Wausau Pilot and Review

Candidates in Wausau will head to the polls on April 7 — or will cast absentee ballots — to choose three members of the Wausau School Board from a slate of four candidates that includes two incumbents and two newcomers.

The top three candidates will serve three-year terms.

Here’s a look at each of the four candidates, in alphabetical order:

Ka Lo, 37, Consumer Resource Specialist

Wausau School Board candidate Ka Lo (contributed photo)

Education:

  • Associates Degree-Liberal Arts from UW-Stevens Point Wausau in 2012 (when it was UW-Marathon County)
  • Bachelor of Arts-History from UW-Stevens Point in 2014

Community involvement and/or prior relevant experience:

  • Held public office for 2 years (Marathon County Supervisor for District 5)
  • I’ve attended and spoken at an Athletic Park meeting and have attended the Westies neighborhood meetings
  • Spoken during public comment at Wausau City Council meetings:
    • Oppose how they were establishing the mayor’s welcoming committee
    • To address the issues between the city and Alder Thao
    • Thomas Street environmental concerns.
  • Spoken during public comment at Wausau School Board meetings
    • Oppose cutting funds to Camp Phoojywg (program for all students to learn about Hmong culture and history)
    • Flaws in the process of hiring the new superintendent
    • Hmong resolution in regards to deportations
    • Oppose the resolution brought up to change the Human Growth and Development curriculum
  • Main speaker for Our Wisconsin Revolution’s state convention in 2018
  • Worked for Northcentral Technical College from 2014-2016, so I have seen and know some ofthe issues that our tech colleges face
  • Worked for the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service (WIPPS) from approx. 2012-2013 while I was a student at the Stevens Point campus

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you?

As a Marathon County Board member, I am assigned to the Extension, Education and Economic Committee. Before I was elected onto County Board, I knew that our local two year universities and tech colleges were experiencing low student enrollment which in turn effects their funding from the state. I learned in my first term that county board members only have jurisdiction over the university buildings and facilities. But it is in our interest to make sure that they are successful as the local universities and tech college do measure the success or failure of our county through enrollment, they have an economic impact and if more students go to school here, they are more likely to stay in Wausau or come back to Wausau. Not only that, but the cost of school here is significantly lower than going to a four college any where in the state. I mainly decided to run for the Wausau School Board on that premise: That I could strengthen the relationship between the Wausau School District and our local universities and tech college so that enrollment may increase, promote the creation of professional development classes or programs for our local teachers and staff, and everyone has the opportunity to quality and cost effective education and training.

In addition, I will be able to represent the Hmong community – as the largest minority group in our school district are Hmong students and families.

I am qualified because I was born and raised in Wausau, I went to public schools in Wausau, I went to public universities and tech colleges in Wisconsin. Not only that, but I believe there needs to be more human based policies instead of economic based policies where there is disregard for human value.

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it.

Making sure constituents know about how and where their tax dollars are being spent and educating constituents about the policies that the Wausau School District are thinking of implementing or are implementing. Increasingly, for the past decade, tax dollars have been siphoned to private schools where they are not accountable to the tax payers and duly elected public officials (ie: They don’t ask permission or include tax payers’ input with how they spend the tax money). In addition, recently at a Wausau School District presentation, I was surprised to learn that 66% of Wausau’s tax base do not have children in the district. The information these constituents are getting are second or third hand and not current. I believe that getting current information to the constituency is key to positive support for the Wausau School District.

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it.

The one thing that the Wausau School District does well is doing a really good job at supporting and making sure that our students are successful and have the opportunities for success. I would keep supporting their current measures and improving upon them through partnerships, creating and maintaining relevant programs.

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?

For decades there has been the argument that there needs to be a state mandate for Hmong history and culture to be taught in schools – just like how there is a state mandate for Native American culture to be taught in schools. I believe that in Wisconsin, we need this mandate because Wisconsin has the third most concentrated population of Hmong people in the nation. It would not only be helpful for non-Hmong students to learn about the history and culture, but also for Hmong students.

I was disappointed that the Hmong Education resolution was not passed at the state convention this year at the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB).

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

During the Marathon County Board of Supervisor’s budget meeting for 2020, the district attorney’s office argued for more funding from the county. The path to achieving that funding was to cut funding from a county program called StartRight. The program helps educate new parents who are economically disadvantaged about healthy nutrition, provides helpful resources on how to be successful parents and make sure their new baby and children have access to healthy nutritional foods and provide them with the knowledge on how to create a healthy environment where they can thrive. I understood the DA’s office are overworked, underpaid, stressed and understaffed – but I didn’t see where cutting funding from the StartRight program was going to make our county better. I believe that as adults, we need to protect our vulnerable and by cutting StartRight we weren’t doing that. It was absolutely disturbing to hear of the experiences the District Attorney’s office has had to endure, but at the end, I believe that voting to not cut funding for the StartRight program is the right thing to do because the program fosters education and I believe education is the right path to success and opportunity.

