ELECTIONS: Two EC school board seats up for grabs

Mar. 28—EAU CLAIRE — Incumbent Lori Bica and challengers Frankie Bowe, Jarrett Dement and Sally Huffey are on the April 4 ballot for two open Eau Claire School Board seats.

The two candidates elected will serve three-year terms on the board beginning in April. Commissioner Phil Lyons, a member of the board since 2019, filed for noncandidacy.

All four candidates were sent identical questionnaires. The following are their responses, organized alphabetically.

Responses from the candidates for Menomonie School Board will run on Thursday.

Why should you be elected to the Eau Claire school board?

Bica: I should be re-elected because I offer the experience, trustworthiness, and commitment needed in a successful and productive School Board member. Having served nearly six years, I have more experience than any other current member or candidate. My experience thus affords the kind of stability and continuity that are essential for an effective School Board. My trustworthiness is shown by this community's support of me through two reelection cycles, and by the Eau Claire Association of Educators' endorsement. My commitment comes through in continued service. Nothing is more important to me than the success of all students. My personal and professional life has been devoted to youth and their welfare. The pandemic showed us how public service is vital to our society's health and our students' success. Service on the School Board is an excellent and challenging way to make a difference for the children and families of our district.

Bowe: I believe I can make a difference in bringing together both teachers and parents to ensure the best outcome for each child in the district. There are issues not being addressed in our school system and lower overall test scores prove changes must be made.

I decided to run when made aware of the falling test scores in our schools. Eau Claire students deserve better career opportunities than are currently being offered. Not every student is cut out or prepared for a four-year college. We need to introduce more trade school opportunities for each student.

In the last 18 years, there have been four to five referendums for more money needed in the school district. We must come up with a long-term solution for the financial difficulties facing our schools and education system.

Parents are upset by the low-test scores of our students, and this must be addressed.

Dement: If elected (and, frankly, even if I'm not) I will fight for every student in our schools to receive the tools they need to succeed, for us to support and compensate every teacher like the professional they are, and for every family to have access to all the resources they need to support their students.

Huffey: I will make a positive impact on my community, specifically in the area of education. I will be a voice for unity and will ensure that all voices are heard and welcomed with respect.

What do you believe is the primary role and responsibility of the school board?

Bica: The School Board's primary responsibility is to establish and maintain a coherent set of goals and direction for the district, and its primary role is to charge district administration with pursuing those goals and monitoring evidence of its accomplishments. Within this broad scope, however, the following components must also be encompassed in order for the primary role to be successful.

The Board must create a vision for the district and adopt policies that give the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals;

* Set and monitor standards for student achievement that ensure success for all children;

* Hire and evaluate the Superintendent;

* Adopt and oversee the district's annual budget;

* Maintain competitive salary and compensation packages for all district employees;

* Regularly inform the public of district plans, actions, and accomplishments; and

* Grow community support for public schools so all students and educators have the resources needed to succeed.

Bowe: To make sure each student receives the best education possible while ensuring the safety and security of each student. This can be achieved by providing quality information while encouraging students to reach goals that are achievable and rewarding to each individual student.

Making sure each teacher has the tools to do their jobs while decreasing their out-of-pocket expenses that each teacher occurs every time they start a new class. We must support teachers in their daily lives as they are the individuals that shape our children for the future. One area of need is interpreters to ensure each child is understanding the content being taught.

Dement: A school board's primary role is to create policies that work towards the success of every student, and hiring administrators to equitably institute those policies. Additionally, school boards have an obligation to advocate for their schools and students at the state and national level as well in their own communities.

Huffey: To provide the best possible education experience in a safe and healthy environment for students, teachers and staff. Transparency with parents/guardians.

What do you believe are the largest issues facing the Eau Claire school district, and how would you work to address those issues?

Bica: Ensuring student success is the most important goal we strive for, and I believe this goal faces three significant threats at this time: a historic enrollment decline in teacher-training programs and a steady rate of educators leaving the profession, the increasingly common mental-health challenges among students, and the shrinking amount of funding and other resources available for schools. To address the educator shortage, we need to maintain competitive salaries, strengthen practices to yield faster hiring decisions and earlier presentation of job offers to the best candidates, and monitor and address teacher turnover. To respond to mental-health issues, we must connect children and families with the school and community supports they need. To increase resources, we must fight for full funding of public education. Putting our money toward educating all students offers our community the best return on its investment.

Bowe: The division between parents and educators. My top priority will be to bring the teachers and parents together, and to make sure that both have a seat at the table when decisions are taking place that affect children and their future by providing a safe environment for parents and educators to come together and discuss problems and solutions to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for both adults and the children entrusted to our schools.

Dement: The biggest issues that ECASD are currently facing are the support and retention of the quality educators we have in our district in the growing national education crisis we're experiencing, and meeting the diverse needs of our students and honoring the lived experience of each of them.

As a board member, I will insist on having the hard conversations about equity in our schools, about educator support and compensation, within the school district, but also with voters and state representatives. None of the issues facing public education can be fixed in a vacuum, we all, at all levels, need to come together to do what's best for our students.

Huffey: I believe that there is a need to build bridges of trust and unity between district/parents/guardians and community. I would use my voice and vote to ensure financial transparency and responsible management.

What specific experience and skills have prepared you to serve on the board?

Bica: I have been a member of the Eau Claire Board of Education since June 2017 and have directly contributed to every major Board/District initiative since that time. I have served as Treasurer, Budget Committee member, and, since 2019, Vice President. I was appointed by Board colleagues to serve as Committee Chair for our national search for a new Superintendent (2019-20). I served as Planning Committee member for the ECASD's $98.6M capital referendum (2022).

My professional career also contributes directly to my abilities as a Board member. I earned a Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Ohio State University, focusing on children and adolescents. In 2000, I joined the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Psychology Department. In addition to work as a Professor, I was Department Chair for 6 years, which afforded extensive experience in areas such as curriculum and assessment; financials/budget; equity and diversity; facilities; contract negotiation; and personnel evaluation.

Bowe: I bring a background in on-going education. I am well-versed in dealing with people and their concerns. I have common sense and take a no-nonsense approach to issues at hand. I have no problem standing up for what is in the best interest of our children and can bring people together for an intellectual and productive conversation, and that is what we must strive to achieve. Unity for everyone involved in our children's education. With me, you will get a well-balanced, researched, and evaluated solution to any issue put before me.

Dement: As mentioned previously, I'm an active K12 teacher, so I'm intimately familiar with the realities of public education, and how the decisions of a school board directly affect the staff and students in a school.

Additionally, I'm an Army veteran, and therefore take public service very seriously. To this day, I live by the Army values — loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. These values will guide me to standing up for what's right, no matter what.

Huffey: Huffey did not answer this question.

Candidates' responses may have been edited for clarity or length.