For the past four years, Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 has been an institution in transition — since the beginning of 2011 when the board hired a new superintendent and business manager and began addressing a huge budget deficit.
Not all of the changes were pleasant. The board laid off teachers and made program cuts. Class sizes increased. At the same time, fees for registration and participating in extracurricular activities made it tougher on families.
While those cuts have not been popular among staff and many in the community who believe those actions have harmed the quality of education at Riverside-Brookfield High School, the utter failure of a property tax referendum in 2011 made cuts inevitable.
It’s now time to move beyond crisis and focus more keenly on the education being provided to students at RBHS.
On April 9, voters will have a difficult task because they truly have six people who are qualified to be on the board of education. Choosing three means leaving someone who is deserving of the office out of the picture.
We think the three candidates who can best represent voters during the next four years are Ed Jepson, James Landahl and Mike Welch.
While some may want to discount Landahl’s accomplishments in District 95 as being “minor league,” that’s selling him short. Landahl has experienced just about every situation a board member can be confronted with during his 12 years on the D95 board. He has hired superintendents and principals, negotiated contracts that have been fair to both taxpayers and teachers, and navigated building and referendum campaigns.
He knows what kinds of challenges the D208 board faces as it enters contract negotiations and continues to address facilities issues. That he leaves D95 a better place than when he was first elected cannot be overlooked. He’s up for the job.
Welch was instrumental in RBHS getting its finances under control, and he’s taken the criticism that goes along with making those decisions. While a hawk on finances, he recognizes and has told us he understands that a referendum for education funding is inevitable in the coming years. He is willing to be honest about unpopular choices.
He believes, as we do, that cuts alone will not make RBHS a model educational institution. He’s thoughtful, measured and, in the end, focused on providing educational excellence for students.
There are some who believe Ed Jepson, a labor lawyer for management, is running in order to play hardball with the teachers’ union on a new contract. We don’t believe that to be the case.
Jepson said he voted for the 2011 referendum, would vote for one if it were on the ballot now and is open to discussing the possibility in the future. Right now, the district is faced with real financial issues, and Jepson is someone who might be able to give those negotiating with the teachers’ union some valuable insight into ensuring that the next contract is fair both to faculty and to taxpayers.