Board election has three candidates vying for two posts as city representatives
Making his second bid for the Port Washington-Saukville School Board in as many years, Aaron Paulin will face incumbents Kelly O’Connell-Perket and Brian Stevens in the Tuesday, April 5, election.
Veteran board member O’Connell-Perket, who was first elected to the board in 1998 and currently serves as its clerk, is seeking her seventh, three-year term.
Stevens, the board’s treasurer, was appointed in 2014 to fill a seat vacated by Jim Olson and elected last year among a field of candidates that included Paulin. He is running this year for his first full term.
The top two vote-getters in next week’s race will win seats on the board representing the City of Port Washington.
As board members, the winners of the April 5 election will face new challenges, among them overseeing a $45.6 million Port Washington High School reconstruction and renovation project and the construction of a $3.8 million addition at Dunwiddie Elementary School approved by voters a year ago.
There are also ongoing challenges that include maintaining the quality of education amid reductions in state funding for public schools.
Stevens, 47, said the board’s top priority should be managing the high school project, which is scheduled to begin in earnest next month and be completed in 2019, and the Dunwidde Elementary School work, which is slated to begin next month and be completed by the end of the year.
“I think right now completing the construction projects on time and on budget with as little disruption to education as possible needs to be our top priority,” he said.
The board has done a good job so far of overseeing the projects, Stevens said, by hiring Bray Architects to design the improvements and CD Smith Construction Services to manage the projects. He noted that both firms not only have extensive experience with school construction but have worked on projects similar to the one at Port High that entail demolishing and rebuilding a part of the school.
O’Connell-Perket, 55, agreed that the projects are off to a good start.
“I think the public has been well informed, and any time there are questions, we get answers,” she said.
Paulin, 37, said while it’s exciting to see a significant investment in schools, there is some concern with early cost overruns at Dunwiddie Elementary School.
“That has caused frustration for people I’ve talked to,” he said.
School officials said they expect the project to be as much as $300,000 over budget, although they are confident that savings from the much larger high school project will more than make up the deficit.
Paulin said he is concerned about future maintenance needs, particularly at the middle school, and school security.
“We’ll have to deal with these things, and we know we can’t go back to a referendum anytime soon,” he said.
While voters gave the School District additional money in last year’s referendum to renovate schools, the state has done the opposite with funding for public education, which puts an emphasis on setting clear priorities, the candidates said.
“On top of the list of priorities must always be kids and the people around them that create the safety net they need to succeed,” O’Connell-Perket said.
All three candidates agreed that a well-rounded curriculum, one that focuses on the core subjects but also offers strong music, arts and technology education programs, is important.
“If we’re going to create well-rounded students, we have to give them opportunities, and those include strong arts, music and tech-ed programs,” said Paulin, a social studies teacher at West Bend West High School.
Stevens, an engineer, said the district needs to continue its focus on the STEAM initiative, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, while maintaining its long-standing commitment to the quality of its core subjects and maintaining reasonable student-to-teacher ratios.
Another priority, Paulin said, is strengthening the relationship between the School District and its surrounding communities.
“I visited the senior center and was told that I’m the first School Board candidate to go there and show interest,” he said. “I want a chance to promote our district in the community. As a board member, it would be my responsibility to build relationships with seniors, veterans, alumni and businesses.”
O’Connell-Perket, a medical records supervisor, said those relationships already exist in many cases and it’s important to continue them. She noted the high school was able to complete its welding lab this year because of donations from area companies.
“We need to continue the wonderful relationships with our community businesses that help our district and our children,” she said.
There are no candidates running for the School Board seat representing the towns of Grafton and Saukville, which has been vacant since Paul Krechel, who was appointed in 2014, resigned in October 2015.
Although board members represent specific areas in the School District, they are elected at large, which means district residents vote for all candidates.