Pat Hetzel Rallies for Special Needs, Communication
Left, School Board Candidate Patricia Hetzel during a recent candidate forum. (City-Times photo)
City-Times Staff sat down with each candidate for Stevens Point School Board for intimate, one-on-one conversation regarding their experiences and thoughts behind their school board campaign. The following is a verbatim transcription of each conversation.
Questions by Brandi Makuski
Give me an idea why you decided to run for the school board.
“I’ve lived in this area my entire life. So, now’s a good time to…when you see a school board (meeting) go so long, I mean, I understand there’s many things on the agenda that need to be looked at, but it’s time for a change. There needs to be new input.”
You currently work for UWSP, right? In what capacity, what’s your title?
“I’m in disability services. I set up exams and work with accommodations for students with disabilities. So to give you an example for last semester, we proctored over 1200 exams and set up 355 exams in five days just before Christmas.”
Do you have any family members who work for the district?
“My husband does custodial maintenance, but that has no bearing on why I’m running.”
As a board member you asked to discuss and vote on things that directly affect employees-
“I can recuse myself from that.”
Would you recuse yourself from the discussions, relating to the employee handbook and things like that, as well?
“No, because you’re talking a specific unit, not everyone. When it comes to a specific unit I can see removing myself from that, but to remove myself from them all, then what is the point of being on the school board? You have to give some input.”
How would you characterize the media coverage of the school board and the superintendent?
“It depends on the day and how the person’s feeling when they’re reporting it.”
Overall, would you say there’s been enough coverage of what’s been going on with the school board, and has it been fair?
“There was a special meeting Thursday that was open to the public. The only public that was there was me. Why? If meetings are open to the public and the public is complaining, then the public should be there, as well as yourself or the Journal or the Gazette or whomever. You want a whole picture and sometimes you’re only getting a partial picture. You have to look at something as a whole. The wind blows north and south and east and west; it’s not all one direction. You have to have a whole.”
In your opinion, what’s causing so much dysfunction the board right now?
“Probably mindset. I’ve been at this so long it’s probably mindset; it’s mindset. Thursday was perfect example; you should have been there. Some people don’t listen. It’s closed- mindedness in some ways.”
If you were elected, what are the top three priorities you’d want the board to focus on?
“First of all, listen to the kids. One of the students at the board meeting, when they were talking about computers and the money given (from the Sentry 1:1 Initiative), and I haven’t seen the grant so I don’t know, but the young man (SPASH Student Senate representative) brought up, ‘couldn’t you use some of that money to help other things?’. It sounded like a plea. Then they brought up 100 laptops for Bannach School, and the question was raised if all the money was for laptops. They said no, and then it was asked, ‘well, how many?’. So you see, you don’t get answers. We need answers; the taxpayers need answers they’re not getting. Everybody is asking for transparency. The room should be full of people hearing the same thing. They printed some of the budget- if it’s on Skyward, I don’t know. Those are the things I want to know. Where is everything? Because isn’t the board supposed to make decisions and people supposed to work with the board, not against the board? Isn’t that true?
“Let’s see, my two other priorities…being in the schools, making our self present in the schools. I have a fulltime job but I think I could work it out to take a couple of hours of personal time or vacation and go see the kids and see the schools and talk to the people. Have open meetings to get public input- what do you want from us? You’re paying for this, what do you want? The third priority is to take the money I’m supposed to get and turn around and give it to students who need it. Do they need a (software) program to use that laptop that the district does not provide? Do they need $100 to make an application to a school? Do they need a tutor? And yes, I’m going to have to say taxes on it but I’m going to turn around and give that money to the students who need it. I’m not in it for $3,000- I’m in it so decisions are made to help those students in school because when they leave school, they come to the university. And I’m there to help them there, too. When my kids were in school I spent six years volunteering while my daughter was in grade school. When they got to junior high, they said, ‘mom, it’s embarrassing for you to help’. And 20 years ago the schools wouldn’t hire me because they said I was too ambitious.”
So you applied for work in the district 20 years ago? For what?
“To work in the office (at Bliss). I don’t think there’s anybody left in the business office; I know payroll is completely gone. There’s nobody left.”
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
“Um…good question. Good question. I know there’s been such turnover there’s hard feelings in the district. Just listen to people. And it’s not all about money. It really, really is not.”
Some of that post Act 10 transition, maybe?
“No, I think it was even before Act 10. Because you had people not willing to work with people back then.”
But isn’t that any job?
