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Primary Election Preview: What is the Biggest Issue in RUSD?

In the second of five stories this week on the Feb. 19 primary election for the Racine Unified School District Board of Education, Patch asks the 10 candidates vying for three seats on the board what they think is the biggest issue facing the district.

Voters in the Racine Unified School District will head to the polls on Feb. 19 to narrow down the field of candidates running for three seats on the School Board.

The top six vote-getters in the primary election will earn a trip to the April 2 general election.

The candidates are:

  • Cecilia Anguiano, 2818 Loraine Ave., a lifelong Racine resident.
  • Laura Betker, 2320 Gilson St., a lifelong Racine resident with no children in the district.
  • Tifene Brown, 5420 Athens Ave., who has lived at her current address for 18 months. Her two oldest daughters graduated from William Horlick High School, and she has another daughter who is a student at Gifford Elementary School.
  • Randall Bryce, 1718 Wind Dale Dr., who has lived in the district for seven years and has a child at North Park Elementary School.
  • Incumbent board member Christopher Eperjesy, 830 Waters Edge Rd., who is a 10-year resident of the district and has a stepdaughter who attends Prairie School.
  • Kristie Formolo, a 19-year Mount Pleasant resident whose two teenage children have attended various schools throughout the community.
  • Michael Frontier, 1127 Lake Ave., a former alderman and 28-year resident whose three children have attended several private and public schools.
  • Incumbent board member Julie McKenna, 724 Crab Tree Lane, who has lived in the district 22 years and has one child who attended several district schools, including Washington Park High School.
  • Roger Pfost, 3114 Caledonia St., a retiree and the school liaison for theRacine County Taxpayers Association. He has seven children who attended various district schools.
  • Robert Wittke Jr., 11 Sandalwood Ct., a lifelong Racine area residents whose four children all went through RUSD.

Each day this week, Patch will profile the candidates and where they stand on the key issues facing the school district. All information is based on the candidates' responses to Patch's election questionnaire.

