WEST ALLIS - If there are major differences among the five candidates for three West Allis-West Milwaukee School Board seats, they weren't very obvious Feb. 15.
The candidates spoke at a forum for West Allis-West Milwaukee Education Association members at Jefferson School, and they said little that teachers wouldn't want to hear, bemoaning faculty turnover in the district, criticizing expansion of vouchers for private schools and praising teachers for their efforts.
Three incumbents and two challengers are vying for three seats in the April 4 election. The terms are three years.
"I don't think you have the voice you need to have," said incumbent Dan Bailey, who said teachers "know how to do their jobs and do them well."
Challenger Brian Keller said teachers "want to feel appreciated for what you do," and said stronger efforts at teacher retention would reduce costs by reducing turnover.
Incumbent Gail Radonski said that "as a board we know very little of what's going on, with what teachers face in their daily careers."
Challenger Noah Leigh agreed, asserting that "knowing what's going on in classrooms, what's happening with teachers is lacking." He promised to "value you like the professionals you are."
Responding to a question about performance pay for teachers, incumbent Diane Narlock said that "we should have more simplified criteria," while Radonski described initial efforts to establish a performance pay system as a "nightmare."
But candidates offered several ideas to improve teacher morale. Narlock and Radonski voiced hope that passage of the operating referendum April 4 might free up more money for performance pay increases.
Radonski also called for a ban on cell phones for pupils.
Bailey complained that "we've lost very, very good teachers. Some tried to voice their concerns to administrators and they were targeted.
Teachers were having to be somewhat of a puppet, (with) someone at the administration building saying 'do it this way.' We've been through so many plans I can't keep track."
Narlock and Keller called for better mentoring of teachers.
"We need to get to the root of why teachers are leaving," Keller said. "Tackle those problems and get rid of them."
Radonski criticized vouchers, declaring "taxpayer money should stay in the public school system." Leigh said vouchers are "siphoning off dollars we could use in our schools."
But candidates also agreed that vouchers are likely to continue growing, and that as a state program were beyond their control. Leigh suggested the district "try to attract more of those (voucher) students" by possibly offering new programs or expanding access to popular programs already available.
"Competition can be a good thing," Keller said. "Look at what (private schools) are doing, and see if we can make our schools better, so (parents) don't feel a need to go somewhere else."