“No. In my department where I work, I have a fabulous boss. I have a fabulous director over him; the vice chancellor is amazing, the chancellor is great. We went from having two rooms to work with our students to now we have ten rooms for ourselves plus other rooms that are available. And Nelson Hall is an overflow, but we get to use that for our student testing. We get what we need for those students; we get the space, and it’s not that we have more money, it’s that it’s directly differently. You’re going to find anyplace you work has a complaint about something. Everybody wants more money. Well, I don’t have the secret tree out in the back yard. There’s ways to move things around; the priorities need to be set, and sometimes when you set a priority it might be a priority someone else has set. It takes more than one person to make that decision.”
What’s one mistake the board has made over the past year?
“Not looking more closely at how those computers are being used. Not looking at how that (grant) money was actually distributed. There’s a little boy at Bannach School who needs Dragon Natural Speaking on the computer. He can talk like you and I can, he just has a hard time writing because of his disability. He’s still waiting for that Dragon Natural Speaking to be put on the computer. Is that fair to a child?”
How’s he getting his work done now?
“The teacher’s writing it for him. He’s talking to a teacher. So it’s taking time away- she’s doing that in her time, in her in-between time. Wouldn’t it be easier, better, if that Dragon Naturally Speaking was on a computer, it doesn’t mean that only has one user. It would be available for multiple users; do you know how many children can benefit from that?”
How many children do we have in the district who are unable to write due to a disability?
“At this point I don’t know, but I plan on finding out. That’s my goal; when I can help a student and say, ‘how are you feeling?’ I make notes and ask them to come back and see me again. If they’re not around I call them and follow up. They get to where they’re comfortable coming in to ask for help. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a counselor, but isn’t it better if you can help somebody feel comfortable than to let them just wander?”
Is there a certain standard we should hold students to; if they’re physically able to, shouldn’t we be raising the bar instead of-
“I’m not lowering it. I’m not model-coddling. I’m saying you have to give them confidence in themselves; you have to let them know they’re worth of something. And some people don’t. I’m not saying all; I’m saying some people.”
Is that a big enough problem where the school board should be stepping into this arena?
“Do you want students to just be pushed through school because they’re a student in your school? There are students coming into this university, into our university system, who when they walk through our doors are amazed at what’s available to them. They know it’s out there; they just don’t know how to use it. And while we have the capability, let’s use it. You could use it- instead of sitting there writing, you could have a headset on and you could be talking into your phone and it would be recording it, or you could be talking into your laptop and it would be recording it. And then you could stick it to a printer and it would type it.”
That’s cheating. That takes all the heart and soul out of everything we do. To let a machine do something you yourself should be doing, it’s cheating.
When you take something you can do with your own two hands and you turn that over to a machine, it takes something away from our profession.
“I’m not saying you should do that totally, but you could use it as a helping hand. But how would you classify a young man who has served our country coming back here and doesn’t have the use of his right arm, but he could use Dragon to do that- would you say that’s cheating for him?”
No, because he has a disability. Just using this one example, he’s given so much for his country- he’s sacrificed his time, his family, his well-being, to his country. He’s disabled. That’s completely different. Why use the taxpayer money for certain types of equipment unless you physically need it to succeed?
“What I’m saying is when you make that available to students with disabilities; shouldn’t they be able to use it? Yes or no? I think yes. That’s what we have at the university for our students. I’m not saying all 9,000 students at the university use that, what we’re saying is, when someone qualifies for that, a student with learning disabilities- and a lot of schools do not do a write- up for the students to do a psychological evals. They’re not doing them anymore. So when a student comes to the university and they don’t have that psych-eval, if they plan on going into teaching or to graduate school, they have to go ahead and have that done, because educational testing services require it.”
You’re speaking more from a university standpoint, so-
“No, because you have to start out in kindergarten, first grade to sixth grade, to junior high to high school, to get there. I know little ones that are in first grade who love to read, but you know what they love to read with? A puppet. A puppet is their friend when they read. Were you there when they said they want to get a parent involved in reading? Well, how do you get a parent involved?”
Do you get a parent involved by taking parental responsibility away from the parent and giving it to the school?
Isn’t that what we’re doing?
“No. Teachers should not be babysitters. Teachers should not be raising your children. Teachers are there to teach them responsibility and actions of the classroom. They’re to teach them responsibilities of getting along with other people from the family’s standpoint.”
I’ve seen lots of your signs around the community in yards; why are you running with Terry Fink?