Related Coverage

  • Meet the RUSD School Board candidates
What is the biggest issue facing the district, and how would you address it, if elected? Anguiano The biggest issue facing the district beyond vouchers and state budget cuts is the general public’s opinion of the district’s poor reputation for the integrity of academics.We can not change state law but we can control how well we adapt to it.
In order for our school district to succeed it needs increased support from all community groups such as churches, synagogues, Latino and African American based communities and family owned businesses that know the diversity of challenges that face every student. If the district isn’t accessible for a variety of reasons the community can’t understand the constraints of the district and will view its choices negatively or lack an interest in it. In turn, having a community that is apathetic towards its school system or views it negatively is detrimental to everyone. We will continue to lose families to alternative forms of education and through the voucher program if the community doesn’t feel like it is a part of its future generation’s education. 
We need to evolve by looking into what programs work at top public school districts. For example, having a retreat with administrators and teachers from the number one public school system of Maryland and from the diverse public school system of New York that can show progressive strategies not yet used in Racine.
Betker
Educational achievement for all students is the biggest issue facing the district. The district should expand successful programs that work such as Fine Arts, Red Apple and IB programs.
Brown I believe one of biggest issues facing the district is the effect of ACT 10. Teachers don’t teach because they make a huge wage, but because they enjoy their profession. If we were to switch to a merit based pay system then we possible risk losing teaching professionals to other states. This will ultimately affect students as well as our community. 
I suggest that if there is a merit base pay system it is based on student’s assessed ability at the beginning of the year and their progress made at the end of the year. If a teacher has a student that enters into kindergarten not knowing his or her alphabets from A to Z, but is able to get that student to learn them as well as basic reading concepts (sounding out letters) then that teacher has made an improvement with that student. If the teacher is able to get them further then that is great, but the reality is all students do not enter their grade level on the same level as their classmates. 
Bryce The biggest issue is funding. We need to be sure that every penny is spent responsibly.
Eperjesy Poverty. This isn't only the biggest issue facing our district; it is the biggest issue facing our entire community. Over 60% of the students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunch. The school board, administrators and teachers alone cannot solve the problem of poverty and the effects it has on education. In order to make real progress, the board of education needs to work with parents, community leaders, public officials, employers and concerned citizens to make real, lasting progress. As a school board member, I will continue to work to engage as many people as possible to work with us to find solutions to the effects of poverty on our community and the district. Some of my specific suggestions are in response to the question concerning addressing the district's racial achievement gap below.
Formolo I think one of the biggest issues facing Racine Unified is that so many people have lost faith in our district. Our taxes go up, but we are not seeing enough positive change happening within the majority of our schools. People are leaving the district!
In 2008/2009 RUSD lost 526 students through Open Enrollment.
In 2011/2012 RUSD lost 1053 students through Open Enrollment. 
An exit survey needs to be created and should have been done 3 years ago. Not only that, but in 2011/2012 RUSD only gained 24 students through Open Enrollment. Compare that number to Paris Elementary in Kenosha County. In 2012/2013 Paris had 265 students and 95 of them were Open Enrollment students. Their revenue from Open Enrollment was $515,600.00 while Racine Unified lost over 5 million dollars! What is the Racine Unified School District doing wrong and how can it be fixed? These are two very important questions that have to be addressed if we want to keep families in this district. Frontier Vouchers pose a great challenge to the district. The district elementary schools are viewed as very strong by famiies. However, middle schools are less attractively perceived. 
We cannot afford to lose students. We must create exciting, engaging learning environments, that counter this tendency.
Additionally, older facilities (average age 77 years) and the need for updated technology call for intervention beyond the district's budget. McKenna The biggest issue facing the district our system of education is the changing needs and expectations of our global society... for the future in technology, careers, communication....Racine Unified needs to be competive on a local and global level to prepare our students to succced. Students must succeed.
Pfost The District has rated last or close to it in its peer group for teachers salaries for the last 15 years. I will do my best to recognize the good teachers and reward them in their pay scales.
Wittke Performance. I believe it is the common thread that links every challenge the District faces. Student flight, fiscal stress, and substandard image can all be traced to the inability to trend achievement levels upward over a sustained period. This is going to be further complicated by the Federal and State mandates that will be required by the waiver granted to the No Child Left Behind law. I wish I had the magic formula to resolve all our challenges once elected but I don’t. I will bring the personal attributes I described above to work within the parameters of the Board and make contributions to its policy making, fiscal management, and governance which focus on improving the performance of all our students.
iwouldbedreaming February 13, 2013 at 06:30 PM
