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Open forum in Manawa

The candidates for mayor of Manawa, as well as the candidates for Manawa School Board took questions from the public at a candidate forum, Monday, March 4.

Mayoral candidates

Mike Frazier and John Smith were asked questions on a variety of topics. They were asked what the positives and negatives are for Manawa, as well as how they would promote the city to new businesses. Their answers included much of the same information they provided the County Post East in prior interviews. That information can be found in the Feb. 7 and Feb. 14 issues of the County Post East.

One question posed to the mayoral candidates was, “How do you view the positive and negatives of the sand mine coming to our area?”

“For fear of sounding like a Politian, I view two sides of this,” Smith said.

He said he grew up around a mile from the site of the proposed mine and he would hate to see that area ruined.

“As a small business owner, as a mayoral candidate, 35 extra jobs paying a low rate of $17 per hour means a lot to this area,” Smith said. Smith said truck traffic through Manawa may lead to increased business for local businesses. He said it may also convince some to seek a residence in Manawa.

“I have to have faith in our Department of Natural Resources and the State of Wisconsin to make sure that everything will be looked at and everything will be regulated,” Smith said.

Frazier agreed that it was tax revenue and jobs versus the environment.

“I believe that the DNR and the state will protect the environment as well as us,” Frazier said.

He said if the area is developed there will be other opportunities for other revenue producing projects.

Asked if Manawa needs a city administrator, Smith said to move forward the city does need one. He said the city administrator needs to be able to run all aspects of the city, as well as know how to search and apply for grants.

Smith said he wouldn’t cut any positions, but hiring a city administrator would help position the city for possible looming retirements in the next few years.

Frazier disagreed. He said Manawa doesn’t need to hire a city administrator when other cities are eliminating that position. He said La Crosse recently eliminated its city administrator position. He said if the position is added in Manawa, the residents will have to pay for it through taxes.

School board candidates

There were four school board candidates at the forum. Incumbent Paul Sturm and challenger Mitch Patri were present. Also present were Michelle Kaczorowski and Helene Pohl. Kaczorowski is challenging incumbent Carl Artz, who was not present. Artz was scheduled to be at the forum, but was called out of town. Pohl is running as a write-in candidate for the seat previously held by Randy Rosin.

The first question the candidates were asked was, “What will you do as a school board member to hold the administration accountable to ensure students do not fall through the cracks?”

“We have to make sure that kids stay in school,” Kaczorowski said. “If kids leave school what is their hope for the future?”

She said some students have different troubles and have things going on at home, but the district needs to make sure these kids stay in school.

Sturm said the district currently has a program called “Wolves Know How” that addresses this. He also said since he joined the school board he knew the district had to have a curriculum to teach students and test based on what students are being taught.

“We need to try and understand what the results of those tests are and try to gear the education for many of those students based on what we learned about them,” Sturm said.

The STAR testing the district uses is an example of how the district is trying to keep students from falling through the cracks,” Sturm said.

Patri said a top down approach to education is not the answer.

“There has to be community within the school that people can bounce ideas off of each other,” Patri said.

Making sure the administrators are playing a role with the teachers is important, Patri said.

“We are a global village,” Pohl said. “We have a responsibility as a school board member to ensure that kids don’t fall through the cracks.”

She said parents need to become active and communicate with the school board.

When asked how to increase parental involvement with the school district, Sturm said 90-95 percent of parents attend the parent / teacher conferences at the elementary school.

“Certainly education starts at home, so it’s a good sign for us as a community and the school district that we have that number of parents involved,” Sturm said.

Sturm also said because of open enrollment, it is important to the school board what the image of the district is to make the Manawa School District is an attractive place to parents.

Patri brought up security at the school, saying it is “a huge question mark and burden.”

“You can’t really say we have an open door policy, so I guess as a school board member I would encourage teachers to try and come up with some types of activities where they could incorporate parent involvement,” Patri said.

Patri said the STEP program has been a positive for the district.

Pohl said she understands parents have busy lives and sometimes have trouble attending events. She said parents need to take advantage of technology to contact teachers.

“Being a parent, when I walk into the school building I want to feel welcome,” Kaczorowski said.

She agreed that security is a concern.

When asked how to improve the school district, Patri said morale needs to be improved.

“There has been a steady downtrodden feeling especially for the teachers,” Patri said.

He said the district has a good group of teachers, but right now the morale is low.

Pohl said she didn’t know enough about the district specifically, but did say that morale is suffering statewide.

Kaczorowksi agreed that morale is a problem, but added that the district has great teachers.

“To have happy kids, you need happy teachers,” Kaczorowski.

Sturm said the first step to improving the district is for the district to be financially sound. He said that process started three years ago.

Sturm said the district must support all programs for students. He cited examples of the drama club starting again, the district adding cross country, harder classes for students, and money spent for new welding equipment.

When asked what could have been done differently over the last three years, Pohl said she couldn’t honestly answer that question because she hasn’t observed the district during that time.

Kaczorowski said board members need to be active members of the school. They need to talk to people and be open. She said she will be in the schools observing if she is elected to the school board.

Sturm said there have been a lot of difficult votes over the past three years and it hasn’t been easy. He said understanding the issues is key.

“I can’t think of one [vote] I would have voted differently,” Sturm said.

Patri said he has attended board meetings on a regular basis, and based on his experience, communication needs to be improved. He said teachers are not included in decisions.

When asked if low teacher morale is specific to Manawa, Kaczorowski said because of Act 10, morale is low across the state.

Sturm agreed that Act 10 had a big impact on education. He cited the formation of a transition committee that included teachers and support staff as an example of how the district and staff is working together.

“We do care about our employees,” he said.

Sturm also cited that teachers received wage increases of 3.8 percent in 2009, 3.75 percent in 2010, a 1.64 percent stipend in 2011, and a 3.16 percent increase in 2012.

Patri said he traveled to many schools last winter when he was the wrestling coach at Little Wolf High School and spoke with many from other schools. He said not all schools treated teachers like they were treated in Manawa.

The elections will take place, Tuesday, April 2.

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