The three candidates for two seats on the Brookfield Board of Education agree that the board needs to get more information out to people and invite them into discussions about school issues, and they have similar ideas for achieving those goals.
Candidate Mark Ferrara said his ideas came from observing the two unsuccessful attempts to get a permanent improvement levy passed. Candidates Sarah Kurpe and Melissa Sydlowski said the ultimately successful effort to get Toby Gibson hired as superintendent shaped their thinking on the issues, and Kurpe also mentioned the levy failures.
All three candidates proposed launching a social media campaign that deals specifically with the board while looking for ways to engage those who don’t use social media.
The levy failures show that “there is a disconnect between those who have students in the district and those who don’t,” Ferrara said. The board needs to reach out to those who do not have kids in school to let them know that they are valued and that their input matters. He proposed the use of community forums and social media to achieve that aim.
“You can’t keep going to the public saying, ‘We need more money. We need more money,’” he said. “We have to say, ‘OK, here’s why we need more money. Here’s how we’re spending our money.’”
Sydlowski proposed creating a board social media account, creating Facebook events for school board meetings and broadcasting meetings on Facebook live to educate voters and invite input.
promoEven though board meetings are open to the public and it is up to voters to be informed, “in today’s day and age, people are busy,” she said. “I want to do what I can to get the information out there for them to easily be accessible instead of them having to seek it out themselves. I want more people to be aware of the decisions that are being made and how they’re being made because, unfortunately, what I have found is that so many people don’t attend the school board meetings, they don’t hear the discussion, they don’t like the vote and then the negativity they put on Facebook as a result.”
Kurpe said the public has lost trust in the board, and it has made some decisions that have left her scratching her head, such as the creation of a new position of director of teaching, learning and accountability.
“I feel like decisions get made, but justification or reasoning behind it doesn’t really get conveyed,” Kurpe said. “I think we need to be much more intentional and overcommunicate,” by making information available through a number of means so that it is easy for anyone to have access to it, she said.
Kurpe said she would like to look into video recording school board meetings and posting them on YouTube, but also using surveys to gather information and making the results known.
The candidates also said the communication issues are not just between the board and the public – they also exist between staff and the board. Brookfield teacher’s union President Mary Arp voiced publicly what Kurpe and Sydlowski said they had heard privately from other teachers: that employee morale was low and that frustration was widespread.
“I want to know what’s going on, what has led to those feelings in this school and is there anything I can do on the school board to have a better working relationship between the staff and the school board and the administration,” Sydlowski said. “I don’t want the staff at that school to be disgruntled.”
Ferrara said the board should seek input from staff. “Just have very thorough, consistent open-door practice and policy for the administrators, the superintendent, school board members.”
Kurpe said she fears an exodus of staff members if morale issues are not corrected. “Even the best of employees want to feel that they are part of a bigger responsibility. We all know that you have to absolutely love this profession and love what you’re doing to want to be a part of it.”