Incumbent Hoffmann says district has plenty of room for improvement
The leadership of the Northern Ozaukee School Board will look considerably different following the April 4 election, regardless of who wins.
Longtime incumbents Paul Krause, who currently serves as board president, and Stacie Stark, the board’s vice president, are not running for re-election.
Stark’s pending departure has set the stage for a two-way race for her Town of Fredonia seat between newcomers Kevin Klas, W2914 Hwy. D, and Jennifer Laubenstein, 4472 Hwy. Y.
Another board race pits longtime Town of Saukville representative Thomas Hoffmann and first-time challenger Brent Neis, 2640 Hwy. 33.
Although Hoffmann gained considerable attention — and a formal board censure — for critical comments he posted on social media last fall about a member of the Ozaukee High football team, that issue was sidestepped by his opponent.
Instead, Neis said he chose to run because of concern about maintaining the quality of local schools. He has two sons who have graduated from Ozaukee High,
“Living in a small district, I recognized early on the challenges schools like Northern Ozaukee face. The most obvious is being able to offer competitive curriculum and extra-curriculum programs with a small population base,” Neis said.
“What I soon realized is that what many thought were problems, actually proved to be positives for my children. With smaller class sizes, my boys received excellent instruction with more individualized attention.”
Neis said the district benefits from “excellent educational leadership and community support.”
His opponent paints a far less rosy picture of the state of the district.
Hoffmann, who has been in office since 1993, has often taken contrary stands on issues presented to the board.
His lengthy tenure makes him well-versed on issues in the district, Hoffman said.
He said the biggest challenge for the district is to address the retaining of teachers and staff.
“We’ve seen serious instability in the teaching staff, which is not good, and there have been setbacks accordingly with this level of change,” Hoffmann said.
“I believe our district could improve and I’d like to see us get back to being a leader in the area, as we once were.”
On the subject of leadership, he pointed to the frequent administrative changes, which have included new high-school principals in each of the last four years.
Accepting things as they are in the district “is a recipe for mediocrity and stagnancy.”
Hoffmann said he questions the need for a proposed building maintenance referendum in the district.
An exploratory committee of officials and community representatives has been formed to gauge whether voters should be asked about borrowing for building projects. Specific projects or cost estimates have not yet been itemized.
“I’ve not heard of ‘deferred building projects’ until very recently. I don’t believe there’s enough support in the community for a referendum,” Hoffmann said.
“This appears to me to be an attempt at manufacturing ‘needs’ and making a money grab.”
Klas and Laubenstein both said it is too early to say whether a referendum would have a chance of being approved by voters.
“This is a big issue that would have to be carefully evaluated, looking at the needs of the district,” Klas said.
“As a School Board member, I feel my business and life experiences would be a great benefit with my ability to be an effective communicator and good listener to staff, community members and students.”
Laubenstein said she has questions that need to be answered before she could commit to backing a referendum.
“The community members that I have spoken with tend not to be in favor of a referendum, citing that building projects should be budgeted for instead,” she said.
Laubenstein said steps need to be taken to reverse the loss of students through the open enrollment process.
Some families have “opted to enroll their children in other schools because of bullying, favoritism and personal power trips. These problematic issues make people feel unwelcome and extremely uncomfortable,” she said.
Laubenstein said in order to enhance the district’s image “everyone must work together — word of mouth travels fast and when something negative happens, it travels much faster.”
Klas said the district’s image in the community “is very positive,” but not without need for attention.
“There are many issues that could be improved upon, and our current district leaders recognize these and are taking steps to promote our district,” he said.
“We need to take pride in developing our students to become productive members of society. We need to focus and improve on our academics, teachers, clubs and activities and career/college readiness.”
Klas said developing a strategic plan would be the best way to identify the district’s strengths and shortcoming.
He agreed the biggest challenge facing the district is making open enrollment a way to gain rather than lose students.
“We need to identify the reasons why families elect to open-enroll out of the district so families choose to enroll their kids into our district, rather than losing kids,” Klas said.
Newcomer Jennifer Clark, 324 Emerald Hills Ct., is unopposed in her bid to fill the Village of Fredonia seat being vacated by Krause.
Officers are elected by the board after the winners of the April election take office.