On Feb. 21 a primary election will be held leading up to the April 4 spring local elections, in which Lodi area voters will cast ballots for two seat on the School District of Lodi’s Board of Education. The Feb. 21 primary will decide which four of the five candidates will appear on the April 4 ballot.
We sat down to talk with each of the candidates to ask about their experience and some of the issues currently facing the School District of Lodi. Candidates have interpreted questions differently and were not given guidance regarding a “right answer” or the answers of other candidates. The answers shared here have been edited for length and/or clarity, though full interview transcripts are available on the Lodi Enterprise website.
Barb Beyer, 48, current school board member and Director of Special Education and Student Services in the Montello School District.
Susal Goethel, 56, full-time at-home family caregiver and former member of the Columbia County Board of Health and Human Services, appointed as a designated representative for families caring for a disabled family member.
Julie McKiernan, 58, former Lodi School Board member and employed with Kalscheur Implements as well licensed realtor with Stark Company. Active in Lodi FFA Alumni and formerly part of Friends of the Lodi Pool.
Sarah Raemisch, 54, licensed practical nurse (LPN) and health information services manager for Oakwood Village–Prairie Ridge Campus, in Madison.
H. Adam Steinberg, 60, artist/scientist with Art For Science Visual Communication and Story Form Science. Currently Lodi School Board President.
What is your relationship with the Lodi School District outside the current context of the school board?
Barb Beyer: I have three children who were all students of Lodi from 2010. And I still have one son who is still in high school. And before I was on the Lodi School Board I was on the OSC (Ouisconsing School of Collaboration) governance board and was president of that for a year, before I got elected to the school board.
Susan Goethel: Mike and I have lived in Lodi for the past 28 years and we have three kids who went through the Lodi school system, our oldest utilizing an IEP (individualized education program, for students with disabilities). So we saw, truly, what it takes for a success story for a person with pretty significant special needs. He had an amazing team here in Lodi with his assistant and with all of his teachers and he thrived because of that. Then we had a set of twins that were in the big class of twins that graduated in 2018…they utilized and took the AP (advanced placement) classes and did a whole bunch of extracurriculars. And they also had the benefit of working with incredible teachers and school staff.
Julie McKiernan: I’ve lived in Lodi for over 20 years. My grandparents were from Lodi and I spent many summers here and I actually attended third grade in Lodi. I have a niece who is in 4K, and I have an adult daughter who went through the Lodi School System from kindergarten through graduation. All of my family resides in the Lodi area.
Sarah Raemisch: I had three kids go through the Lodi School District. My oldest graduated in 2016 and I am a mom of the big set of twins that graduated in 2018…We moved here from Madison in 2001, that summer before my oldest started at Sunshine Preschool at 3–so they were 3, 1 and 1 when we got here. Now they’ve all flown the coop and I’m an empty nester and I feel like I can give back to the community.
H. Adam Steinberg: When my oldest daughter got into kindergarten, Mrs. Peterson–long since retired–got all the parents to attend, had clipboards for signups, and literally put the clipboard in front of each parent and said, ‘What are you signing up for?’ So here’s me, a professional at the UW-Madison, and I’m all over the country, and I’m like, ‘Wait, I have to sign up for something? … And then I came in with Mrs. Peterson and thought, ‘This is easy, this is what parents should be doing. They should be part of their schools and their school district.’ She was the one that changed my attitude and turned everything around.
Why do you want to join (or continue another term on) the Lodi School Board?
BB: My whole life–my whole career–has been about education and providing students, and kids, what they need to be contributing citizens of society. Education is what I know, it’s what I do. And I want to make sure that my kids have the best opportunities in Lodi, and so I think my profession just naturally leads to wanting to help be a part of that for our school district too. And I think being on the governance board for the OSC charter school board, and just enjoying that and being passionate about that school, I wanted to serve in a larger capacity for the whole district.
SG: I’m at the point in life that I have time, and I would like to give back and be a contributing member for the school. When the kids were little, I used to volunteer all the way up…probably early middle school and then stopped, because [the twins] no longer wanted me there, which makes sense.
JM: I feel that I have work to do yet with the district and I’m very interested in some of the district initiatives that came out of the strategic planning in 2021, particularly in the career and technical education area, as well as green space planning, because I think that’s important not only for the district, but for the community. And I think I have a new perspective after having a year off, being in the community, but not on the board.
