Candidates bring strong experience to School Board race

Each say they can work with budget deficits

March 16, 2011

Mequon — Three candidates for two seats on the Mequon-Thiensville School Board all have qualifications that set them apart from each other.

Incumbent and current board president Suzette Urbashich believes she provides experience and stability on the board. Five of the seven members have served five years or less, while Urbashich's service dates to 1997. She was an active volunteer in the schools before becoming a board member.

Incumbent Jim Liska has served three years on the board, but education has been his life.

"I've been in eduction 43 years on the primary level, secondary, college and post graduate levels," he said. "I have a handle on the educational process."

Challenger Sidney Terry taught high school industrial arts for five years before going into industrial training and education. Stints with major national companies, Miller Brewing, Kraft Foods and now Brady Corp., have given him insights into downsizing and changes, training and retraining.

As the organizational effectiveness manager at Brady, he deals with talent management.

"I have learned a lot about strategy and teach strategy," he said.

Developing teachers

With the budgetary challenges faced by the district, he believes he can help solve the problems by looking at class sizes and innovative ways to develop younger teachers.

The teaching model used in schools has been in place for decades.

"With technology we have the opportunity to change that dramatically," he said. "It is time to consider how to change the way we deliver education."

Some have said he has not lived in the district very long, four years, but he views that as an asset.

"I believe I can bring a fresh perspective without any bias," he said.

Urbashich said the district's three-year rolling budget plan has helped it anticipate potential problems. Although the cuts coming to the district from the state could create a larger deficit, she said the tools provided by the governor and state Legislature that require union members to contribute to their health care premiums and retirement funds are a positive step toward managing the $2.9 million deficit.

"Compensation, salary and benefits, are 80 percent of our budget," she said. "I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to manage the revenue losses. This will give us the opportunity to look at other pay models, to consider merit pay or pay for performance."

Need feedback from staff

Liska said the district could lose 30 teachers at the end of the current school year. Several principals are also retiring or leaving the district. While those changes, along with the contributions to health insurance and retirement, will help the district make some budget adjustments, Liska wants to know what the staff and teachers are thinking about the future.

"I would like the chance to sit down with the staff being impacted by all of this and get their views," he said.

Urbashich said the opportunity to reorganize and consider how to deliver education might mean the district will be able to retire the 20th century teaching model.

Terry is not sure that teachers and programs would have to be cut but believes rethinking how to deliver instruction, classroom size and the use of technology would help bridge the financial gaps.

None of the candidates would support a referendum to allow the district to increase operational spending.

"That would be the court of last resort," Liska said. "We would need to show the voters we have done everything to control costs."

Candidates differ on K4

Urbashich and Liska voted on opposite sides of 4-3 vote on the proposed addition of K4 to the district, with Liska for it and Urbashich against.

Liska said 85 percent of the districts in the state have the program and he is surprised that Mequon-Thiensville does not.

"The sooner you can get youngsters to begin to want to learn, the better," he said.

He noted there are 160 to 170 homes for sale in the city, but they are not moving.

"If K4 would influence people to move in and help kick up property values, I think that is another reason to have it," he said.

Although Urbashich saw the educational value of the program, she was concerned with the financial impact of its addition. Terry agrees its addition would make the finances of the district worse.

"We don't have it now and we have pretty good outcomes at the senior year (of high school)," he said.

School Board members serve three-year terms and are not paid.

Jim Liska

AGE: 66

ADDRESS: 12200 Willow Glen Court

FAMILY: married, with two adult daughters

EDUCATION: b.s. in English and journalism; m.s. in teaching and literature, both from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater; administrative certification from Concordia University.

EMPLOYER: retired as administrative dean at Nicolet High School

Sidney Terry

AGE: 60

ADDRESS: 11648 N. Granville Road

FAMILY: married, three daughters, three grandchildren

EDUCATION: b.s. and m.s in education at Oswego State University

EMPLOYER: global organization effectiveness manager at Brady Corp.

Suzzette Urbashich

AGE: 55

ADDRESS: 11647 N. Ridgeway Ave.

FAMILY: married with two sons

EDUCATION: b.a. in zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison; m.a. in administrative leadership, UW-Milwaukee

EMPLOYER: executive director at InHealth Wisconsin


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