At the end, a recipient of the StartRight program came to a future county board meeting with her beautiful healthy baby to make public comment about how grateful she was for the program and the county board sent a resolution to the state to advocate for more funding for our District Attorney’s office.

There are nearly 200 homeless students in the Wausau School District. What, if anything, would you do as a school board member to address this issue?

First of all, I will vote for a new Wausau mayor and new city council because I think their decision regarding the homeless was callous and does nothing to progress the city forward in regards to human based policies (and that is just one of many botched policies). I would also continue to build policy and encourage our schools and non-profit organizations to support our homeless population. For example, I think the Wausau School Board’s implementation of having pantry’s in some of our schools has helped with this issue and their resolution to prohibit publicly identifying students with negative meal balances are steps in the correct direction.

How do you see the school district moving forward in the face of the COVID-19 crisis?

I think for the rest of the school year, classes will have to be taught virtually in order to be able to control the spread of COVID-19. I also think that teachers will need further training in how to quickly turn their classroom lessons into virtual lessons as the world becomes more global and new technologies emerge to bring the world together. Administration will need training in how to support teachers and parents in virtual learning. In turn, there will be growing pains along the way with these potential changes. It will be more important than ever that our teachers, staff and parents are aware of and support these changes – which means the district will have to be even more collaborative and be more transparent about these processes. We no longer live in a world where it is hard to travel from one country to another and with the advent of the world wide web, it is bringing people closer together – so we have to have plans in place for events such as this.

Why should voters choose you?

As one of my colleagues on the County Board have told me how they’ve described me to other people: I don’t mince words. Voters should choose me over my opponent(s) because I have a demonstrated record of being a vocal representative. Our teachers, parents and students need someone who will vote for and be a fierce advocate for proven, evidence based, peer reviewed, and human based policies. I believe in caring for others and that when people care for other people we are more resilient, action oriented, and passionate that others succeed. I have also been endorsed by the Wausau Education Association (WEA).


Cody Nikolai M.D., 46, Orthopaedic Surgeon

Education:

  • US Navy Veteran
  • University of Wisconsin Oshkosh BS
  • University of Wisconsin School of Medicine MD

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you?

As a father and taxpayer of Wausau I have an interest in the education of the youth in this community. I was born here and spent some time in my youth in Marathon County and it always felt like my Hometown. As such, I have a concern for Wausau’s future and growth. I believe one of the most important things that will keep Wausau amazing is the education of our children. A strong school district also helps draw families to our area that will help grow our economy.   Also, as a physician I have been involved in education for a long time at various levels and understand the importance of quality education because of it.

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it.

Wausau’s virtual academy is one area that needs improvement.  I would like to model other successful districts and develop those resources in Wausau to keep those dollars in our district.

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it.

We have great teachers and high achievement stats. I want to continue to support our teachers and continue to support curriculum that our teachers can work with that maintains academic excellence.

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?

As our society is ever changing and our labor force is expanding with new jobs being developed that didn’t even exist 20 years ago, our curriculum needs to teach students to be thinkers and be able to developed those critical skills that help them for the changing job markets. I believe our district does a good job addressing these issues and continue with the importance of science technology engineering and math. We however cannot forget the classics as well, such as literature, civics, history, and philosophy.

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

I think any parent would agree they do this on a daily basis with teenagers. I have also been involved in various groups and organizations through out my education where issues are debated and believe I have always listened to both sides of an issue.

There are nearly 200 homeless students in the Wausau School District. What, if anything, would you do as a school board member to address this issue?

I believe all students deserve a quality education and would work to provide resources for them to continue to learn. I would hopefully help develop engaging curriculum that makes them and all students desire to be life long learners.  I feel it’s important as well to stress the role of education and a high school diploma helps for future success.

How do you see the school district moving forward in the face of the COVID-19 crisis?

That is a difficult question to answer. I have been in multiple meetings about how to handle this virus but there continues to be so much uncertainty.  I know that the folks in Wausau will get through this and be stronger because of it. One thing the district can do, is in line with my previous answer, is better develop our online virtual academies and resources so all students would have access to them.

Why should voters choose you?

I believe kids deserve education and not indoctrination. Voting for me you can be assured that I will always work for the best interest of our students and teachers to accomplish that goal.


Lance Trollop, 44, Attorney (incumbent)

Wausau School Board candidate Lance Trollop (Contributed photo)

Education: Juris Doctorate from the University of Wisconsin Law School

Community involvement and/or prior relevant experience:

I grew up in Wausau.  I’m a product of the Wausau School District myself. I’m currently in my 9th year as a member of the Wausau Board of Education, including 4  years as the president.

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you?

I ran for School Board originally because I believe public education is important and I wanted to serve the community in some way.  I still believe in community service and public education.  Serving on the board has only strengthened those beliefs.

My prior years of experience help qualify me for the board, but of course prior experience isn’t a requirement (though it is a benefit).  A good board member is someone who goes into the service with an open mind and no pre-set agenda.  A good board member has strong communication skills and a willingness to listen to and work with others. We meet multiple times each month for hours at a time with additional hours of preparation for those meetings, so a good board member is also willing to work hard and be committed to the position.  I’ve demonstrated those qualities during my time on the board.  I want to continue serving because I believe the board and the school district continue to benefit from my participation.

