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Greenfield's primary candidates hope to make the grade

Six of the seven will advance to three-seat general election

Jan. 17, 2012

Greenfield - With a primary election set for Feb. 21, the seven candidates for the Greenfield School Board are meeting voters and getting the word out on how they feel on district issues.

One of seven will be eliminated in the primary, with the remaining six advancing to April 3 spring election in their quest for three available seats.

Rick Moze, who is finishing his first three-year term, is the only incumbent seeking re-election, but the remainder of the field consists of candidates who either previously served on or ran for the School Board in recent years.

Paul Palama and retired Greenfield fire chief Russell Spahn both ran in 2011, Cathy Walsh and Michael Gierl are past members.

The remaining two candidates are Len Cich and Brad Sponholz, who ran for Assembly in 2008 and 2010.

Meeting the candidates

In looking ahead to what he hopes will be his second term, Moze said his priorities include raising test scores through continued use of the relatively new MAP testing and protecting the curriculum for noncollege-bound students from cuts.

Palama said that, as a newcomer, he would offer a fresh perspective on school issues. He called himself an everyday guy with no political or personal agenda, but with plenty of experience putting budgets together and handling staff. He is maintenance manager at St. Charles Borromeo Church and School.

Spahn said his administrative experience as fire chief and his experience in the classroom as an adjunct instructor with MATC and Upper Iowa University give him deep background in educational and administrative issues. Top priorities for him are finding a solid balance between students and taxpayers and making the board and administration work more as a team.

Walsh pointed to her 18 years of service on the board, interrupted two years ago in an anti-incumbent mood in the electorate, as a major factor in her favor. She also said her dual degrees in accounting and education cover the range of educational issues.

The remaining three candidates were not interviewed, but emailed answers to questions.

Cich wrote that he has attended School Board meetings for many years and now wants to contribute, drawing from his experience as a former operations manager for Waste Management Inc. in Chicago and as a small business owner. In striving to prepare students to be productive, Cich said he would nevertheless never support an 11.2 percent school tax levy increase, such as the one approved in Greenfield in 2009.

Similarly, Gierl wrote that he is running because the schools are the future and the community needs to do all it can to give children the best opportunities. And being on an audit team at his day job, he would be able to keep track of where the money goes.

Sponholz also brought up the 11.2 percent levy increase as proof that the board needs to have representation for taxpayers as well as students.

The right direction?

Asked if they think the School Board is going in the right direction, the candidates were generally supportive.

But Moze added, "They need to reach more students with the importance of education. Sometimes that's hard because of family values."

In line with keeping children connected with schools, Moze said he supports extracurricular activities.

Palama said things have improved over the years and the high school was updated, which had to come eventually. But the schools must live within their means, just as companies and private schools do, he said.

With the economy squeezing taxpayers, Spahn said teamwork is more essential than ever to come up with new solutions.

"There will have to be more brainstorming to make ends meet," Spahn said, so the board and administration working as a team is essential.

With teachers now being held up to statistical scrutiny, Walsh said it's time for the district to be held up to the same standards. The board needs to set goals for improvements in such areas as behavior, expulsion rates, test scores, graduation rates and percentages going on to post-secondary education, Walsh said, and decide how long it should take to reach those goals.

Cich applauded improvements, especially in math and reading, but would like more community involvement in the form of volunteers and mentors. Cich also wrote that he wanted to explore sharing services.

Noting ongoing funding issues, Gierl wrote: "Things cannot remain as they are." Everything must be looked at, including technology and possibly combing services with other districts. To find solutions, the board and administration must work more closely together, Gierl wrote.

Sponholz wrote that he strongly supports more trade-oriented education, especially information technology and construction. Early development of job skills is important, he wrote. And he called for the schools to stop relying on federal funds, which not only have strings attached, but which are often withdrawn, leaving schools with holes in their budgets. He said his experience as a registered nurse and 14 years in the military would serve him well on the board.

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