RACINE — Something seemed missing at a forum for candidates running for the Racine Unified School District Board of Education Tuesday night.
Specifically, three candidates were missing, with only incumbent Don Nielsen and challenger Bryn Biemeck present to speak on their candidacies at Starbuck Middle School, 1516 Ohio St., ahead of the elections next week.
“Every once in a while we’ll miss a candidate … but we’ve never missed three candidates like this, which is sad,” said Michael Anton, president of the Racine PTA Council, regarding the previous candidate forums he and the council have organized over about 12 years.
Missing from the forum were incumbents Kim Plache and Guadalupe (Wally) Rendón as well as challenger Lisa Parham.
Parham said she had only returned home from a week-long trip to Florida on Tuesday night, attesting that she had informed forum organizers and sent them answers to general questions about her candidacy.
Rendón said he attended a celebration of Cesar Chavez’s birthday Tuesday evening at the city community center named after Chavez. He said that he was delayed at the celebration and was unable to arrive at the forum within a reasonable amount of time to take questions.
Plache could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
The forum drew only about 15 people, including some of the event’s organizers and was run less formally, with candidates taking as long as they wanted to answer questions and occasionally asking follow-up questions of each other.
Both Nielsen and Biemeck think the district may get significantly less financial aid from the state next year, even though legislators told the board Monday night that cuts would probably not be as severe as what is outlined in Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed 2015-17 state budget.
Biemeck said the cuts should come from positions and expenditures in the district’s administration while Nielsen advocated spreading the cuts as evenly as possible throughout the district and use retirement rather than layoffs.
“I would not want to take all of the money out of one pot,” Nielsen said. “I think if we’re going to have to cut staffing positions, I think everything has to be on the table.”
The candidates were sharply at odds regarding the district using Common Core State Standards and the new tests debuting in April that accompany the new standards, though they agreed that students take too many tests and local districts should have more control.
Nielsen trumpeted the idea of being able to compare Unified and Wisconsin to districts in other states around the country with common curriculums and measurements of success.
Biemeck, on the other hand, slammed the standards as being unnecessarily burdensome on students while taking educational control away from teachers and local school boards in favor of corporations and corrupt officials.
“Common Core is the most nefarious attack on our children and our future that we have ever faced,” she said. “I think it is intentionally designed to destroy the minds of our youth,” she later added as her concluding remarks on the standards.
The candidates addressed a number of other issues in district, including the referendums on whether Caledonia and Sturtevant should explore separating from Unified, an idea both candidates said they would at least entertain before the board if voters approved of the idea.
Biemeck, Nielsen and the other three candidates are running for three seats on the school board and will be up for election on Tuesday, April 7.