PW-S school official who has never faced opposition, teacher making third bid differ on early release, technology
Veteran Port Washington-Saukville School Board member Brian McCutcheon has experienced a lot since being elected to the board as a write-in candidate 19 years ago, but never a contested election.
That will change on Tuesday, April 4, when voters will have a choice between McCutcheon and challenger Aaron Paulin, a social studies teacher at West Bend West High School who is making his third run in as many years for a seat on the School Board representing the City of Port Washington.
“I’m going to keep running until I win,” Paulin, 38, said. “I want to be invested in this community and this school district.”
As the longtime chairman of the board’s Building and Grounds Committee, McCutcheon, 59, has played a key role in planning for the $49.4 million referendum that was approved by voters in April 2015 and overseeing the projects it paved the way for — the $3.8 million expansion and renovation of Dunwiddie Elementary School, which was essentially completed in December, and the ongoing $45.6 million Port Washington High School project, which entails the construction of a new academic wing, the demolition and reconstruction of the oldest part of the school and extensive renovations.
“Our projects are going very well,” said McCutcheon, who called the board’s decision to hire Bray Architects and C.D. Smith Construction to design and manage the projects key to the success of the school improvement initiative.
“I’m confident our projects will be completed on time and on budget,” he said.
Paulin said that as a teacher and parent of children in the Port-Saukville School District, he understands the need for high-quality facilities and supported the referendum.
“If we want our students to have the skills to be college and career ready, this was absolutely necessary,” he said.
And in a day and age when students have a choice of where they go to school, modern facilities promise to benefit the district financially, Paulin said.
“These projects are huge for open enrollment,” he said. “One of my priorities is pulling kids from other districts into ours.”
Both candidates said they support a proposed Port High outdoor athletic facility improvement project that calls for artificial turf football and baseball fields, a new eight-lane running track and seating, but only if the PWSSD Education Foundation, a recently formed nonprofit organization, raises most if not all the money for the project. The cost is not yet known.
If the district is to make a financial contribution to the project, it could do so with proceeds from the sale of 54.5 acres it purchased in 1969 and is now trying to sell. The proceeds from the sale must be used for capital improvements if the district is to avoid losing millions of dollars in state aid.
“I would support maybe using some of that money to pay for small parts of that project, but not a significant part,” McCutcheon said. “I believe the foundation will take care of most of the cost.”
Paulin, however, said he is not convinced the district should sell the land it has held onto for 48 years as a future school site, noting that the issue came up during referendum informational meetings.
“We’re a growing community,” he said. “In 10, 15, even 30 years, are we going to have to build a new school? I see this land as being valuable to the district in the future.
“At referendum meetings, there were mixed feelings about selling it.”
But McCutcheon said the board’s decision to sell the property, which is small by contemporary school site standards and, according to school officials, no longer needed because facility needs for the foreseeable future are being addressed by the referendum projects, is consistent with what taxpayers want.
“We listened to the public and said that if the referendum passes, we’ll sell this land,” he said.
McCutcheon and Paulin agree the district must maintain the quality of its core curriculum while continuing to support and expand fine and performing arts and technology education offerings.
“Despite budget challenges, we have found ways to expand classes ranging from AP (advanced placement) to advanced welding,” McCutcheon said, adding that the high school project will strengthen core curricular courses, technology education and the arts with new and renovated facilities.
While investing in educational programs is critical, Paulin said, the district has “over invested” in technology.
“Investing in all disciplines of education is a must, but I question all the fancy, new pieces of technology the district is buying, like Smart Boards,” he said. “We don’t need Smart Boards in every classroom.”
Paulin is also critical of the district’s decision to provide each student in fifth through 12th grade with a computer to use as his or her own during the school year.
“Every student doesn’t need their own iPad,” he said. “Working inside education, I know we don’t need to over invest in technology.”
“We live in a world that is technology driven and we need technology in our schools,” he said. “We’re preparing kids for careers that don’t even exist yet.”
Paulin said the district’s calendar also needs to be overhauled to do away with early student release days, which are unproductive for students and teachers and cause complications for working parents.
This school year there are a total of six days in which all students are released late morning after about three-and-a-half hours of instruction to provide staff members with time for professional growth meetings and records work.
“Because classes on half days have to be shortened, it’s hard for students and teachers to get anything done,” he said. “If you want to do it right, combine the half days into fewer full days for teacher in-service. We had half days in West Bend and it was tough. Now we have full days (for in-service) and things are getting done.
“And do you know what a pain it is to arrange to pick up your children early and find child care for them?”
McCutcheon, however, said half days are an efficient way to teach students and provide professional development for teachers without adding days to the school calendar.
“Our half days are considered whole days,” he said. “If we had full days off school for teacher development, we’d have to add days to the school year. And I believe half days are productive.”
McCutcheon said he and other board members have demonstrated the desire and ability to listen to their constituents and made decisions accordingly. Most notably, McCutcheon said, the scope of the referendum and the projects it called for reflect the feedback he and other officials received from a district survey and the 20 or so community presentations.
“For instance, we heard from the public that they didn’t want a new high school built somewhere else,” he said. “We listened, and now we’ll have a like-new high school in its current site.”
McCutcheon also said one of the strengths of the district is its core of administrators, noting that he was a member of committees that selected several school leaders, including Supt. Michael Weber.
Paulin said he would bring new ideas to the board. As a teacher, he said, he has a thorough knowledge of education, from school funding to classroom instruction. And as a parent of thee children, two of whom are of school age and enrolled in district classes, he has a vested interest in the quality of the district.
“I have a lot of experience in education and understand the challenges facing school districts,” he said. “I also have the ability to build relationships in the community that are vital for districts.”
Also in next week’s election, Port Washington-Saukville School Board member Sara McCutcheon will face challenger Scott Fischer for seat representing the Village of Saukville. (See story on page 2.)
School Board member Marchell Longstaff is running unopposed for a seat representing the Town of Port Washington.
Although board members represent specific municipalities within the district, they are elected at-large, or by all voters in the district. They serve three year terms.