CITY OF OCONOMOWOC — Broadening educational experiences, correct use of referendum money and district growth are issues mentioned by the four challengers and two incumbents facing off in a Feb. 21 primary for two seats on the Oconomowoc Area School District board. The primary will bring down the number of candidates to four — two for each seat.
Incumbents Mike Bickler and Sandy Schick are being challenged by Glenn Cochran, Samuel Levin, Dan Raasch and James Wood.
We asked each candidate to answer questions about themselves and how they would serve on the school board if elected. Here are their responses:
What is the most important issue facing the Oconomowoc Area School District?
Bickler: We have more than one issue that is important in the district. Continuing work on curriculum to offer more options to broaden the educational experience. In addition, what we need to continue, as well as expand, are our partnerships with businesses in the community to offer students more “hands-on” learning. These partnerships afford students real-world experiences so they can be better prepared for their future.
Curriculum alignment has also been ongoing for several years resulting in continuity, which is beginning to result in better test scores.
We need to continue to be vigilant in all these areas to ensure we are preparing our students to be career or college ready.
Cochrane: I believe that change, if managed correctly, is good, but in a school system, these changes need to be slow and measured. Sadly, the changes are like a long experiment with a society expecting instant results that take years to see if they work. Every day, I appreciate that I was raised during the 60s and 70s. I was in a budget-restricted school system 4.5 hours per day, so the focus was on the basics with engaging teachers. I find many of my classmates to be very successful in their lives and actually happy because of teachers, not administrators. As a business owner, I find that we are not creating children and in the end adults that are inquisitive but taught to make the system look successful when there is no real measurement to define this. The school system has to 1. enlighten the students as they all have multiple talents that are missed when you focus on testing. 2. engage the students as these talents start to develop. 3. educate them to know how to find and utilize the skills they are taught. This is the challenge before the school system. We have become too specialized too early in the educational process and if they do not fit our system, we label them to give the adults a reason for not being successful when measured by the tests.
Levin: Currently, the correct usage of the referendum money that the community provided for the district in the past election. This money needs to be used correctly to provide for continued growth in education for our children and young adults.
Raasch: Student learning and student achievement must always remain the centerpiece of our district's mission. When all students are empowered to maximize their full potential, the community as a whole prospers. I believe every child should see their school as a safe place to learn, grow and reach their highest potential.
Schick: Having just passed the referendum, we must responsibly build and renovate the schools. Having participated in several previous construction projects, I will ask the necessary questions to keep the projects on or under budget and on time.
Wood: The most important issue facing OASD is growing our learners as fast as possible. Students do not enroll in our schools with the same baseline skill sets. We need curriculum and a plan for delivery that can reach all students in a flexible manner. This strategic plan needs to be continually reviewed and adjusted.
What would be your top priority if elected this spring?
Bickler: As a school board, we have many priorities that we have to work on simultaneously. We need to ensure that all tax dollars are used very carefully. When I was first elected, the district was struggling financially. We, as a school board, have worked very hard over the years with administrators as well as staff to turn that financial situation around. Through all these years of working together to better manage our budget, we now have a very positive fund balance resulting in a high bond rating. The considerably better bond rating allows the district to borrow at lower interest rates than would have been possible when I was first elected.
We need to apply that same mindset of fiscal responsibility with new referendum dollars that the School District has been entrusted with.
Cochrane: If I am successful in obtaining a position on the board, I am looking to work with the teachers to develop the educational process to create individuals and forward thinkers, they all will succeed to different levels but need the support of the board, teachers and administration. The board has a responsibility to look ahead and analysis the needs of the school system while having a fiduciary responsibility to utilize the taxes that come from the community. I believe we need to immediately re-visit what is planned. Think of it this way: The school system is one of the largest companies in the area; it determines the rate of growth based on how the customer's rate the return on their investment. We want our families to want to be in our community because of the schools.
Levin: As always, my priority is to bring the voice of the people in the district into the board room. I am not elected to vote my opinions. I am here to represent the views and the feelings of the majority of the community that elected me. This is why we need to have open communication between the board and the community. I want to be your voice on the school board.
Raasch: Promote collaboration between students, parents, teachers, administration and community. Advocate strongly for all children and their individual needs and chosen career path. Our students must develop strong critical thinking and analytical skills. Lead with positive energy and visionary thinking. Making sure all board decisions are based on solid research and data.