SR: I was going to, this spring, run for the Town of Lodi Board. I had held a supervisor position way back when my kids were young–I think the mid-2000s–and I had to resign because I was accepted into nursing school at the time and with three kids involved in sports and church and all sorts of other extracurriculars…holding a board position just wasn’t feasible, so I resigned from that. And then people caught wind of that and I had a number of people approach me and ask, ‘Would you consider running for the school board instead?’ So I thought and I thought and I thought, and I said, ‘Well, okay, let’s give it a shot.’
I think it’s something I would have done eventually anyway, but it probably happened sooner than I thought at the time. And it’s really only because I had former…parents of classmates, and younger, had asked me–parents who still had kids in school–so I thought, why not?
HAS: Because one person cannot do anything in a school district and that is good. You have an idea, an administrator has an idea, a teacher has an idea, a board member…you need to build a coalition…If you propose some new thing like OSC, I can’t make OSC run. Those teachers had to say, yes, we’re willing to do that stuff and administrators have to be a part of it–you have to build a team…To continue to do stuff like that. To continue to innovate and to continue to drive this school district forward…The other part is that you have to look to the past, because you need to get to the future. So what resources do you have today, who’s there today, what people, what staff, what administrators–how are you going to take knowledge of the past, and get it to the future? Because those kids need to get to the future. When they graduate, the future is different from what we’re planning. So guiding that stuff, that is the best part of being on the board.
What would you point to in your experience as representing what you’re particularly proud of or passionate about?
BB: I think that we are such a high-achieving district, that we are providing the curriculum, the programming, and the opportunities for our kids to have high success, not only academically, but in all areas...I’m really proud that for a small community the opportunities that our kids have at school and even just to explore the world. I don’t know a lot of towns our size that offer the foreign exchange trips and the things that we do. I feel like we really prepare our kids to move on and out into the world as adults. I think we’ve done a great job in the last several years of bringing in administrators and teaching staff and support staff that really make all of that possible…And to keep the great staff that we have.
SG: I’m all about the kids and supporting the staff, so the things that I’m most passionate about are having the kids succeed and do well after school. I feel like all of the schooling years in Lodi are preparing them for success in life afterwards. And I’m passionate about helping the kids to whatever it will be after school, whether it be secondary education, whether it be going right into the workforce, having them be very sound and secure in who they are as they go into the next chapter of their lives.
JM: Prior to joining the board I was part of a greenhouse committee, to get the new greenhouse built, and so that’s one of the things that first year that was accomplished. And then also, Facilities-Finance Committee–I was the chair–we did an audit of all of our green space, and so that would have been in 2021 also, I believe. As far as what the future needs would be for the district in terms of green space for sports.
SR: I subbed for a while for a couple years while my kids were in school, loved seeing what they did and I volunteered in their classrooms as well. But I actually worked as a substitute educational assistant and did some in special ed as well. That, for me, was very rewarding, being there and helping those kids…I was on a Town Board, so I kind of know what that sort of feeling is, what the responsibilities are, and especially with the Town Board of Lodi, I never felt like there were politics involved. There was never the left, the right, Republican, or Democrat, and that’s what a school board member needs to be–you need to be nonpartisan and it is about what is best for the district, for the kids, for the teachers, and all of that. And it’s just something that I’ve wanted to get back into and here I am.
HAS: It is definitely building coalitions–that is 100% it. Acting independently is not something that you do. You have to bring everybody together and sometimes it’s not your idea, it’s an idea from a teacher, and admin, or whatever it is, and you’re like, ‘Yes, that is the way forward to the future,’ and so how can we support that, how can we get everybody on board with that, how do you bring a curriculum in, how do you bring a teacher in? … STEM (science mathematics engineering math) is another thing–we call it STEAM (science mathematics engineering art math). There was no STEAM, it had to be made, it had to be created. And so I was the driver behind that–again, not by myself. Let me make that very, very clear, you can’t do anything as an individual. But building that coalition, we now have K-12 STEM, or STEAM, where kids are learning coding. Our entire world is driven by code, everything we do is driven by code. Reading, writing, and arithmetic…and coding…It could be more robust, it could be bigger and it could be better, but it is there now.
What do you see as the primary challenge for students at this time?