“Because we’re both poor people and we can’t afford to get those great big elaborate signs. So a can of paint is sure cheaper than going to a print shop.”
So you don’t come as a package?
“No. Terry’s Terry and I’m me.”
You don’t think that’ll be confusing to voters?
“Let them ask.”
Who would they ask?
“Ask me. Ask Terry. Ask anybody who knows us. Don’t prejudge if you don’t know.”
Do you think that’s a reasonable expectation?
“Yes. If you don’t know, ask. How are you going to know if you don’t ask?”
Will you continue your day job if you’re elected?
“Absolutely; I can’t afford not to. This isn’t a money- making opportunity for me. Remember what I said- I’m not going to use that money anyway. I’m going to turn around and give it to kids. Is there a family that can’t afford to pay the school for lunch? Okay, we can help out. Is there a project being done they can’t afford or a trip they can’t afford within a school? Is there an application that needs to be paid for? It’s not a lot of money, but it’s enough to help with some of that.”
So you plan on donating that all back to the schools?
“Yes. That’s where it comes from. Isn’t that where it comes from?”
Well, it comes from the district budget.
“Well, people are complaining about the district budget.”
We had a very lengthy discussion over whether to print the district budget on portrait or landscape orientation. Was that really necessary?
“I make all kinds of reports for my job. So what information is most necessary is in the view first. It’s easier to see that information in a landscape view because you get more on a page, column-wise, than you do in a portrait. But it didn’t need to be a topic, you’re right.”
How effective is a 5-4 board?
“It creates hard feelings; it creates a wedge on all decisions.”
Do you feel the board has over-legislated itself? The board has hundreds and hundreds of policies; do we need them all? Shouldn’t common sense prevail at some point?
“Can we use common sense? Shouldn’t common sense override bickering?”
Can we even agree anymore on the definition of common sense?
“Isn’t that why we’re having the election? I’m not going to pull any punches with you. You want to know something, ask me.”
Does Attila Weninger need to stay, or should he go?
“He’s not from our area so I don’t think he truly understands. I’ve lived here all my life and that’s before your newspapers were computer newspapers and people had to talk to each other. That’s when people listened to each other. And I’m not saying, ‘hey, let’s go back to the horse and buggy days’, but what I’m saying is a little more communication, face-to-face. Because right now I can see your eyes, your facial expression. People can’t be afraid of each other.”
Going into a review period with the superintendent’s contract, which is coming up this summer, can you go into a meeting with an open mind and just look at the review and go through each bullet point without prejudgment from past mistakes, perceived or real?
“Are we talking his entire stay here, or just the past year?”
Let’s take the last year. Are you able to go into a room with other board members and discuss and debate only taking what is relevant on the review?
“Yes. Because what you did previously, even though it’s a part of you, if that previous is impacting your decisions here, it will show itself here. That’s not the criteria being brought into review. I’m not reviewing a contract from where, Illinois, but one in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. How are our schools doing? What is the outcome?”
Should the school board have looked at what the city asked for from Carlson Dettmann in relation to the council’s complaints about the study it received before hiring that company?
“What do you think?”
You’re the one being interviewed, you’re the one running for office.
“Research should be done before you hire someone, getting the facts before you hire someone an exorbitant amount of money.”
Do you think it was a good idea to hire Carlson Dettmann?
“Because we could’ve done that type of information. We could’ve called Wisconsin Rapids, we could’ve called Wausau, we could’ve talked to the university people. It doesn’t take days and months, and besides, our information would be open record. Carlson Dettmann will not give you that open information. They will not tell you, and they stated so in a board meeting. They said that’s privileged. So start calling around for yourself, and find out for yourself.”
Should the superintendent be given leeway regarding which expenses he can approve without prior board approval?
“Are those certain amounts going to all of a sudden be separate contracts like Carlson Dettmann? Shouldn’t it be $5,000 instead of $20,000? $5,000 is quiet enough money to make a decision on. I understand this is a big school district, and I’m not talking about micromanaging, but I understand accounting. I started accrual accounting when I was 12. I know the value of things. I know the value of an education. I know that when you have problems you solve them. You feel like a whole better person than on a day when you’re depressed. Wouldn’t it be better to have people happy then wondering what shoe’s going to fall next? I work in a happy place; I really, really do. And school used to be happy. It really, really did. I used to be able to go into schools and feel secure, feel it was almost like a second home. And now all I feel is like people want out, including the kids.”
Is there anything you want to cover that I didn’t ask?
“I just think that people prejudge. Get the truth. Just get the truth.