Jeff Ebel Runs for School Board
*Editor’s Note: Mr. Ebel is one of several candidates running for the Stevens Point Public School Board. Interviews are published in the order they were conducted and in no way reflect endorsement of any candidate.
Questions by Brandi Makuski
Jeff Ebel, age “over 21”. Graduated from Pacelli, manufacturing/business owner of Ebel Woodworking. Serves on Big Brothers/Big Sisters board, JusticeWorks board. In past volunteered for Junior Achievement, Portage Co. Business Council board, Wisconsin Leadership Program, Toastmasters, SCORE Business Counselor, instructor at Fox Valley Tech. College, “2617 Program” board (a program that hosts 12- step meetings). Married.
BM: Why are you running?
JE: “Well, I am a life long member of this community, my family goes back to 1869 in Portage County, we’ve been here for many, many generations. I was a business owner; I’ve seen first hand the issues of poor education, having to deal with people who couldn’t read a tape measure, can’t add two numbers. If we expect a vibrant community with growing businesses, jobs for our kids, then we have to address education.
BM: What specifically do you want to address?
JE: “The standings internationally, we’ve been dropping steadily for years and year. Not just Stevens Point, I’m talking the whole nation in general. We can’t afford to do that anymore. It’s about the kids.
BM: Saying it’s all for the kids is a nice cliche, a nice ‘go to’ statement. What makes your job on the board so vital to those kids? You have, say, 18 steps between the school board and the kids.
JE: “Well, I don’t actually because I’ve been involved in the schools for quite a few years. I go in and I give presentations, I talk to the kids, I’ve been participating in the reality workshop for years. I’m on the board for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, JusticeWorks, I’m involved with the community. I have presented for Junior Achievement.”
BM: How important is the transparency of the board?
JE: Extremely important.
BM: Would you say, right now, the board is transparent?
JE: No because I don’t really know what’s going on. There’s a lot of undercurrents. I have a sense of what’s happening, but I don’t know. And you if don’t know, then that would indicate…unless you know. Do you know what’s going on? There’s a lot of tension at the board meetings.
BM: Do you notice a difference between a city meeting or county meeting and the school board meetings?
JE: I’ve heard there’s quite a bit of difference, and that’s not unusual. School boards are the toughest elected positions you’re ever going to run for. People are passionate about their kids and their tax money. You can’t blame them. I have no problems with people being passionate- that’s good. I wish more people in our community were as passionate as some of few that show up at the board meetings.
BM: Do you think police presence was necessary to eject one outspoken individual from the meeting?
JE: “Well, someone determined that it was, because they couldn’t handle that individual.
BM: Leadership of the district has been called into question, and not just by the union, but also by parents who allege instances of bullying.
JE: “Here’s my approach; I’ve got an entrepreneurial/ business background and all of my business experience, when you hire someone and give them responsibility, you give them goals and objectives and reviews. If they are not meeting the expectations, you have a decision to make.
BM: Do you think Dr. Weninger is meeting expectations right now?
JE: “I really don’t know.”
BM: As an outsider- because you’re not on the board- and as a parent and taxpayer, do you feel like you have the right to know that?
JE: “Oh, absolutely. As far as I’m concerned his goals and objectives should be public. And I think that would probably resolve a lot of the difficulty that we’re having.”
BM: There’s a huge divide between staff, administration and school board. What would you do to close that gap?
JE: “Well, I’ve been trying to communicate with teachers right now. But I’m having a hard time getting people to call me back. I don’t know if it’s because I’m running for the board, but if you can’t talk to people, how can you possibly understand what’s going on? There has to be a channel of communication, and I don’t know what the board is doing to communicate with the staff and the teachers. They visit schools and have reports, but I don’t know what that means. I’m having better luck with retired teachers, people who have agreed to talk with me.”
BM: What options do you think are option to board members- current and future- to move the district forward in such a divisive community?
JE: “I don’t even know why we’re divisive. I don’t even know what the issues are. How can we move forward if you don’t know what the issues are? I just know that since our Governor was elected there’s been a lot of tension between teachers and administration and districts. And rightly so; I understand.”
BM: Let’s talk about the Life Skills Center.
JE: “I don’t know much about it, other than it sounds like they’re moving ahead with some plans to design it. From what I’ve heard, and at the board meetings, it sounds like they want to slow down to get the school more involved. I think it’s great to get the school more involved. I have done a lot of project where we’ve had kids I’ve mentored come in and I’d teach them woodworking skills, but to do that actually takes more labor than just to have professionals do it.”
BM: But isn’t that our job, to recognize the skills gap in this country and help fill it?
JE: “But is that how you fill it? Is that the best way? And again, I think it’s really important the board look at the cost benefit of everything they’re doing. You have a finite amount of money and yet we’re expecting to provide a world class education. How are you going to do it with the constraints you have financially? And a lot of that was handed to the school districts by the state, you know they had to balance their budget, and a lot of it was taken out of education. It took a lot of money out of it- how are you going to make that up?”
BM: How do you make that up? Can you look at some of the costs within the district to cut? Almost half of the money spent on staff is spent on paying teachers ‘for the kids’. We’re looking at something like $13k per pupil expenditure in this district alone, and we barely beat Rhinelander on test scores.
JE: “I read that New York had like a $16k per pupil expenditure, so if you go by that you’d think New York kids are three times smarter than everybody else. But there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between spending and education. And I don’t know why, but it’s definitely something as a board member I would need to find out. I was reading about Finland, they’re whipping everybody’s butts. And they have a completely different model than we do, and whatever they’re doing it works, but it’s a slow process.”
BM: How important would it be, not only for students, but also financial matters, to start looking at the possibility of charter school implementation in this district?
JE: “My take on it is everything has to be on the table for discussion. We haven’t even started to stem the tide of the direction we’re going, it’s a downward spiral. Administratively, I know that there are a lot of state and national requirements on schools, and they don’t have the choice whether to implement them or not. Is there unnecessary positions? Possibly. And what I might think it unnecessary you might think it critical.”
BM: As a board member, how would you work with some of the very angry and animated union members who come to board meetings?
JE: “I’ve worked with angry union people before. I’ve worked at Lullaby, I’ve worked at Sunrise Medical where I was involved with contract negotiations. I understand unions have done a lot, and I think the union and business is supposed to balance each other out. I remember 20, 30 years ago there was a big cry about teachers being underpaid, and they were.”
BM: Now there’s a big cry that teachers are being overpaid. How do you reach a happy medium between the taxpayers and the public unions they are funding?
JE: “Well, what are they being paid for? Are they babysitters? Are they educators? Are they meeting and reaching specified goals set out? Because if people are looking for glorified babysitters for six hours a day, then we’re hiring the wrong people.”