plan of attack?
SS: We cannot tolerate the level of failure that continues to occur in the vast majority of our schools. I will not support any program that does not promote positive educational change and improvement for our children. I will work to bring effective and efficient management to the board and
support policies that will attract and retain good teachers.
OMC: What is your opinion on talk of expanding the voucher and Milwaukee Parental Choice Program?
SS: Any expansion should be tied to improved educational and managerial achievement. We should fight to retain all money budgeted for the Milwaukee schools, it should go to the district to implement improvements
in our MPS system and structures.
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?
SS: If given the choice of a successful MPS school that provides proven opportunity for college entry, or leaving the city, I believe the parents of our city would prefer to enroll students in high performing neighborhood schools. Safety is a major role and a No. 1 priority on my platform. A non-tolerance policy must be enforced, and use of cell phones, except for issues of health and safety, should not be acceptable in the schools.
OMC: How will you work to engage parents in their schools?
SS: This is mandatory. Just as we must educate our children we must educate their parents. We must raise the bar and not tolerate the status quo. Having a parent coordinator position has been proven to work really well.
One of my highest priorities will be to increase parent and family involvement. Knowing the needs of the parent and the student makes for a well rounded and caring environment. If a family has special needs, and
many do, we must get involved to provide the necessary resources to improve the quality of life for the family, which in turn will promote parent engagement.
OMC: How do you think MPS can best expand on the successes in the current system?
SS: As a parent of children at two really incredible MPS schools I really believe that we must stop pointing fingers and work to utilize successful principals and teachers to help us expand their skills to the whole system. We already have some amazing schools in the city, let’s expand on this.
OMC: How can MPS deal with the ongoing budget problems — that are
poised to grow even worse as the district loses $90+ million in stimulus money, for example — and still offer quality education to Milwaukee children?
SS: Studies have been completed that show how millions of dollars can be spent more wisely and to benefit our children’s education. Labor and management must work in the real world to find ways to build a better way
to manage our schools. We are on the brink of disaster. We must work together to solve our economic crisis before it denies our children of their future.
OMC: There has been much discussion lately of vacant MPS buildings. What is your opinion on the future of these buildings?
SS: The buildings must be productive in some way, shape, or form. We owe this to the people of Milwaukee. Empty buildings provide no benefit. We must maximize the value of our assets through sale, lease, or alternative use.
OMC: Finally, do you think spring school board elections are problematic? Do they guarantee low turnout at the polls?
SS: This is such an important election; after all it is our future, why would we make this a low priority in the city. It should be No. 1 on the ballot. A fall scheduling of this election is better for turnout and interest.