Two newcomers will be added to the Beloit Board of Education.
ON TUESDAY, VOTERS in the School District of Beloit will choose between four candidates to elect two members to seats on the board. No incumbent chose to run.
The four newcomers are Kathy Crawford, Sarah Weiss, David Wilson and Kyle Larsen.
These are critical decisions for voters. The School District of Beloit arguably is the single most important public institution in the community, and it has not been doing well. The problems have been well documented. Academically, the state says the district meets few expectations and student scores significantly lag national and state averages. An achievement gap for minority students is persistent. Image-wise, the district has not enhanced Beloit's reputation. Disturbingly, hundreds of staff at a district-wide town hall meeting made clear that discipline issues were a major impediment to getting better. The district has suffered bad morale and high turnover among its educators and administrators. Meanwhile, the school board has been more noteworthy for its feuding than its problem-solving.
This must be turned around, and every Beloiter has a stake in the solutions.
WHILE WE APPLAUD the four contenders for a willingness to serve, we wish the community had more choices. It will take intense community engagement to turn this district around, and there's not much evidence that exists.
So, the choice comes down to picking two out of these four.
The Beloit Daily News recommends the election of Kyle Larsen and Sarah Weiss.
LARSEN FORMERLY TAUGHT school in the Beloit district, so he has firsthand knowledge of what's right and what's not. Today he teaches in Delavan.
He is open about his experiences in Beloit. While he enjoyed teaching the kids, Larsen says administrators have not supported classroom educators and discipline is a mess in some buildings. Quality education is tough to achieve if a climate of disorder and disrespect prevails, and troublemakers conclude there are few consequences for their actions.
Larsen says there should be an emphasis on preparing students for the adult world they'll soon face, and we couldn't agree more. It starts, he believes, with the board hiring the right new superintendent and then supporting him or her as they pursue educational and behavioral improvement.
Weiss is young, but well prepared. She graduated from the Beloit district, earned a teaching degree and worked as a middle school teacher in Milwaukee. She grew up in a household of educators, with her mom teaching in Beloit and her dad in South Beloit. She moved back to the community and works at Beloit College, with the Upward Bound program to help open opportunities for disadvantaged students.
Weiss is concerned about teacher morale in the Beloit district, and shares Larsen's emphasis on preparing students for what comes next. She understands the frustrations of educators and wants to get teachers and administrators on the same page. She's aware of discipline issues and related disputes between teachers, administrators and parents.
THE OTHER TWO CANDIDATES - David Wilson and Kathy Crawford - both have positives to offer but there are issues we can't get past in formulating recommendations.
Wilson's wife, Janay Banks-Wilson, is an administrator in the school district. State law recognizes that creates a close and continuing conflict of interest that would limit Wilson's ability to participate in some key board functions. Three of every four dollars in a roughly $100 million enterprise is spent on compensation and benefits, and Wilson could place himself in legal jeopardy by participating in various aspects of the process. That doesn't make Wilson a bad guy. He has a lot to offer. But, in our view, Beloit constituents should have a representative who can be fully functional on district business, not 30 percent, or 50 percent, or 70 percent.
Crawford repeatedly has said she represents "normal people" in Beloit. By that, she means the everyday, working-class, salt-of-the-earth people in the community. Her earnestness is endearing, since everyday people can go unrepresented on public bodies because a premium often is placed on college degrees or management experience. Sometimes, a blunt common-sense approach might be an improvement - teachers should be able to teach, students should be able to learn, troublemakers should be straightened up or shipped out.
But Crawford has a messy personal history when it comes to managing her money, a pattern over several years that often landed her in court proceedings. Despite other positive qualities, constituents should be reluctant to hand someone responsibility for managing public resources when the individual has had so much trouble managing her own.
THAT'S WHY THE Beloit Daily News recommends the election of Kyle Larsen and Sarah Weiss.
In that order.