Candidates say they want role in solving state funding challenge
Cedar Grove-Belgium School Board member Daniel Bruhn, who was appointed to the board a year ago, is facing a challenge from Joe Koeppen, a former construction worker who is now a special education teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools.
They are vying for a three-year position as the board’s Town of Belgium representative in the Tuesday, April 5, election.
Bruhn, 39, said he and his wife moved to the district in 2001 because they were impressed with the school system.
Now that their two sons are in first grade and 4-year-old kindergarten, Bruhn said he is even more impressed with the quality and dedication of teachers in the district and wants to ensure the district’s strong educational program continues.
Dealing with the impact of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget that will cut the district’s state aid by $632,700 is the biggest challenge facing the district, Bruhn said.
“Trying to find the best way to take the money we’re allocated and devise a plan that will enhance the education of our kids — that’s an amazing challenge,” Bruhn said.
“We need people, in my opinion, who are completely educationally focused to make sure to keep us on track.”
Keeping top teachers in the district is a priority, he said.
“In this political climate, most of the teachers are feeling very abused,” Bruhn said. “We need to show them the School Board is in their corner, even though we have some extremely difficult financial decisions that are going to be made.
“Our financial people tell us the two concessions (employees paying half the contribution to a state retirement fund and 12% of the health insurance premium) will still leave us $200,000 short.”
He said his first year has been an interesting and challenging learning experience.
Bruhn, a 1992 graduate of Ozaukee High School, has a dental practice in Oostburg.He was the Ozaukee High boys’ varsity basketball coach for several years.
He now coaches the Broncos sixth-grade football team and is an assistant coach for his son’s softball team.
Koeppen, 54, is pursuing a master’s degree in special education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and teaches students in the most restrictive classroom at Maple Tree Elementary School in Milwaukee.
“I stepped into the classroom the first day and started teaching math,” Koeppen said. “No one had ever expected them to learn. No one had confidence in them, and they didn’t have confidence in themselves.”
Last year, Koeppen was a student intern. This year, he’s the teacher.
The students, most of whom are in foster homes, weren’t allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies or sports because they were too disruptive.
“Four of my kids graduated and one gave a speech at graduation,” Koeppen said. “Two play basketball. All have gone up one or two grade levels. I’m really proud of them. I was told these kids need to learn survival skills not academics.
“What these kids have gone through, they know how to survive. What they need to learn is how to succeed.”
Koeppen said he wants to be on the School Board to help redefine how all students are taught.
“We should be looking at countries that are in the top five for education, like Finland and Hong Kong, and see what they do. It’s not about Smart Boards or class sizes, but what goes on in the classroom that matters,” he said.
Koeppen worked in construction for 20 years until he injured his back. He was a teacher’s aide at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Lake Church from 2001 until it closed in 2008. That experience convinced him to become a special education teacher, he said.
Former School Board member Jeff Thiel of Belgium will also be on the April 5 ballot, but he is unopposed for the remaining year of an at-large seat held by Terry Eernisse, who resigned from the board last week.