By the way the principal at Paris tolerates nothing less than his staff communicating with parents. He tells them he does not want one suprised parent when report cards come home. That is what is expected of them. The teachers have no options. RUSD teacher still say they have 30 kids and don't have the time and a million other excuses why they can't do their jobs. Ultimately the principal is not doing their job by making parent teacher communication MANDATORY. You can close a learning gap in hours, days, or weeks. Intervention must be immediate not AFTER the report card comes home. And the teachers that say they have no time....care? Ugh.....they are clueless. Hopefully the new superintendent will start axing bad teachers. Please start with the 4th grade teachers at Schulte and the rest of the stupid teachers out there who think they have medical degrees and suggest to every parent their kids have ADD. The kids don't have ADD they just don't want to be in the loud classrooms that the teachers have no control of. They don't focus on you because you are not interesting and fail to motivate them. So bottom line is if you want to be better....THAN DO BETTER!!!!!
Ed Holladay February 13, 2013 at 08:50 PM
My kids do awesome at their school in RUSD, and so do our neighbor's kids. Yes, some parents are disengaged and many kids act up. It is definitely a tougher atmosphere than Union Grove and such. The teachers we have dealt with have been great, and easy to contact. Although I acknowledge it is a big district, and others experience different things. Someone mentioned how bad our high schools are. I know Case has an IB program and the other two have Advanced Placement classed. There are opportunities along with the disruptive kids and negative influences. I do not want radical changes that jeopardize the successes our children experiences. We need to isolate the problem children and work with them: positively or negatively. All these candidates will be in for a humbling experience when they get on the board. So will the new superintendent. There are no bumper sticker solutions.
Ed Holladay February 13, 2013 at 08:56 PM
Brian and Randy, what is the big fuss? Regardless of trends, various studies or forecasts we have to spend the money wisely. Are you not skeptical of 40 million dollars in utility efficiency upgrades? I also think the new central office was maybe an over-expenditure (although I hear the old one was a wreck). I also remember one super leaving under odd terms a while back after spending money questionably too. The money needs to be watched closely. We need good teachers, clean and safe buildings and decent facilities for computers and such
Brian Dey February 13, 2013 at 09:19 PM
Ed- I think you know enough about me that I am pretty skeptical of our current CFO, Dave Hazen. The old central office was not a pretty site, but it was a bad idea to purchase a new one and then go after an $80 million referendum. I believe that the efficiency upgrades will come no where near the savings promised. I remember the PBCG/Tom Hicks scam as I was on the board at the time and was one of two board members to question and ultimately expose the scam with the help of a few employees. My point with Randy is that despite the predicted decimation of public education under Act 10, it never happened. And revenues even grew. As far as bumper sticker solutions, we may actually be closer than you think. There are a lot of good things happening in the district. Westbridge almost eliminated the achievement gap, we have 9 blue ribbon campuses, Case under its current leadership has gone from the worst to the best of our comprehensive high schools. You have the REAL School and Walden flourishing and poised to expand their highly soughtafter programs. Its not all bad, and one could say it is more good than bad. I'm hopeful that the new super does what she says and replicates these successful programs. I hope that those that stand in the way are terminated. For once, in the past 15 years, you have a Board President that gets it. That understands the community and listens to the constituents. A few new good Board members can really get this thing going.
Brian Dey February 13, 2013 at 09:20 PM
Sorry, that should be Westridge...
Cecilia Anguiano February 13, 2013 at 11:25 PM
Seems like my post didn't send from my phone. I'm a proud Walden alumni. I loved the family environment of that school. Some kids were the opposite and exited Walden to go to a bigger public school where they did well. This is the beauty of RUSD. Families have options on what works best for the student. The issue is that these options are greatly limited. Should we expand these programs? Absolutely. The proof is in the waiting lists of Walden and the REAL school.
Kristie Formolo February 13, 2013 at 11:35 PM
Brian is right about the $10 million Central Office. I never supported it, and I'm skeptical if we will ever see the savings that were promised to us. I knew the $80 million referendum wouldn't pass, because I sat in a couple of meetings and we were asked about it. Very few of the parents supported it, because it was too big and it came right after the Central Office move. Westridge is improving. If you get a chance to talk to the principal, you will understand why. Mitchell Middle school has an amazing band program, and many of these students carry over to Lighthouse Brigade. Also, Mr. Eben at Case H.S. is doing an amazing job! He is a very hands on kind of principal and the students respect that. I volunteered at the Case dance on Saturday night, and Mr. Eben was there along with quite a few teachers and staff. The Virtual School program at Case H.S. is flourishing which is opening doors for a lot of students. There are lots of really great things happening in our district, and I could go on and on about them. That being said, the complaints that I always here from parents, are the behavior problems, the lack of accountability, and the lack of communication. If we work on addressing these issues, I think we can slowly turn this district around. Also, and this is a must - We have to look into expanding or replicating the programs that are working.
Ed Holladay February 14, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Thanks for the clarification. I just did not see much in Bryce's brief comment that sparked a discussion of ACT 10 and such. Personally, I do not support ACT 10 (More for the worker rights than the money). It seems that people were flipping out about funding the last two years: talking school closures, complaining about worker contracts, etc... I thought they eliminated positions at central office too. I also remember a lot of controversy over health care benefits. They changed them, but some some said due to budget shortages they needed to cut more. I was not under the impression the district had more money now. 15th Comparative Analysis: I have no idea what that is. Can anyone see it, and who puts it together?
Ed Holladay February 14, 2013 at 02:33 PM
I appreciate your positive tone. Some of the bashing and whining gets old. Thanks for being involved. I agree with the the position that we need to get more parents engaged. They have to see what is going on and how they can help. It is easy to run off to Union Grove (I do not condemn those who do), but we are staying put unless things deteriorate.
