Spring election 2022: Wilmot Union High School board candidates Q&A

Voters in the Wilmot Union High School District will be able to vote in a contested election for school board on April 5.

Appearing on the ballot will be: Joy Corona, Laurie DeMoon and Kim Swanson.

There are two seats open.

The same questionnaire was submitted by westofthei.com to each candidate by email. Here are the candidates’ biographical information followed by their question responses, presented in alphabetical order:

Joy Corona — Age: 47. Village, town, city where you reside: Salem Lakes. Education: B.S. Civil and Environmental Engineering, Marquette. Occupation:  Civil Engineer. Previous elected or appointed public office: No answer given.

Laurie DeMoon — Age: 52. Village, town, city where you reside: Town of Randall. Education: Bachelor of Science, Northwestern University; Master’s of Fine Arts, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Occupation: School Board Member, small-scale farmer, wife and mother. Previous elected or appointed public office: Current President Wilmot Union High School Board of Education.

Kim Swanson — Age: 52. Village, town, city where you reside: Wilmot, WI. Education: Assoc Degree Quality Management, Waukesha County Technical College (ongoing). Occupation:  Senior Mortgage Underwriter. Previous elected or appointed public office: Randall Grade School Board of Education, 2004 – 2010.

1.) Why are you the best candidate for Wilmot Union High School board?

Corona — I have been in the community for over 19 years, have a daughter who graduated from Wilmot, a son who is currently a Junior and a 7th grade daughter.  I am an active community member, volunteering hundreds of hours to support athletic and academic clubs and activities.  I am a practicing Professional Engineer, working within the region for more than 2 decades.  I sit on several technical advisory committees and have a lengthy resume which includes teaching and presenting to colleagues, the general public and junior high school age students encouraging STEM careers.  Running for the school board is the most effective way for me to continue to advocate for the staff and students. My career experiences have allowed me to gain an in-depth knowledge on Open Meetings Law, proper board procedures including proper conduct and etiquette when dealing with alternative views.  The Board is elected to represent various different viewpoints and interests; these vary even within the different member groups (students, staff and the community).  It’s essential to have diverse input and move forward with policies which provide the greatest benefit.  My extensive experience working with other professionals and public officials has taught me how to excel in these situations.  A common theme from the recent Stakeholder Group feedback is that there is a lot of good at Wilmot and in our community but board relationships need to be repaired.  I am confident my unique skill set makes me the ideal candidate to help restore trust in the board and that my voice can help bring back stability to the school by allowing administrators and teachers to focus on the students and the Board to focus on their essential policy making role. 

DeMoon — Because I am the candidate to continue the change needed.  In the past three years, I have led our board in the hard work of strategic planning and oversight that was neglected for over a decade. I am dedicated to the process of setting up systems in our school that will support success for all.  We are in the midst of reviewing our compensation benefits for staff.  I have dedicated the last three years to getting things done in our school.  We have opened up lines of communication and are holding administrators accountable.  I can get this work done, if you allow us to bring the changes needed to improve our school. A constituent spoke during public comments at a recent board meeting and derided the board for wanting to change the school.  She wants it kept as is.  This is not possible, nor should we want the school to stay the same.  Technology is changing all the time.  The global marketplace and potential workforce is evolving at a breakneck pace.  If we, as a school, do not keep up with this change, we will not afford our kids the skills they need for future success. During COVID our parents got to see their children learn at home.  They gained valuable insights into our education system.  Should we go back to keeping parent voices out of the school?  Our children are learning to be self advocates.  Should we not encourage this change?  Should we keep their voice stifled and not encourage them to weigh in on what is important to them?  Change can be hard, but it will happen.  It is up to us to choose to embrace the opportunity or fight it.  I hope this community embraces the opportunity to make Wilmot a true destination district.   I am the candidate advocating for the students.  My opponents are advocating to unseat me.  What is more important?

