Will public schools compete for enrollment


(1/13/2010)

With little fanfare the District 861 School Board reelected Stacey Mounce Arnold to the seat of board chair for 2010, though remaining seats on the executive committee will see new faces for the coming year.

Arnold’s leadership has occasionally sparked controversy as she worked outside the channels of normal board protocol with private meetings and directives to staff not typical for an individual board member.

Most recently Arnold prompted an outcry from members of the community when she suggested she is not interested in new efforts to lure additional enrollment away from private or charter school competitors.

Last week Arnold denied making statements to that effect. “I never said that,” she told the public during the comment portion of the board meeting.

But at the board retreat last fall, Arnold did make those statements, prompted by comments by board member Michelle Langowski that the district should be looking at ways to build its market share and be more competitive rather than only ways it could cut items to save money.

Specifically, Langowski was suggesting that the board consider expanding its child care offerings in elementary schools, saying they are popular with parents and could help the district attract new families early. Langowski pointed to the long waiting list for the Maxwell Children’s Center, which has a location in Madison Elementary, and said the district should be working harder to raise the number of children who choose Winona Area Public Schools.

Arnold rejected the concept that families would rethink their education choices if the district offered child care or other innovative programming. “The big thing about Winona is a wealth of opportunities,” Arnold said of the public and nonpublic school choices. “We’re always going to have that. For kids that do get into the district let’s do it well, educate them the best we can. I’m not going to worry about how to fill a building or create revenue.”

But the comments have since sparked a storm from parents who question Arnold’s dedication to building up public education, creating a flurry of e-mails and letters to the editor challenging her leadership and motives.

Last week Arnold back-pedaled from those comments, saying that she has only ever been interested in the promotion of education for all students.

Board member Gary Shurson nominated Arnold for chair when the election process opened and Arnold called for a vote on the matter. But board member Ted Hazelton asked for discussion and inquired about the board accepting other nominations before a vote was taken. Arnold told him the process is to vote on each nomination one at a time, and without further discussion the board approved her appointment.

Next Arnold nominated Shurson for the seat of vice chair, a position held last year by past board chair Brian Neil. Shurson was approved for the seat, as was Michelle Langowski for the position of clerk treasurer, a seat held last year by John Goplen.

The executive committee for the board meets monthly but has no extra power over other board members except that they work more closely with Superintendent Paul Durand in setting the board meeting agenda.

According to district policy, Durand has chief responsibility for setting the agenda for board meetings, though since his tenure began in the district he has done so in conjunction with the executive committee of the board.

 

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