Schick: Finance and curriculum are the most important issues. With good curricular programs, we need to educate our children so they become successful members of our community. One measure of academic success is our test scores which must always improve. This must be accomplished by managing the money provided by our taxpayers.
Wood: To review the progress of the district’s 2014-17 Strategic Plan. Where are we at? What metrics have been attained? What has worked well? What needs improvement? I’m a little surprised that in the two years of regular board meeting attendance, I have never seen them review the full progress to date.
What skills or experiences do you have that set you apart from your opponents?
Bickler: I bring many years’ experience in the following areas:
- School board member since 2005.
- Current member of the Staff Bargaining Committee (salary negotiations).
- Current member of the Finance Operations and Advancement Committee.
- Current Member of the Facilities Committee.
- Member of the 2007 School Referendum Construction Building Committee.
- Past Oconomowoc Sports Booster Club president.
- Past Youth Football Coach as well as president.
- Member of the 2007 School Referendum Construction Building Committee.
- My career experience brings to the District insight that will be helpful with the upcoming referendum construction.
Cochrane: Create-A-Pack Foods is as diverse as the Oconomowoc School System, the last 20 years I have watched employees from all walks of life come to work. Some are very successful, some not as much, but not because they are not trying; they just weren’t prepared. During the last 40 years, I have lived in towns of 1,200 people to towns and cities much larger, but the employees that have worked with me and for me have provided me a deeper insight and understanding. I believe the other participants that tossed in their names in the hat have the same overall desires, but I believe that a blended business background with a strong desire to see a better system for my grandchildren, and their fellow students so that they will be better prepared for the next 50 years is what sets me apart from them.
Levin: I have extensive political experience.
- Portage County supervisor for 4 years.
- Member of the Aging and Disability Resource Center Board, the Portage County Health Care Center Board, vice chairman of the Board of Health and Human Services and chairman of the Portage County Housing Authority Board
- Elected Village trustee twice.
- Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, the Public Works and Parks Committee, on the Ordinance Committee, the Personnel Committee, the Building Committee, and the Board of Review.
- Elected to the Stevens Point School Board.
- Member of the Educational Services, the Business Finance, and the Policy and Legislation committees. I was also a member of the Negotiating committee for the school board.
Raasch: My background as a classroom teacher and strong belief in public education as well as all the hours the district has invested in to develop into the best educator I have become. It is now time to bring those attributes to the school board benefiting students, parents, teachers and our community.
Schick: As a 16 year veteran of the Oconomowoc School Board, I have a strong working knowledge of school finance, curriculum and general operations.
Wood: I’m a technology systems designer. I understand the importance of quality security systems for the safety of the occupants. Additionally, I have developed very good listening skills. I believe our board is charged with listening to the community and working to implement that vision. My goal is to get more people engaged in that process.
Note: Answers may have been edited for clarity, style or brevity.
Mike Bickler (inc.)
Years in the community: 51
Political experience: Elected to Oconomowoc Area School District Board in 2005 and involved in my community as a plan commission member, architectural control board Member and elected trustee since 1994.
Career: Self-employed in real estate sales, development, investment and construction.
Family: Wife, Susan, and five children: Michael Jr., Nicholas, Elizabeth, Amanda and Anthony.
Years in the community:26 years in Oconomowoc
Political experience: Minimal to no political experience other than working in corporate America for 15 years.
Career: Owner of Create-A-Pack Foods in Oconomowoc. The company will celebrate 20 years this April. The company produces retail and food service foods, along with special food applications for the health care and endurance sports markets.
Family: Wife, eight children and step-children, and four grand-children.
Samuel L. Levin
Years in the community: 1
Political experience: Elected County Supervisor twice, Village Trustee twice, School Board member.
Career: Retired nurse with a degree in computer programming and Web design
Family: 2 grown children
Years in the community: 59 years in the community, born at Oconomowoc Hospital, raised in Okauchee, graduated class o 1976 and taught at Park Lawn until retiring a year ago.
Political experience: None.
Career: 10 years at Ethan Allen School and 23 years in OASD.
Family: Wife, Beth, of 38 years, two adult children, one very special granddaughter.
Sandy Schick (inc)
Years in the community: 30
Political experience: 16 years on Oconomowoc School Board.
Career: Homemaker and mother of three OHS graduates.
Family: Mike, husband of 32-plus years and three sons: Dan married to Sarah, Davy and Tim.
Years in the community: 15
Political experience: I vote regularly.
Career: Senior technology designer.
Family: Wife, Jackie; daughters, Payton, and Reagan.