On April 5, Riverwest residents in the northern half of the neighborhood will be voting for one of two candidates for the MPS School Board 4th District. They will choose between incumbent and Board Vice President Charlene Hardin and challenger Bernadine Bradford. We asked each of the candidates to answer a series of MPS-related questions of importance to our neighborhood. Riverwest Currents: The issue of raising the cap on private school vouchers has recently been before the state legislature. What are your views on how this issue should be addressed in the long term? Charlene Hardin: I believe all educational systems must be held accountable. If our students must attend a voucher school, I would prefer they attend Milwaukee Schools. Bernadine Bradford: Instead of there being a great debate over whether or not the cap should be lifted, this time should be used to evaluate both the failures and successes of the voucher program thus far, and the impact it may have on the Milwaukee Public School System. All of our children deserve to receive a quality education. To ensure that this happens there needs to be a thorough evaluation done of the entire process from the beginning, including the primary reasons that the voucher system was created in Wisconsin and whether or not the program has lived up to those justifications. Additionally, standards of operation for the school founders, administrators, teachers, and students must be discussed and universally implemented. Students attending the local colleges who are studying education and/or research practices should conduct the evaluations. This will enhance the current college curriculum to include actual data and circumstances and will give an opportunity for qualified individuals outside of MPS and voucher schools to do quality unbiased work and provide us with the information necessary to make appropriate decisions in the future. Riverwest Currents: Because of the proximity of Riverwest to neighboring Shorewood and the Open Enrollment policy, as well as the location of private schools within the area, neighborhood schools face competition. How would you work with our neighborhood schools to maintain their enrollment? Charlene Hardin: We need a better marketing campaign to market the curriculum. That way our schools are the ones parents choose for their children. I’ve worked with the school board to advertise our schools in the community papers. Keeping an open line of communication between the schools and the community will move our neighborhood school enrollment in the right direction. Bernadine Bradford: Part of the challenge that neighborhood schools currently face is that they often times do not meet the needs of the neighborhood. Aside from the school being physically located in a particular area, often times parents send their children elsewhere to satisfy their educational needs (i.e. exceptional education needs, advanced educational needs, music, art, extra-curricular offerings). A lesson needs to be learned from surrounding schools that parents send their kids to, and a second look needs to be taken at the neighborhood schools within their area. Instead of pointing the finger to suburban, voucher, and charter schools, let’s pull the thumb on MPS and the need to perform some serious fieldwork to actually find out why parents look outside of our fully capable school system to educate their children. As a parent and teacher I know how important it is that children have a well-rounded educational experience. I am willing to help do that fieldwork necessary to ensure that MPS neighborhood schools retain students, and are able to compete with any other school system. Riverwest Currents: Many residents of Riverwest are MPS teachers or staff. Where do you stand on the issue of reducing health care benefits? How would you propose to finance increasing benefit costs in the face of reduced state aid? Charlene Hardin: We need healthy employees. Every employee of MPS deserves to have good health care. I support efforts to return to the 2/3 State Funding for school districts to help reduce the pressure of taxes while still providing MPS employees their healthcare. Bernadine Bradford: As a parent-educator, I do understand the need for quality health care. It provides us all with the peace of mind that guides through the rest of life’s social and economic obstacles. But when you are an educator with a classroom full of students from families that do not have that same peace of mind, then what is it all worth? Currently MPS has a number of budgetary shortcomings and needs to be able to sufficiently accommodate all involved. Compromises must be made and creative revenue generating ideas have to be explored by MPS. This issue is deeper than me giving some blanket statement as a solution, but I will say as a parent, teacher, and businesswoman, a compromise that will sufficiently suit all, for this moment in time, is overdue. Riverwest Currents: Riverwesters are struggling under rising property taxes. As a school board member, how would you increase revenue to the schools without raising our taxes? Charlene Hardin: Again, I support the 2/3 State Funding plan that would take the pressure off local taxpayers while increasing funding to education. I also believe we should increase accountability for our funds to make sure they aren’t misused. Bernadine Bradford: Since the beginning of time governmental entities have looked at taxes and fees as sole streams of revenue generation to meet budgetary needs. And it is that ideology that has allowed for governmental systems to be in the financial rut most are currently in. I do believe that other more creative options to generate revenue must be examined, as well as collaborative efforts between the schools, local community based organizations, and businesses are a route that should be looked at as well. Riverwest Currents: What do you see as the main challenges facing MPS? How can they be addressed? Charlene Hardin: The main challenges facing MPS are the dwindling enrollment, balancing the budget, and making sure more dollars go to the schools. We must get away from per-pupil allocations. Bernadine Bradford: Low graduation rates, minimal parental involvement and inadequate resources in the classroom are tremendous problems that MPS must deal with, but each of these problems is influenced by the lack of support systems within MPS, which is the greatest challenge. There is much to be done in strengthening the supportive and community services that MPS has the capability of facilitating and benefitting from. Our children need and deserve reasonable-sized classes with happy, healthy teachers and supporting staff. They deserve the resources in and around their schools and homes that give them a continuous multi-faceted educational experience that will enhance not only them, but also their families and community alike. I decided to run for office to help address these problems, but I recognize that being a candidate is not enough. At this time I am choosing to go one step further. I am willing to put my money where my mouth is by dedicating a minimum of 5% of my board salary, if elected, and I am asking local businesses to match whatever I personally donate and raise to the following initiatives within the 4th District:
- Parental Guidance Program for parents and community members to be guided and informed of MPS practices and how to participate as a proactive stakeholder in the process (made possible through meetings, mailings, online resources, etc.).
- Educational Supplemental Funds which will provide opportunities, usually contracted instruction/workshops, and/or supplies to schools within the 4th district (particularly schools in need of improvement) to provide the needed exposure of the world beyond MPS to students who ordinarily would not have these experiences.
- Scholarships for students who desire to participate in a number of educational, extracurricular programs, and summer programs that their families may not be able to afford.