BB: Overall, I just think there is a lot of societal issues that all kids, and people in general, are dealing with post-COVID: re-integrating into social circles in society–we were all pretty isolated–coming out of that and having any after-effects–depression, anxiety. I think in general across the board for kids and adults, we’re seeing a pretty big uptick in those kinds of mental health issues for a variety of reasons. So I think that’s probably one of them for kids, just to navigate those things.
SG: I think that the challenges for students right now…a big one for me is social media. In my day there was no such thing as social media, so that wasn’t an issue, and while I think it can be a very useful and wonderful thing, it also is a very dangerous thing. And I think to keep our kids as grounded as possible, and know how to navigate through social media in an appropriate way will set them up for success later.
I think mental health is also a really serious issue right now, that we really, really need to identify students that are at risk and need to do everything we can to support them and have them be able to come out as strong as possible.
JM: I think the primary challenge right now is mental health. I know that we have put together an in-house relationship with the Waunakee Counseling and I think that is awesome. I know as a parent, that would have been a great thing to have in place when my daughter was in school. I think mental health, and quite possibly substance abuse–of course is related–and we saw that in the presentation at the last board meeting, and so I think that should be a top priority to get to our students that require those services. I think secondary to that is–being on the outside for a year, I see that there is still a greater need for communication from the district to the community. I think there have been improvements, but sometimes I still think it is difficult for community members to understand what is going on in the district.
SR: There are some hard things to get through in school–like middle school…I have heard–and I have experienced it with my kids–that bullying can be a real issue and…there’s so much to school. You go to school, you learn your subjects, you have interactions with people–kids, adults–that’s also a big part of school, I feel, those personal interactions…And you want the best experience for them.
HAS: It’s that future. It’s that thing right there. Again, I’m too far out and I need to reel myself back in, that no one is talking about AI in schools. Artificial Intelligence is taking over the world, and I don’t want to sound like a crackpot, you can look at it and see, it is so advanced and it advances so quickly that the people developing it can’t keep up with it. That’s the problem. And that is their future. Coding and AI is their future, and we are not, in my opinion, meeting enough of that challenge. They’re going to have to pick that up in secondary education. And we are trying–we are trying in K-12–but it’s not enough. That’s the biggest fear that I have for students: are they going to be able to understand the world they’re inheriting?
How do you look at where the district is now in the current phase of post-COVID?
BB: I think our staff … weathered that extremely well, which I think did not create a gap that we couldn’t fill back in. It’s been a process to fill those gaps and reintegrate back into school, but I feel like the staff are super invested in making sure that any loss that did happen gets remediated and we continue to grow. So the amount of analysis that goes on with data, and academic data, and where kids are performing, and then they are taking that data and creating programs to fill in the gaps where they are needed. For example the phonics work that has taken the place in the Primary School over the past couple years, because that was a need…
I think there is a lot of collaboration going on between the buildings, making sure that kids continue to grow and those needs are met in a continuous way, which I think is a really great thing that we’re doing.
SG: This was all uncharted waters for everybody and I think the schools did the best they could for what they didn’t know going into all of this. I think the schools did figure out that we absolutely need to have kids in school and the academic slide that happened–I don’t know that you could have done a whole lot about it–but it wasn’t okay. I think they figured out, and you can kind of see it with snow days, and in other districts I see are doing virtual learning those days, but Lodi is not doing that. And I think that is so wise, because I feel like they know that they need their kids in school–that it’s best for everyone to have the kids present in school. I think that was the biggest they that they learned, and it was pretty crucial, through the whole process.
JM: I would say that we’re still recovering out of that. I think that we have most of the resources in place now to help the students that fell behind during COVID to make up that target area. Also we are working on having all of the–they used to call it Align by Design–but we’re working on aligning every class so every grade level is taught the same curriculum, so there aren’t gaps when they get to high school.
SR: There are some kids that do great with distance learning–my daughter, she’s great at it. My oldest son, he was at the UW-Stevens Point when COVID hit and he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t do the virtual learning, it just was not for him...Just getting back–I think we’re getting there, are we 100% there yet? I’m not sure…I don’t know how I would have done it if my kids were still in school. Would high school have been easier than the real little primary kids? Maybe, maybe not. But there’s just that break of trying to get back into a structure and a schedule, and I think we’re getting there. Even with the Medical Advisory Board, they’ve sort of kept with their track of we’ll keep doing what we’re doing and we’ll go from there. I think we’re getting there.
