Two incumbent Marshall School Board members are being challenged for their positions on the board by Paul W. Liddicoat of County Highway TT, Cottage Grove.
Terms are expiring next month for board President Jon Bunch and member Debra Frigo, who was appointed to the board six months ago.
Liddicoat was defeated in his bid for a position on the board two years ago. He did not respond to questions from The Courier.
Bunch is completing his first term on the board, having been elected in 2013. He has been serving as president since 2015.
Bunch received a bachelor of science degree in pre-law from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1997. He received a Master of Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2013. He was a U.S. Army Officer from 1997-2005 and distribution operations manager at Target from 2003-2014. He is currently a customer service manager at Amazon.com.
Bunch is the youth tackle football director, youth coach and board member for the Marshall Youth Club. He is a member of the Marshall Lions Club, the American Legion and Marshall Community for Kids.
He and his wife, Mary who is a Marshall Elementary School teacher, have been married for 15 years. They have a son, Tommy in sixth grade and a daughter, Betty in the second grade.
Bunch has resided in the school district since 2007.
Frigo, the former Debra Pache, is a lifelong resident of Marshall. She is a 1986 graduate of the medical assistant program of Madison Area Technical College.
She was employed for 23 years at Turville Bay MRI & Radiation Oncology Center where she held various positions including clinic coordinator, financial services manager, health information manager, and HIPAA Privacy Officer. She is currently at home filling her time with various volunteer activities and assisting in the care of her elderly grandmother.
She has been a religious education teacher at Holy Family Parish in Marshall for 14 years; member of the Medina Cemetery Board for six years; president and secretary of the Marshall Music Boosters for two years; and was the post prom coordinator for the class of 2016.
She and her husband have two children, Sydney and Bennett Thering. They will be the third generation graduates of Marshall High School.
Following are the candidates responses to questions asked of The Courier.
Why are you seeking a position the Marshall School Board?
Bunch: The reasons I am running are three-fold: Our kids, our community and our future.
Our Kids: I have come to know and care about many kids in our community through my volunteer involvement in the schools and youth sports. I want us to do our best to give all our kids a terrific experience and provide them with the opportunities and resources to more fully realize their potential. In my development as a board member, I have learned to always put the best interest of our Kids First when making decisions.
Our Community: My experience at West Point and the Army instilled in me a desire to serve. I feel a responsibility to give back. I believe that strong schools make our community strong. I want to ensure that Marshall Public Schools stay strong and that we maintain our focus on continuous improvement so that our community can grow. I have a goal to re-invigorate greater partnership between the district and local municipal leaders to build a plan for future growth of our communities.
Our Future: Our nation has led the world in the belief that every child deserves an education. Our country’s investment in an educated populace has grown our nation into the world’s most powerful and influential country. The more we invest in public education to educate all our children and close achievement gaps, the greater the benefits are for our society and the economy. I have advocated for public education to try and influence legislators. Legislative advocacy will be one of my primary goals in my second term. I was fortunate enough to serve in the military because I felt compelled to fight for our country. I view my service on the school board as an extension of that fight for preserving a strong community and country.
Frigo: Having been on the board for six months, I am aware of the impact decrease in state aid and increase in state education mandates have had on our district. Ongoing issues that are current topics with the board are being addressed that I am committed to working on. First and foremost is the topic of student performance. We need to improve our student test scores. Secondly, we need to address declining student enrollment. We can do this by growing our community and bringing kids into our great schools. Finally, we need to retain our staff. Untimely midyear resignations have an impact on our students. We need to keep our teachers in the district. I truly have a vested interest in the community and want to see our students succeed.
How do you plan to address budget cuts?
Bunch: The district is making decisions to minimize the impact of budget cuts. We were very transparent that the district would still be short $2.6 million over three years, even with the referendum funds. The board has decided to front-load our budget cuts in year one, minimizing cuts over three years. The district will make approximately $900,000 in budget cuts in year one in order to save the district $1.7 million in cuts over the full three years. Doing so, minimizes disruption to our kids and it gives our staff greater peace of mind. Instead of worrying about the next round of cuts, our staff can rest easier. We’re ripping the Band Aid off in essence but we believe that to be in the best interest of our kids, staff and schools.