Swanson — I am the best candidate for Wilmot Union High School because I have 6 years school board experience along with 2+ years of being Board President of the Sharing Center. I was lucky to have great mentors on both boards while we faced challenging issues. Serving on the school board was instrumental in showing me the importance of understanding my role as a board member, how intricate school finance is and the value of being a collaborative listener – all of which are critical for a district’s success.  My career in the finance industry spans 25 years including managing a team of 20 and being a member of the Executive Advisory team, specializing in team collaboration and conflict resolution. I grew up here and went to Wilmot as did my 3 children and I will use my leadership and experience to build on the successes at Wilmot while helping the administration navigate areas of improvement.

2.)   What do you see as the chief issues faced by the school board and how would you address them if elected?

Corona — I, along with many others as documented by the Stakeholder Group feedback, have a lack of trust in the Board.  Trust must be restored with the community; some of the Board’s recent decisions haven’t been decided in the public eye or following established policies and laws.  Trust must also be restored with the Staff; it is essential to allow the administration the ability to implement policies adopted by the board using their education background and professional expertise. There are several immediate changes that can occur such as: ensuring the administration is given the breathing room necessary to fulfil their duties; engaging in discussion during public meetings; executing true transparency by posting committee meeting minutes, providing supporting documentation on all agendas items and sharing these documents visually at meetings; limiting board discussions outside of meetings and reducing the amount of closed sessions.  I would also change the way that the board interacts with community by eliminating the appointed “official spokesperson for the board.” There are 7 elected Board members. Each board member should hold their own opinion.  Effective governance does not require each of the Board members to agree but instead thrives on diversity and discussion.

DeMoon — First, our district needs to raise money to continue operations, and this will require us to bring a referendum to the electorate in the next few years.  I feel strongly about justifying every dollar we spend on behalf of the taxpayers.  As a result, I have helped our current board restructure our administrative team and change their contracts in a way that will result in significant cost savings.  We are also examining our teacher and staff compensation model to stay competitive but fiscally responsible.  When I first joined the board, I observed a lot of wasteful spending.  Under my watch, that is no longer being tolerated.  In addition, our school needs to make more data driven decisions.  We are implementing the Redefining Ready (RR) program to make our data transparent to all stakeholders and hold ourselves accountable.  As president, I created board committees to conduct listening sessions to collect all stakeholders’ voices ahead of decision making, and then to evaluate the success of our actions. Finally, we are facing a lack of civility.  My fellow candidates have participated in and are encouraging bad behavior online.  I am running for re-election to stand up to these bullies.  I am running to show our students that governance can and should be civil and effective.  We need to get our school back on track after more than two years of COVID, and we should do it kindly, together.  With me as you board president, we will.

Swanson — The chief issues the board is facing are: (1) restoring the relationship and trust with teachers, staff, and the community (2) Facing another change and departure of the leaders at the school coupled with the decision that the new Superintendent is expected to perform Business Manager duties and (3) the board not understanding their role, creating conflict and internal tension. The listening session with the teachers last fall was a missed opportunity by the board to repair relationships. The vote of no – confidence was not made by a small group of teachers – I want all parties to discuss the issues and identify solutions. Growing as a district will not happen until the relationship is restored. This will take commitment from all involved, but I believe it will be a giant first step in moving forward. I want to revisit the decision to not hire a business manager – which should be discussed with the new Superintendent. School finance is a complicated topic and Wilmot has been very fortunate to have a business manager whose expertise has resulted in the district having a very high bond rating – with only 8 or 9 other districts in the state having an equal or higher rating. It is important to have the school’s fiscal health handled by an experienced professional, which will allow the new Superintendent to focus on serving the needs of the students. The role and duties of a board member are defined by state law and policies of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB). Most conflicts arise when someone steps out of their intended role. I will seek the assistance of WASB to provide clarification to all board members on how the board and school district roles differ and how each role is designed to provide a fluent, efficient operation of the school. This results in a board that trusts their school leaders and results in positive morale and mutual respect, both of which are needed to provide a positive learning environment for all students. Successful school districts have a harmonious relationship between the board and administration, and I want to see that relationship duplicated here at Wilmot. 

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