Terry Rothmann Runs For School Board
Terry Rothmann currently works as the Executive Director of the Community Foundation. Rothmann has served past experience serving on the Chamber of Commerce & Economic Development Board, Junior Achievement, and Community Industries Board, the Green Circle Committee, Plover Police & Fire Commission and serves as a citizen member of various school district committees.
Questions by Brandi Makuski
BM: What prompted you to run for school board?
TR: “I’ll give you the light- hearted answer I share with my wife- I don’t have enough stress. (laughs) It’s a long story. I’m a finance guy at heart; that’s how I’m educated and how I make a living. In the last five years at the (Community) foundation, I was educated. I was tutored in a strong community with living wage jobs. Well, we need those. But, from a very fundamental and practical standpoint; our first priority needs to be educating kids. We can have all the jobs in the world, but if we don’t have educated kids, we’re not going to fill them. So the fundamental thing is to educate the kids: that’s the most important thing we do as a community. I want to go to the school board and hopefully help redefine that focus.”
BM: How would you describe the current state of the board?
TR: “It certainly seems to be a divided board. We have too many votes that are 5-4. Beyond that, I’ll be honest, I don’t see direction. When you’re elected to the school board, you’re elected at large. I don’t hear enough about that at the board meeting; we’re talking about $2.25 cups of coffee and we’re talking about who should be the general contractor for the Life Skills Center (LSC) and about how important the LSC is, and what are we doing to educate kids? I just don’t see that focus on the board.”
BM: How would you help bring that focus around?
TR: “Hillary Clinton said in the early 90’s it takes a village to raise kids, and it took a while for that to germinate with me, and it’s really true. What we need to do as a community is come together and remind ourselves why educating kids is the most important thing we do. And that means not only the school board, but the administration, the staff, teachers, that includes the general public, parents, grandparents and the elderly- those people have already been through school and they’re gone. It’s vital we do a good job educating these kids; they’re going to be our future leaders, they’re going to be our caregivers, and they’re the greatest asset we have in our community. And we need to begin to have that dialogue and understand we are all on the same team, and we may not always agree, and there may be times we have to throw some dollars to make sure we’re doing the right job.”
BM: How important is transparency to you?
TR: “I think transparency is critical for what we do.”
BM: And I think that’s really good lip service; everyone running (for this position) will say the same thing. Why should I believe you?
TR: “Why believe me? That’s a little tough, a tough one to answer. We don’t know each other very well. I judge what I do by whether or not I can be comfortable with the image in the mirror when I get up in the morning. But I think as a school district by and large, I think we do a pretty good job. All our agendas and committee meetings, all the documentation for our meetings at the board are available online on the district website, generally five days in advance. So the public has plenty of opportunity to review and look at the issues the school board is dealing with and to get involved. I was involved in the hiring of Dr. Weninger, when he went from interim to Superintendent, the community was involved, the board was involved, teachers and students were involved. We have district policies that we actually have students involved. So I think there’s a very good effort at promoting transparency.”
BM: How much input do you think is necessary from the public?
TR: “As a school board, we spend, we allocate tax dollars, so obviously hte public deserves input, and there should be decorum. I think our committee does welcome public comment, but with that right of free speech comes some responsibilities. And it’s unfortunate there are a number of individuals, who tend to take advantage of that, but I welcome the public input and I believe the board does too.”
BM: There have been a lot of comments made about this two- dollar cup of coffee. How appropriate is it that the board be pouring over the superintendent’s minor expenses like this?
TR: “Frankly, it’s inappropriate for the full board to do it, and I’m part of the history of this. I can go back to a finance committee meeting I was a part of in March of 2012, and the issue was raised. We did need to make a change in our procedures, which we did, and it was determined from that point forward the board president would review those expenses.”
BM: So you feel that’s a good check and balance?
TR: “Absolutely. It’s my understanding the current contract requires the superintendent be out in the community, be active, be visible. That’s what was agreed to and approved by the board. Why do we keep bringing the issue up over and over unless someone has an agenda that they really want to embarrass the superintendent and or the board president?”
BM: So, let’s be clear: You say part of the superintendent’s job is to be out in the community, to be visible, be active. Is it fair to say part of that role is to be in the community rubbing elbows, chatting, etc. over a two- dollar cup of coffee?
TR: “Like we’re doing today? Absolutely. I came from the private (sector) and I’ve had an expense account, and you did sit down and have a conversation with a client over a cup of tea or a cup of coffee. It’s a routine business practice.”
