Voters opt for consistency in changing School District

Stevens, Klotz re-elected to PW-S Board; Krainz is pick among newcomers
By 
BILL SCHANEN IV
Ozaukee Press staff

In a district experiencing an unprecedented turnover in administrators, voters opted for consistency by returning two incumbents to the Port Washington-Saukville School Board Tuesday.

Board veteran Brian Stevens, who serves as its vice president, and one-term incumbent Yvonne Klotz were winners in separate races for board seats in the April 5 election.

Stevens and Karen Krainz, who was making her first bid for elected office, were the winners of a three-person race for two seats on the School Board seats representing the City of Port Washington.

Krainz, in fact, out-polled Stevens by 96 ballots, garnering 1,991 votes (36.3%) to his 1,895 (34.6%). Johnny Lanser received 1,570 votes (28.6%).

Krainz will replace Kelly O’Connell-Perket, who after 24 years on the board did not seek re-election.

In the race for the at-large seat on the board, Klotz received 1,799 votes (54.4%) to top challenger Richard Sternhagen, who received 1,500 votes (45%) by 299 votes.

The election came at a time of significant change in the ranks of district administrators.

Beginning in July, Director of Business Services Mel Nettesheim, who began work in the district in January 2021, will be the senior member of the district’s central office leadership team followed by Supt. Dave Watkins, who is in his first school year. The other two members of that team — the director of special education and curriculum director — will be new to the district in July, as will the Port Washington High School principal. 

That turnover puts a premium on School Board leadership, Stevens, a 53-year-old mechanical engineer, said during the campaign.

“With the district office leadership team that we have, which only has basically less than a year to a year on our staff, I think making sure they are collectively focused and headed in the right direction as desired by our community is one of the top priorities,” Stevens, who was appointed to the board in 2014 and elected the following year, said. 

When asked during an interview if the board is doing a good job of overseeing administrators and scrutinizing recommendations from them, Stevens said, “We’re getting better, but we still have room for improvement.”

Communication and transparency were buzz words in the election, a reflection to some degree of a movement born out of the controversy surrounding the board’s decisions about how to educate students during the pandemic, in particular the decision to begin the 2020-21 school year with what was referred to as a hybrid model in which most students attended in-person classes two days a week and learned online three days a week. Amid protests from parents, the board decided to resume full-time, in-person education at the start of the second semester.

Lanser, a 35-year-old real estate agent and Port High graduate, noted that the district surveyed parents before deciding on the hybrid approach but said it ignored the fact that a significant number of them wanted the district to return to full-time, in-person instruction as other area school district did. That, he said, was one of the reasons he and his wife decided to pull their four children out of the district and enroll them in St. John XXIII Catholic School.

“We didn’t feel like the School Board was listening,” he said. “They sent out surveys, the surveys came back and nobody got to see the results. And the results didn’t necessarily go along with the decisions that were made.”

The candidates agreed that all the district’s stakeholders — residents, parents, students, teachers and administrators — should have a role in determining how students are educated in the district.

“I’m committed to working together with our community to help provide a high-quality education for students in an environment this is safe and supportive for both our kids and their educators,” Krainz, a 58-year-old retired actuary who graduated from Port High, said. 

When it comes to the board’s role in setting curriculum, most candidates said that while the board should provide oversight, they would rely on the curriculum experts hired by the district to determine what children are taught in school.

“I believe we have experts that are responsible for setting curriculum,” Krainz said. “We (board members) would be there to review it.”

Sternhagen, 64, however, said all stakeholders in the district should have input in the curriculum.

“I think the experts are everybody involved,” Sternhagen, who held leadership positions in consumer products companies until retiring in 2019, said. “The stakeholders are experts in this particular conversation because it really comes down to how are we providing an excellent education for our kids. Any curriculum we use should go through that initial filter.”

Klotz, a 34-year resident of the district whose two children graduated from Port High, said she is “passionate about public education” and one of her priorities is to maintain the comprehensive programming the district offers to prepare students for a wide variety of careers.

“Another priority for me is retaining our staff and attracting new staff,” she said.

Stevens, an 18-year resident of the district whose two daughters graduated from Port High, said he first ran for the board because of a desire to help improve the community.

“I’m passionate about Port Washington and about improving educational outcomes for all students,” he said. “I think there’s room for improvement, and I want to be part of that improvement process.”

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