To improve funding for our schools, I will drive more aggressive legislative advocacy with state lawmakers. Our state’s funding system for public education is broken. The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that “students have a fundamental right to an equal opportunity to a sound basic education.” The fact of the matter is where you live determines the educational opportunities that are available. Per pupil funding varies greatly across our state based on property values, the percent of high needs students and the revenue cap. The funding formula places greater burden on local taxpayers, resulting in larger opportunity gaps for students and communities. Wisconsin has cut state funding by 12.7 percent per student between 2008 and 2016, the fourth deepest cut to education of any state in the country. Independent studies have concluded that our state’s funding system is no longer constitutional. I will do what I can to realize that promise of “an equal opportunity to a sound basic education” for all children in the Marshall school district.
Frigo: Thankfully, the Marshall community supported the operating referendum in February. Even so, the board is challenged with cutting the budget by approximately $2 million over the next three years. In order to minimize the impact of these cuts, I fully support frontloading as many of the cuts as possible. This will effectively reduce the total amount that needs to be cut over three years. The specific cuts will be identified after a thorough evaluation of the budget based on enrollment and the needs of the district.
How do you plan to improve staff retention?
Bunch: I am as disappointed as anyone with teachers leaving our district. At West Point, it was ingrained in me that as a leader that I am responsible for everything my unit does or fails to do. The profession of teaching is important to me. I’ve been married to a teacher for 15 years and have seen the countless hours and dedication it takes to be a quality teacher. I poured my heart and soul into getting this last referendum passed for many reasons, primarily for our kids, but also for our teachers and their jobs. When Act 10 was introduced and teachers were unfairly made the political scapegoat, I spent four days at the Capitol protesting that legislation on behalf of teachers. I ran for school board because I was initially approached by a teacher to do so, one of the very same teachers who’s recently left our district. I will continue to advocate for the profession of teaching at both the state and local levels. As a district, we will focus on creating the best climate we can. We will support our teachers through professional development and valued recognition. We will conduct regular employee engagement surveys to monitor our progress with climate and implement action plans to continuously improve. We will routinely reassess our compensation and evaluation models to ensure they best fit the vision for our district.
I also respect and appreciate our administrators. They are good and talented people who, like our teachers, have dedicated their careers to the care and education of children. Being a school administrator is a noble and worthy profession.They have to lead in a challenging environment and make tough decisions. I want to ensure that all our staff - teachers, administrators and support staff - feels valued and supported.
Frigo: Employees stay put when they feel valued and appreciated. It is important that the board and administration know the employees and what they consider important. Open, effective communication between staff and administration is necessary to make this happen. Recognizing and rewarding our top performers will ensure employees feel their contributions are worth the effort. We need to provide effective supervision and leadership as well as offer opportunities for staff growth and development.
What will be your main goal if elected to the board?
Bunch: Student achievement will always be my top priority. I understand that test scores are the “scoreboard” that the public sees. In terms of the latest ACT and Badger test results, I assure you that the district is not satisfied with these scores and has a sense of urgency to improve them. I also believe, however, that this one time snapshot does not come close to capturing all of the great things that are happening in our schools and the transformative work that is being done by our staff. The district has already taken many steps to help all of our students succeed. We continue to invest in training and materials for our K-5 teachers in the area of literacy. We’ve invested in new assessment systems in order to better monitor student progress in shorter term intervals (weekly, monthly, quarterly) that help us take action more quickly than the mandated annual standardized tests. Our middle and high school teachers have adjusted their assessment practices and are providing students with more ongoing feedback about their learning. There are some positive trends from our recent test results. A higher percentage of our students reach proficiency as students move through our system, opposite of the trend we see in most other area schools where students regress over time. We are closing some gaps, particularly with our English Language Learners (ELL). Our ELL students performed better on the assessment than did their counterparts across the state. Our achievement gaps for disaggregated groups (low socio-economic status, ELL, special education) are not as wide in some areas as the statewide gaps. There is progress happening and we are adapting to the changing learning needs of all the students in our community. I believe we are the precipice of strong performance in terms of our state achievement scores.
Frigo: A goal of our district is to put kids first. In doing so, we make it a priority to give them a quality, well-rounded education that is filled with a variety of academic, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. To show we are successful in achieving this objective, we need show an increase in student test scores. Ensuring a strong academic program that produces results is my main goal if elected to the board.