What do you think are appropriate and effective ways of communicating with staff, media and the community?
Candidates running for school board in the School District responded to this question. Three of the candidates answer the question at the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce candidate forum on Feb. 6 at Milton City Hall. Two unable to attend responded to the question during an in-person interview with the Milton Courier.
Forum attendees included incumbent Karen Hall and challengers Shelly Crull-Hanke and Chuck Jackson. Crull-Hanke previously served on Milton School Board while Jackson served on the Fort Atkinson School board. Candidate Mike Hoffman was unable to attend due to illness. Candidate David Holterman was out of town due to a prior commitment.
On Feb. 18 voters will be asked to narrow the number of candidates from five to four and on April 7 voters will choose the two who will serve on school board.
Here's what the candidates said about communication.
Crull-Hanke said the district’s mission statement includes partnering with community and having a two-way communication.
“As a board, we need to speak as one voice when we go to speak with the media and the community,” she said. “And it should be one person, the board president talking.”
She said there should not be “special interest interviews, special editorials” by board members, nor should there be questions being answered “maybe out of context.”
“That’s been a part of what our lack of trust is from the community,” she said.
If the board speaks as one voice giving information in an honest and transparent and open way, she said, “We can gain that trust back.”
Hall said communication also is the administration’s responsibility.
They need to communicate to the community and staff what’s going on and provide as much accurate information as possible, she said.
“That is something that has not necessarily occurred over the course of the last several years,” Hall said. “I think that has led to a lot of miscommunication.”
“It’s again, being that respectful, honest speaking as one voice,” and she said it’s understanding individuals may not share the same opinion.
“We do have a right to our opinion,” she said. “That’s again something that should be conveyed to other board members and to administration but not necessarily spoken as the opinion of the board.”
Jackson referred to a quip at the start of the forum about Washington, D.C., this week.
“Unfortunately I think that Milton School District is somewhat a mirror image of that,” he said. “And in recent past, there’s no doubt there’s been polarity. There’s no doubt there’s been a lack of respect – maybe the right word is ‘understanding’ very strong versions of viewpoints.”
Jackson said the direct answer to the question is the board president, superintendent and communications director.
“Unfortunately, we have had some challenges in the recent past and all voices want to be heard and should be heard so that could be perceived as great turmoil,” he said. “But I think it’s honesty, and I think it’s board members doing what they believe they should be doing and that is putting their viewpoints and their ideas forward.
“Hopefully we can have a more unified board in the future.”
About three dozen people were seated in the audience.
Hoffman said: “I think that being accessible to stakeholders as a board member is really critical. I think that any time a community member wants to speak with you, it’s important that you listen – whether that’s to express concerns or questions."
Further, he said it's important that board members bring concerns, praises or other communication from community members back to the whole board.
"I think when you choose to be on a board," he said, "you’re volunteering to do the work of the organization."
With seven members on the school board, he said, "there’s not always going to be consensus. I’ve been on boards before where I haven’t agreed with decisions. While I think you have the right to disagree with the decision, I think that to communicate that decision needs to be with one voice.
“I think when board members start to feel they have the right to express dissent, then all of a sudden boards become very political and boards are not to be political entities. We don’t run as Democrats, we don’t run as Republicans, we are just board members. I have never as a board member publicly voiced a dissent about a decision that serves no purpose. You support the decision whether you agree or not. So again, I think that the decisions are, should come across as one voice.”
Holterman: “As a board member, you have the opportunity to have a voice. But in that same opportunity, if you will, you also have the responsibility to speak as a board. And so leading up to the process by which a decision is made, there’s the opportunity for debate. However, after the board takes an action and decides, we are going to do X, the board as a whole ought to support that. That’s the job of a board member is to have an active debate and craft policy. But ultimately the board moves together as a unit, not as individuals going off in different directions. With that, using official channels. Again, going back to the prior question, honesty, dignity and respect as you do that. And then I think another thing that’s important for a board members to understand, the board oversees the district or anything that a board that has for that matter at a high level. It’s not the board’s job to micromanage what’s going on on a day-to-day granular basis, but instead help establish policy with an organization, not develop necessarily the procedure.
“We have professionals whose jobs are to do that. And so I’m talking to the group as making discussions to making a decision within the board that that is a beautiful opportunity for discussion at a very public manner through the meetings, moving together as a unit after a decision is made. And keeping in mind the idea that we help craft policy and procedures and letting professionals, there’s job to do that. You let them do that.”