HAS: My perspective–I can only speak for myself–is that there was clearly a loss with students. There was a big chunk of students who clearly excelled: they went off the charts…But for the vast majority of students there was a learning loss, that’s for sure … Again, every year we evaluate students, but not to the level that we did after COVID. If you look at the report cards–I hate report cards, just in general I’m not a report card kind of guy…but you can see a reflection of that learning loss being gained back by the students. They are all coming back because we are focusing on all that stuff. We are not letting it slide. We are not letting it go.
What is a school board member’s responsibility in the current fiscal environment of combined inflation, stagnant state funding, and expiring federal COVID relief funds, on the whole described by many district administrators (including Poynette and DeForest) as a fiscal cliff?
BB: School funding, I think, is a lot more complicated than people realize. There are so many levels to it and it’s not as black-and-white as people think. So, one: 100% school districts and the school board, we need to be the oversight for being fiscally responsible. And we are. We passed the referendum and inflation is definitely hitting some of that, and now we’re making sure that we’re staying within those boundaries of that money for that referendum. So it’s a constant ongoing discussion of, ‘How do we make it work with the funds that we have?’
It’s that making sure that we’re fiscally responsible and making those tough decisions, and having those tough conversations. I think that has to be paired with that we have to advocate for our schools and our districts for state funding. The current state funding formula doesn’t work. It needs to be overhauled and revamped, so we need to do that kind of advocacy work at that state government level to help get that fixed.
SG: I think that we have to be very careful in fiscal spending and I think we need to look at the resources we already have, be it land or buildings, and make sure that we’re not overspending or assuming that we’re not going to have money coming from federal or state availability for funds. I think we almost have to assume that could dry up at any time, so just being fiscally responsible and looking at what we already have and how we can utilize both of those things, buildings and land.
JM: The fiscal cliff is ahead of us in about four years. Even with the referendum passing, when it expires in five years, we are anticipating having a negative fund balance, which means that we will not have enough funding to cover that last year of the referendum. Unfortunately, when we put the numbers together for the referendum, it was kind of right before we started getting the high inflation reports–the CPI reports that were starting to come out. And so that was not completely calculated. We were taking financial advice from our financial advisors based on what was known and then things were much higher than anticipated. So yeah, that’s one thing to understand that we will be in the negative. But what we can do is to try to be as resourceful as possible with budgeting, and I know generally we’ve been coming in under budget, so hopefully those surpluses in the first few years of the referendum will help us cover that last year.
SR: I think as board members they’re approving or disapproving of what is spent. I’ve gone through the expenses that come through, and I’ll be honest that I was going to be a CPA and I’m glad that I’m in healthcare, but being fiscally responsible is important…Obviously there are things that a teacher is buying supplies for a class, or maybe it is one of the school secretaries ordering supplies and that sort of thing, but those big ticket items, where is the limit on that and how is that being monitored? Even small things can add up, I get that too…And I just, as a taxpayer, I live in the Town of Lodi and I got hit for 18% equalized value last year. This year I got hit because the Town of Lodi got reassessed and my assessment went up 62%. I was thankful that the referendum didn’t hit me as hard as I thought it was going to, but still, I know other people that it did…I have heard from a couple people in the community–and I’m sure you’ve seen it too on a particular Facebook group–why are we spending so much more than similar districts in the area per student? Why is that?... There’s only so much money I can spend. If I get in such a pinch, what do I need to cut back on in order to pay for something else that is a necessity, versus a want. I think those things are key as well–needs and wants–and I totally get the wants, because I have them in my house.
HAS: We’re not immune to it, but we’re safer — we’re in a better place than other ones — but we still have some of the issues. The best thing that school board members can do is talk to the local reps–Assembly and Senate district people–and inform them: this is what’s going on. Because if you look at Assembly members and Senate members at the state, they have to think about roads, they have to think about taxing everything we purchase, they have to think about so many different things and schools is just one little thing for them. And so you have to get out and inform these people about this stuff. They’re sitting on that $7 billion, and we have to tell them that they have to give some of that to schools. If you look at the funding, it’s just going down, down, down, down. So they’re giving us less, less, less, so even though they give us money, they say, ‘Here’s a whole bunch of money, but you can’t raise the levy limit,’ and so it goes right back to the taxpayers as a refund. And so it’s like, ‘Okay, you gave us money, but we didn’t get a dime of it.’ Anyway, the timing and the power is there for them to change it right now, whatever they decide.