School board elections take place on April and in District 8 there are three candidates and, therefore, a primary on Feb. 15. 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.
First up is Ed Heinzelman, who is running in District 8 — the only race with a primary election slated for Feb. 15 — against Meagan Holman and Candy Jo Lesniewski. The district is on the city’s South Side. A map of districts is here.
OnMilwaukee.com: Tell us about your background and how your experience will be an asset to the Milwaukee Public Schools board.
Ed Heinzelman: I have been a resident of Milwaukee since 1971 when I moved here permanently while attending UWM. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Art Education from UWM and a Bachelor of Management Science Degree in Computer Science from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Although it’s been a while since I earned my education degree, my student teaching experience does give me some insight into what teachers face everyday in and out of the class room. I would bring my business and management experience to the board and hope to build partnerships with the administration, teachers and other board members so we can focus on our educational goals.
OMC: Are you a graduate of MPS or other public schools? Do or did you have kids in MPS?
EH: I grew up in Pewaukee and attended both public and parochial elementary schools there. I graduated from Pewaukee High School. My son attended a number of MPS schools and graduated from Kilmer South High School in 2002.
OMC: What do you think is the biggest issue facing MPS and what is your plan of attack?
EH: I would like to say our biggest issue is improving the graduation rate and core skill levels of all of our students and this really needs to be everyone’s focus. But in the short term we are going to be distracted by fiscal concerns and will be scrambling to simply maintain our current positions financially. I hope we can find savings in MPS operations so we can redirect some current overhead funds to educational programs. We need to update MPS’ strategic plans and determine current and future needs for facilities and sell or repurpose unused and underutilized physical plant. And we need to be active in lobbying in Madison and working with our local state
representatives to preserve state shared revenues for MPS.
OMC: What is your opinion on talk of expanding the voucher and Milwaukee Parental Choice Program?
EH: I do not support expansion of voucher schools or the MPCP programs. We need to fix the voucher program funding formula so that we stop penalizing MPS in the mix. And voucher schools need to be held to the same academic standards as public schools.
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?
EH: Well certainly there is, but the short term focus in MPS has to be to improve graduation rates, test scores and core competencies of our current students. As these improvements become apparent other students will begin to return to MPS. We shouldn’t get distracted from our main goal of educating our current students simply to draw students back to MPS.
OMC: How will you work to engage parents in their schools?
EH: I will support PTA organizations in each school and urge parents to participate in them. I will hold listening events at the schools to make sure that I understand the concerns of both parents and teachers. I will seek out programs that might be implemented at MPS that will help parents understand how they can help their children succeed.
OMC: How do you think MPS can best expand on the successes in the current system?
EH: One of the things we need to foster at MPS is a real partnership between the teachers, school board and administration. If we are all working together we can identify the current successes within MPS and work to implement these successful methods and techniques across the district.
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?
EH: A topic that often comes up when I talk with area residents about MPS is property taxes. Many district 8 residents feel that they can’t afford another increase in their property taxes from any of the tax jurisdictions much less MPS. It is going to be very difficult to maintain current programs even if we could maintain the current revenue levels. MPS will need to seek outside funds from third party foundations for new or unique programs, we’ll have to squeeze some savings from general overhead to redirect to education, we’ll need to divest or utilize unused properties, and we’ll need
to be more effective in lobbying in both Madison and Washington for whatever shared revenues we can garner.
OMC: There has been much discussion lately of vacant MPS buildings. What is your opinion on the future of these buildings?
As I stated before, it would be advantageous to have a strategic plan for MPS and have some kind of handle on anticipated enrollments and the need for school and support facilities. Besides the obvious selling off of excess buildings, MPS should look at other uses for the facilities, sharing buildings with small business, non-profit organizations, etc. I don’t think we can continue to carry mothballed buildings unless we expect to need them in the very near future.
OMC: Finally, do you think spring school board elections are problematic? Do they guarantee low turnout at the polls?
EH: I do think holding the spring school board elections in the odd years is a big issue. We could increase voter turn out and save the city election expenses if they were moved to the even years with other local and municipal elections.