mau February 14, 2013 at 03:33 PM
I want to know specifics as to where all these candidates stand on Teacher accountability, School Choice, Vouchers, Act 10 and the recalls. Which candidates are the PTA, REA and Voces de la Frontera endorsing? Other than some of the comments this article is uninformative. My son is a success story coming out of RUSD. But it was not a result of a excellent or cooperative educational system. It was a 13 year battle with teachers and administrators avoiding me and the issues I raised. I was lucky to have personal contact with school board members like Bernice Olson and John Haumersen.
CowDung February 14, 2013 at 03:44 PM
Ed: Brian posted a link to the '15th Comparative Analysis' above--third post from the top.
Kristie Formolo February 14, 2013 at 04:34 PM
Mau - I believe that education starts at home. Parents have to be involved if we are going to change Racine Unified. Since so many children in our district come from broken homes, we absolutely need our schools to be calm, safe and accountable. I'm including a link to Paris Elementary School's website. This is the direction, that I would like RUSD to head. We already have Walden and the Real school. We need to take what is working and expand it. We need more parents volunteering with reading programs in Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and even 3rd grade. This is so easy and it doesn't cost money. I know this, because I organized a reading program for 1st graders at St. Sebastian years ago. All the parent volunteers had to do, is sit and listen to the children read a series of books and mark it off if the child read well. I just looked at one of my old charts - There were 27 students and the first series had 16 books. If the child did well, they could either read it again or move on to the next book. They usually wanted to read it again! If a child struggled, we would help them with the words and they would read it a few more times until they were ready to move on to the next book. The children loved it because they were reading one on one with volunteers 2 or 3 times a week. Here's a link to Paris's website. Look it over, and you will know where I stand. http://www.paris.k12.wi.us/administration/
Brian Dey February 14, 2013 at 04:57 PM
As none of the groups you listed have formally endorsed, nor will they until after the primary, I did a little digging and here is what I come up. Remember this is opinion and I only come to these conclusions based on past associations or action. They can correct me if I'm wrong. Julie McKenna- I spent three years on the board with her and I believe she has served 6 terms. Probably not in favor of Act 10, and will probably wind up with the REA endorsement. Chris Eperjesy- Appointed to the board in November. Is the CFO of Twin Disc. Not sure where he stands on Act 10, but doesn't seem beholden to any group. Cecilia Anguiano- Was or is a member of Voces de la Frontera. I believe signed the petition to recall Walker and Wanggaard. Laura Betker- Was a petition circulator and signed at least Wanggaard petition, but I believe the Walker petition and it was her papers that had the duplicate signatures that led to an investigation in Racine. Does not support Act 10, very active in the Kenosha teachers union and will most likely get the support of REA. Randy Bryce- Against Act 10, signed both petitions and will most likely get the REA endorsement. Kristie Formolo- Very active with the PTA, supports Act 10. Mike Frontier- Educator, administrator and mentor. I believe he will get the support of Voces de la Frontera. Tifene Brown- Not sure where she stands on anything. Roger Pfost- 3rd time running, Supports Act 10. Wittke- Supports Act 10
mau February 14, 2013 at 05:08 PM
I did read enough comments that you are 1 of the 2 I am supporting so far. I was very active in my son's elementary school and then I got the impression that student's parents weren't who they wanted working with the children. It seemed to get more and more difficult to volunteer unless you were a member of the PTA. I don't know how welcoming RUSD is of your average parent now as it has been many years since I was involved.
iwouldbedreaming February 14, 2013 at 06:30 PM
Paris School has what they call "Brain Booster Intervention". When a child there is falling behind with reading fluency for example they are immediately put with another teacher or teachers aid to get caught up. The achievement gap can be closed within days or weeks. They do not wait until a parent gets the report card and then some type of intervention is done. When the children struggle you deal with it immediately. This way the gap does not grow. If a child falls too far behind they disengage because they feel like they are failing and good luck getting them to engage again. It can carry over for years to come. There is no reason that some of these idea that are successful at other schools can't be implemented. I spoke with the administrator at Paris and he said that not one person from RUSD has ever been there for a visit. NOT ONE. It is very sad that we are not learning from the education leaders right here in our community. Paris administrator Roger Gayhart is an excellent principal and the kids at Paris want to do well for him and his staff. This is the "atmosphere" they have created. We are failing the kids in Racine if we don't consider his success.
mau February 14, 2013 at 06:39 PM
You hit the nail on the head. What is the point of waiting until the report card to let the parents know there is a problem. This is something that just grated on me.
Kristie Formolo February 14, 2013 at 08:21 PM
Iwouldbedreaming - I have suggested over and over, that our Administrators and Board Members visit Paris. I hate to say it, but it speaks volumes that RUSD hasn't done so. I am already on board with what is working at Paris. If I make it through on February 19th, I will be visiting Paris and every other school that I can think of. Sorry your experience at Schulte wasn't good. Schulte used to be known as a "Hidden Gem" when Donna Sens was there. They had some amazing teachers and I know some of them are still out there.
Randy Bryce February 15, 2013 at 01:52 PM
Mr. Holladay, Act 10 brought us the largest decrease in educational funding in Wisconsin's history. Regardless of your stance on Act 10, it can't be claimed that the budget places high value on education. I do value public education. I am opposed to taking what little money we have left, and, offering it out as vouchers to schools that are not held accountable to the same standards as those being dissected. Most of those requesting vouchers already have their children enrolled in schools outside of RUSD.