BM: What is one topic you’d like to tackle if you were elected?
TR: “There are so many. I really would like to see a community forum of all the players: retirees, parents, grandparents, teachers, administrators, the board, etc., to start to refocus on why we have public education in this state and why it’s so vitally important to this community. I’m a finance guy by trade, and one of the things I was taught as a kid is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When you start to look at linkages between dropout rates, recidivism, drugs, alcohol, physical abuse, there’s a very strong argument that says, ‘You know what? With a world-class education system we’re not eliminating all those problems but we’re eliminating a lot of them’. The Life Report that came out last fall said we have a 93% graduation rate in our county, but when you do the math, that’s something like 752 kids that likely might not graduate, many of whom will have a difficult time finding a living wage job. It’s critical to get kids through school. It’s a sad commentary that we’re spending now as a state on the prison system than on education. It seems to me the priorities are backwards.”
BM: How important is it for our district to seriously start addressing the skills gap? Should we still encourage college, or maybe also start pushing some skilled- trade apprenticeships?
TR: “Well, student achievement is one factor you use to measure teachers. You also have to understand that one size does not fit all. You can have a goal of 100% matriculation from high school to college, but it’s unrealistic. there are kids with the skills that will go on to Harvard, others on to Point or Platteville, some will go to a tech school, and others right to a work environment. We need to work with kids individually to understand what their goals and aptitudes are and we need to help them get there.”
BM: You said earlier you were working on a grant for a charter school.
TR: “Yes, I’m working on a committee that’s working on a grant. We actually present next week to the board.”
BM: With that being said, how important is it to start having that charter school discussion locally?
TR: “I’m on the front end of this. I’ve done a lot of learning in the past few weeks. It has a lot of potential. You remember what it was like in public school, and my experience goes back further. It becomes another way to address achievement gaps.”
BM: How successful do you think the charter programs we currently have in place are?
TR: “I know we have the CARE program at Ben (Franklin) and I believe there may be one at Roosevelt, but I’m not familiar with it.”
BM: There seems to be no satisfaction for some people who have a beef with the school board or the superintendent. What would you suggest as recourse?
TR: “I’d certainly listen to their concerns, and I’d sit down with Dr. Weninger privately and talk it out. I think there’s a distinction between whether those concerns are coming from a private citizen or a teacher’s union member, however. Act 10 forced a significant cultural change on school districts and a lot of public entities. We’re moving from a labor relations environment to an employee relations environment. So what’s happening from a staff and teacher’s perspective is, they no longer have a collective bargaining agreement, their safety net has been taken away and they’re afraid. And that cultural change, we’re only two years into probably a 5 to 7 year process. What I believe needs to happen next is, there is a district goal of forming a leadership council, which will include members of the board, the administration, the union, and each other buildings and sit down and have regular meetings. Issues bubble up, and you deal with issues when they’re small before they become big, and to start creating a dialogue. We have to start building trust, and that’s between those three entities; the union, the administration and the board.”
BM: If you could change something about the way schools are funded, what would you do?
TR: “Wow. Well, with the sequester that took effect today, we just lost 150 grand.”
BM: I was going to bring this up later, but since you did, with your financial background, what is the sequester in your mind going to do for us?
TR: “I don’t know which programs currently funded will be unfunded.”
BM: Is it fair to say the sequester is not a “cut”, it is simply a reduction in increases?
TR: “That’s what I’ve heard, but if we receive $150,000 less money, well, that’s a cut. It’s the same as the governor saying we’re going to cut revenue limits because we don’t want to increase property taxes, but yet if for the district to fund the things they need to, they need to go back to the community and pass a referendum. You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a tax increase. So I’d be careful about the terms we use.”
BM: How much longer should Jackson be sitting empty?
TR: “I think we can use it. I think you’ll hear a lot more about the Technology and Professional Development Center (the charter school program Rothmann is working to write a grant for). That might be a great place to put it. We do also have pressure in the elementary schools. The problem is, Jackson is located in the wrong side of town from where that pressure is.”
BM: Do you agree with where the LSC is being built, and was it presented properly?
TR: “Yes and yes. As a committee member, I read the same packets and material that the board did. I was shocked at one of the meeting to hear a board member say, “We were misled, we didn’t know they were going to be the general contractor.” I read the packet, it was right there in on the page. So, as a board, we need to take the time to do our homework on the front end. Moving to the LSC is a great opportunity, and it’s being placed on land already owned by the district that isn’t being used.”