The three candidates running for two seats on the Madison Board of Education answered questions at a recent candidates night about outsourcing custodians, what to do with the proceeds from the sale of the former Green Village Road School, and how to make school board meetings more transparent.
The candidates, Leslie Lajewski, Johanna Habib and Tom Piskula, all are running for the first time and have children in the schools. The Oct. 10 event was sponsored by the League of Women Voters and held in the Madison Community House. Board member Linda Gilbert initially filed to run for re-election, but withdrew.
Habib's professional background is in the supply chain management field, and has a bachelor's degree and MBA. She has been an active volunteer and said she is ready to take on the responsibilities of being a board member.
Piskula said he wants to "work to make Madison's wonderful schools even better." He has an MBA and PhD. He has managed billion-dollar portfolios and is a strong negotiator, he said, which he added could be an asset to the board. He is an adjunct faculty member at Baruch College in New York.
Lajewski has been involved with PTO efforts and, before that, was a litigator and attorney in employment law, which she said could help the board when dealing with contracts, negotiations, litigation, downsizing and policies.
Piskula said he's an advocate of video taping the BOE meetings and broadcasting them on TV and online. He said the cost, approximately $8,000 a year, could be found in the budget without much difficulty.
Lajewski said she would work to bring back typing instruction, which seems to be a lost skill for students.
Habib said the district needs infrastructure upgrades in aging buildings, and the obvious way to pay for it would be with money from the sale of the former Green Village Road School. The district needs "to balance all things we could and want to do with how much money we have to do it," she said.
Habib said the board has room to operate more transparently, and that it's not always clear what the agenda means.
Green Village Road School
Lajewski said the board needs to "make a list and assess," and listen to input from the public.
Habib said she would not have supported having the district pay money toward the Madison Recreation Complex fields, but she would respect the board's decision. She would rather see the money go toward fields students use during the school day. Habib noted she has been personally involved in adding and lobbying for projects, including an auditorium renovation.
What to do with money from Green Village Road School is the "No. 1 priority for board going forward," Habib said.
Piskula said the GVR sale is example of the Madison Borough Council and school district working together on very complex project, and Madison needs to keep that spirit going. He called it the "Team Madison approach."
Because the borough worked with the district to maximize the value of the sale of the former school, it is appropriate for the district to pay toward the Madison Recreation Complex fields.
All three candidates said it's important to fund core curriculum activities before extracurricular activities.
Piskula said there's wide socioeconomic diversity in Madison, and it would be would be wonderful if Madison didn't have school activity fees.
Lajewski said she has compassion for employees, but is not afraid when doing an analysis to say something needs to be outsourced because we cannot afford to keep it the way it is. When the district weighed outsourcing custodians, and ultimately decided to keep its own, Lajewski said she knew custodians personally and didn't want to see them go, but also knew something needed to change.
Piskula said the outsourcing debate is an example of what the district does well, giving people time to work together and comment. He had said he supported outsourcing custodians and the district's focus needs to be on education.
Habib said in general she is open to it, but the district needs to be careful it gets what it pays for. She spoke in favor of keeping Madison's custodians because the hourly wage for outside custodians was a "very low number", she worried about quality of employees the school district would get.