Edward Willing February 15, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Hey Randy, I'm wondering why you feel you have the time to google Patch articles as "proof" but not have enough time to respond to direct rebuttals that prove you wrong, and say you "dont' have time" even though its about your candidacy? Why won't you place your conversations here, rather than in a gmail thread? I'd much rather see you publicly refute the proof you're saying isn't true. After all, you're running to represent me as a parent over my child's education.
Edward Willing February 15, 2013 at 03:16 PM
@Michael frontier You said: "We cannot afford to lose students. We must create exciting, engaging learning environments, that counter this tendency." That sounds great, except you opened with a line of "vouchers pose a challenge." Are you against parental school choice? If so, do you believe the best way to avoid losing students is to penalize parents and forbid the lower and middle classes from being able to choose their child's education? Just looking for clarification.
Edward Willing February 15, 2013 at 03:19 PM
@Mau, this article is one part of many. Saying it's uninformative is amazingly oblivious to the point of the SERIES. You want 10 candidates' response to a dozen questions? That would take forever to acquire, probably not be successful and take hours to read. This is a fantastic way of finding out positions on singular questions, one at a time, and direct conversation.
Edward Willing February 15, 2013 at 03:21 PM
Cecelia, are you currently or have you previously been a member, or active participant of Voces de la Frontera or YES? If so, can you please explain to us how these groups are good for the health of RUSD and what you plan to do to make our district better? Thank you.
Edward Willing February 16, 2013 at 02:32 PM
I actually think exit surveys are completely necessary, as one of many tools to measure specific reasons, and also just to give parents the feeling that the district cares. It doesn't cost much money, and is common among many businesses or services when they lose their clients. I think saying taxpayers aren't getting value for their money is one aspect, but non-taxpaying parents might be more acute and say "my kids aren't learning." Another may say "my son's best teacher is an exception, not a common rule." We need to document these things, but the district doesn't want to. I'm voting for Wittke, Formolo and Epperjesy.
Edward Willing February 16, 2013 at 02:35 PM
@Bryce, You're continuing the same, proven-false mantra about losing funding. Yet, Dey has linked to an article, the JT and Journal Sentinel has refuted your statements and simple observations on tax bills will prove that you are in the least, misguided and misinformed. But, since i know you read quite a bit, I tend to think you're intentionally ignoring the evidence that proves you wrong. One cannot look at a positive bank account and claim its in the red.
Edward Willing February 16, 2013 at 02:37 PM
I completely agree. Too often, parents are expecting the schools to do their parenting for them. It's not the district's responsibility to teach parenting too, but perhaps there's some kind of marketing/outreach projects that could encourage busy parents to care more? Something has to be done, and I don't think we need to look very far to find the answers.
Edward Willing February 16, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Some teachers are proactive enough to reach out sooner, but that's difficult with 19, 25, 30 kids and multiple classes.
mau February 17, 2013 at 02:06 PM
Thank you Brian for answering my question instead of criticizing it. I was thinking along the same lines as you but just couldn't get a sense of where Wittke stood. I have been trying to find this "5 part series". As far as the questions I have asked, I think they are very basic. I don't have time to read every Patch articles and every comment so I am not able to keep up with everything. I voted absentee because it will be inconvenient for me to vote on Tuesday and I needed the information last week. There was a post card in Saturday's mail from Racinians for Academic Progress endorsing Eperjesy and Frontier. I read somewhere that this group is a progressive organization but I will try to find out for sure. Your answer for the general election will be very helpful. Thank you again.
Brian Dey February 17, 2013 at 03:05 PM
Randy Bryce- Yet Racine Unified still received more revenues. And I'm sure you are praising Govrnor Walker for restoring $256 million to K-12 publlic education in his new budget.
Brian Dey February 17, 2013 at 03:18 PM
Mau- Racinians for Academic Progress is a shelter group that doesn't exist but to put out these fliers every school board election. They have changed their name every year. They have been Partnership for Progress and a host of other names, and when I confronted them in 2007, I found out at this was, according to a Racine Journal Times interview, primarily one guy with a few other donors. I would be caustious of this so-called group because it it is the same group with yet another name, it is actually Jeff Neubauer, former Democratic State Chair and legislator. He also owns Kranz, Inc, which is the sole supplier of cleaning goods to RUSD. Others that have worked with these so-called groups have been former Board President Bill Schalk and former Board member David Isaacson. Both were key to abdicating the legallly defined work of the board and giving it to then Supt. Tom Hicks. Schalk was instrumental in leading a board that was riddled with division, ineffective performance and the hiring of PBCG. Ask yourself this; Why do you only hear of these groups at election time? Where are there meetings? Who can I talk to about their agenda? And last, what information of value are these fliers producing? They are generic in nature because they never actually talk to all the candidates. The latest flier claims that two candidates will bring the community together. And the others won't? Don't buy into this BS.
iwouldbedreaming February 18, 2013 at 04:03 AM
Edward, the teachers at Paris do have 30 kids per class and intervention has nothing to do with the main teacher. The kids go with a different teacher for the brain booster sessions and the main teacher keeps teaching her regular class. How hard is that? It is actually easier because they are not teaching at different levels. Once the child gets caught up and returned to the class it is ultimately easier for the teacher. The brain boosters keep the kids working at the same level. This is what I would call "no child left behind"!!!

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