The Monona Rag

Dealing the Dish on Monona, Wisconsin

Tag: Jill List

School Board Race

Board members Jill List and Susan Fox are up for re-election this spring. Fox, who is the board president, has already announced that she will run again. List, on the other hand, is reportedly not going to run.

With List out (or even if she is in), who else may be on board to run this year?

The first person to toss their hat into the ring is Monona resident Dean Bowles. Jessica Ace has posted on her blog that Bowles has filed his papers to run. Bowles brings a truckload of experience to the table. He has been a mayor of Monona, a Deputy State Superintendent of Schools, and a professor at the UW School of Education. He’s been active in Monona Grove school issues for decades.

Sharon Henes, who unsuccessfully ran in 2008 and 2009, is said to be considering a run again this year. Henes, from Cottage Grove, has been heavily involved with the school district for years. She’s a regular at school board meetings, and active on committees and task forces.

What is interesting about these three candidates is none are virulent pro-Monona or pro-Cottage Grove types. Fox and Bowles are from Monona. But Fox has voted to close Maywood (albeit a year later than many wanted) and sent 6th graders to GD, so it will be hard to cast her as a strict ‘Monona’ only candidate. Bowles has usually been a voice of compromise – check out this guest column at the HI for some more info on his views. He does – to his credit – say the district needs a referendum to keep operating. Bowles’ long history in the district means he may have annoyed some people here and there (some cite him as a key person in fashioning the last referendum to get GD built). But you can argue that history has brought him name recognition and support for his decisions.

While Sharon Henes may be from Cottage Grove, she has never been seen as ‘anti-Monona’ – a card that has worked well in CG over the past couple of elections. Her background may not be in education, like Fox (who was a teacher) or Bowles, but her involvement in the district is noteworthy.

I don’t see any of these three as ‘controversial’ or ‘adversarial’. I think the reason this type of person is going to run and win is that, for the most part, the big ‘local’ issues of the district are decided. The middle school has been built in Cottage Grove, the Monona 6th graders have been moved to GD, and Maywood has been closed. Monona can’t experience another school closing or shifting of kids to CG. The main issues that will arise that affect Monona directly will be what to do with Nichols and Maywood. But this issue isn’t an educational one – so no matter what happens – it won’t be a huge item on anyone’s agenda.

For Cottage Grove, the main issues will be overcrowding. Estimates put the schools in CG near or at capacity. Future estimates show the schools remaining at this level – and maybe even rising above capacity – but not by a lot. The district has said that the numbers in CG appear to be manageable – and thus, this will probably not be a large issue in the near future.

So what will be the issues and factors in this upcoming elections? The answers are Money and Mayor’s race.

The Monona Mayoral race figures to be hotly contested. That means you’ll see a lot of Monona voters hit the polls. This could be a boon to Fox and Bowles, as Monona voters know both contestants.

The next issue – and the most important – is money.

The district needs money. That means cuts and a referendum. The board will need to approve a budget for 2011-12, and that budget will feature upwards of $1 million in cuts. That will mean teachers and programming will be out. We will have to keep up these cuts in the future, unless a referendum is approved by the district. These two interrelated items will determine the futures of any candidates. Each person running for board will have to determine if they are for a referendum or not (and how much of one). And each candidate will have to say how they will cut costs in the future. Susan Fox has the handicap of having to actually vote on cuts this upcoming year. This will give her the chance to piss off someone.

I don’t know if teacher negotiations will be an issue – but please note that after this contract gets settled we immediately have to start negotiating a contract for the 2011-2013 school years!

In your comments, please post names of people you think would make good school board members, or people you think may run this year.

Also, note the major issues that the district is facing – issues that will be significant points of debate in the election.

Please keep comments about individuals polite and respectable. Thanks.

The Great Maywood Debate

The Maywood debate is going to be a difficult one. I have a feeling we are going to hate this subject as it dominates headlines over the next few months.

Closing Maywood will reportedly save the district about $250,000 a year. Superintendent Gerlach says that he wants a decision on Maywood by December.

Based upon the most recent MG board meeting, board members Susan Manning and Jessica Ace appear to want to delay any such decision on Maywood as long as possible.

Jessica really looks like she’ll fight hard to keep the school open. She brought up the idea of putting administration at Winnequah instead of Nichols. But that brings up the question of where to put the alternative high school. Board President Susan Fox seems to be leaning toward closing Maywood.

Lionel Norton and Jill List made a good point about the Maywood debate – ask your questions now, bring up options, and let it go after that. They don’t want to put the decision on the agenda, only to have more questions pop up at the last minute.

Gerlach pointed out that cutting the budget this year will be very hard. Fox said that the district needs to cut $544,000 after everything was said and done.  The other $244,000 will come out of staff attrition and other like items.

I think Gerlach (or the board or whomever can do these sorts of things) should do the following:

  • Set a date now for the decision on Maywood. Don’t delay, don’t leave it ambiguous.
  • Inform board members and public that they need to submit all the alternatives for keeping Maywood open by a specific date.
  • Schedule a couple of talking sessions for the public to come and discuss about the subject. The district needs to give parents and concerned citizens a chance to voice their opinions.
  • Come out with talking points about the school and the issues. Examples: let everyone know if selling or renting Nichols is an alternative. Let everyone know how Winnequah would be configured with the additional students. Let everyone know what will happen to Maywood (this can be a simple ‘we don’t know’ – but say that). Have these points passed out at board meetings and sent home to parents, to show that the district is looking at all the questions regarding the issue.

Supporters of keeping Maywood open need to do the following:

  • Give solid evidence that K-2 school provides an educational benefit to our kids. Just saying the smaller environment is a good thing isn’t going to work. People will need more than that.
  • Bring realistic alternatives to the table that would keep the school open. The above scenario presented by Jessica Ace is a good example: what if you sold Nichols, moved district offices to Winnequah, and housed the Alt School somewhere else. I don’t know if this is a feasible idea, but go out and find the answers if want Maywood to survive.

In the end, I think the burden is on the Maywood supporters in this issue. Why? Because the vote that saved Maywood last year likely doesn’t have the same support this year.

Last year, some people thought the communities needed more time to consider alternatives. But that time is up. The budget issues continue to loom, and while it appears that Sue Manning and Jessica Ace want to keep Maywood, Susan Fox and Lionel Norton – who both voted to keep Maywood open last year – are not likely to repeat that vote. We can’t argue we haven’t had enough time or explored all the alternatives – we’v had nine months to do that – the excuse won’t hold with people.

Get ready for this to explode in the next couple of months – especially if a December date is set for making this decision.

School Board Fashion Review

The board meeting is online, so it’s time for our look at this week’s fashion at the Monona Grove School Board meeting.

The Good

For the gentlemen, Lionel Norton had the Sears catalog khakis/dress shirt casual look down. Well done. Superintendent Gerlach did the sport jacket and tie – he handles that look well.

For the ladies, Jessica Ace was dressed nicely, sporting a baby bump under her dark dress.

Susan Manning did well – not great – but fine. She looked pretty sharp with a nice blue sweater and dark slacks – can’t go wrong.

The Average

Sue Fox went with the sweater and slacks look, but it just wasn’t happening. Sorry, Susan. A little too frumpy.

Peter Sobol isn’t going to win any fashion awards. His everyman outfit looked like a million middle-aged guys.

Jill List appeared to coming off of a Rosanne episode.

The Bad

What in heaven was Jason McCutchin thinking? He showed up in shorts and a hockey shirt (or some sort of sports type shirt). Sorry, Jason, but you’re not drinking beer with your buddies on a Saturday night. Lame. Act like you care about the job.

Go see it all at

Jill List’s fine wine

At the March 3 board meeting, Monona Grove School Board member Jill List reportedly said that Monona citizens whine about lack of communication, question the administration, and seek delays, with regard to important items – like the closing of Maywood School. She then said that Cottage Grove citizens never seem to have these problems. (She also made motion, according to fellow board member Jessica Ace, to have the Maywood closing vote moved up to March 10 – but she could only get Jason McCutchin to support her, so it didn’t fly.)

First, please make a request to the School Board Superintendent, Craig Gerlach, for an open records request so we can have her specific comments. The Rag would love to know specifically what was said.

With regard to us whining Monona folks, I guess it’s a bit obvious that no one is shipping your kids to Monona. If that happened, Jill and the other board members would have people coming out of the woodwork talking about how they didn’t know anything about the decisions, about how they needed to reconsider, etc.

As for questioning administrators and the board – darn straight we should question them. It’s not just our right, it’s our responsibility to do such things.

The board, and the referendum supporters like Jill List, made bad decisions five years ago to put this referendum on the ballot in the first place. They said the Monona would get to keep 6th grade, get to keep Maywood. They said it would work. And these same experts – many now part of the board – are now saying it’s a mistake. Where were the ‘experts’ and people like Jill List five years ago – why weren’t they saying, ‘We need to have 6-8 graders together. Maywood is not feasible long term and shouldn’t be saved. We’ll just have to remodel Winnequah again in a few years.’ They didn’t care, because they got the school built in Cottage Grove – long term health of the district be damned.

So, sorry, Jill, if you feel put out with regard to people questioning you, the board and the administration. It’s the bad decisions of the board and the referendum supporters to put the referendum on the ballot five years ago that are causing these issues today. And sorry you feel so put out about answering questions from the very people that you represent. We hate to tell you this, but it’s part of your job.