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it.

One challenge all school districts face is student behavior. That issue impacts many others, including student learning and staff morale. In my years on the board the opinion I’ve formed is that we have done a great job at providing alternative educational opportunities for students in high school.

I think we’ve been less successful at the lower levels.  One problem that has been improved is early identification of students that need additional support.  The sooner that support is in place, the better.  Another problem has been the lack of an alternative.  We have intensive inpatient type options where certain students can be sent, but we haven’t had sufficient in-district options at our middle and elementary schools.  So, I supported the expansion of the Peer Program and I’m hopeful that is going to make a difference.  We also need additional mental health resources.  We may need to look into more online options to connect students with child psychiatrists.

We’ve focused recently on the challenge of student behavior and the results are positive. I will continue to support that focus going forward.  The steps we have taken thus far have been working and we need to continue them.

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it.  

The Wausau School District has an outstanding staff of employees all focused on promoting our students’ learning.  Nothing is more important to the success of our students than district staff and we are fortunate to have excellent employees.  We need to continue to support them.  One of our district goals is to attract and retain high quality employees.  It is something the board discusses often and we need to continue to do so over the next three year term.

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?  

There aren’t any broad subject areas that need to be added, though each year new specific courses are added and others are replaced as student needs change.  As a large district, Wausau has the advantage of being able to offer a very diverse curriculum and the ability to provide education for struggling as well as gifted learners.  The diversity of course offerings at the Wausau School District might be a surprise to most.  Our “spotlight on education” sessions at board meetings often highlight an exceptional program offered by the district and I continue to be impressed by all the district has to offer.

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

I agree this is an important characteristic of any elected official and it is especially important on a nonpartisan school board.  Looking at all sides of an issue is something I do every day as an attorney.  I examine issues from every angle to discover the strengths and weaknesses of my clients’ cases. At times during board meetings I will throw out concerns or possible issues with an agenda item I agree with, simply to further the discussion and perhaps spark something we hadn’t fully considered.

It is important to have board members with the ability and willingness to consider all sides of the many difficult issues we face.  Some of that comes from having 9 different people on the board, but it is important for each of the 9 members to also individually be willing to consider all sides of an issue and the impacts of each decision we make.

Board members shouldn’t seek election with one issue in mind or some sort of pre-determined agenda since 99% of the time we won’t be working on that one narrow issue.  A good board member works hard to become informed so they can consider all sides of an issue. They also should be willing to listen and consider all sides during the discussions taking place at our meetings.  I’ve shown I do that during my time on the board.

There are nearly 200 homeless students in the Wausau School District. What, if anything, would you do as a school board member to address this issue?

Poverty is a challenge for any district and in some cases can be a road block to learning. A student worried about where they will sleep or whether they will get anything to eat isn’t focused on a class assignment. However, it is important for readers, voters and even candidates to know no individual school board member has power alone to address this issue or any other. We only work collectively as a group of 9 people. As a board we face issues dealing with poverty all year long and the most important thing we do is hire expert employees trained in how to handle this societal issue in an educational setting.

How do you see the school district moving forward in the face of the COVID-19 crisis?

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis a school district committee created a virtual learning day. While it was originally designed to serve students in case of something like a snow day, it laid the groundwork for what was very quickly developed to continue learning while our schools are closed. As of writing this response, it appears possible virtual learning will need to continue through the rest of the semester. Wausau School District students were fortunate to have a virtual learning program quickly put into place, offering our students a virtual education that surpassed what was offered by most districts.  When we reviewed the plan at our March meeting just before schools closed, the board was impressed by the staff that accomplished such a huge initiative in such a short time.

Why should voters choose you?

My prior experience is an important asset to the board.  I’m a much better board member now than when I was first elected because there is so much to learn when joining the board. We will be gaining at least one new board member, so it is important to retain my experience.  We likely will be going through a referendum process during the next term and I have experience helping to guide the district through a prior referendum while serving as president.  Most of the issues we face carry over from something we are already or have already worked on, making prior experience very important.

Another reason I believe I deserve the support of our voters is because I’ve proven to be a high quality board member.  I’m not an unknown.  I’ve shown my commitment and the value I bring to the district.  If voters are unsure of who to vote for, I encourage them to talk to people who have attended many of our meetings over the years and ask whether I should be reelected.


Lee Webster, Social Worker and Director of an Outpatient Mental Health Center (incumbent)

Wausau School Board candidate Lee Webster (Contributed photo)

Education: Master of Social Work

Why do you want to represent the community on the Wausau School Board, and what qualifies you? 

I am a long-term resident of the community and have three adult children and some grandchildren who have graduated from the district.  I was honored to hand my granddaughter her diploma from East Last year.  I bring over 40 years of counseling experience to the board which positions me to address multiple issues of student behavior.

Name one problem that exists in the school district today and a way to improve it.

Public Schools are faced with dealing with multiple problems, many of which interfere with learning.  A large number of students have high scores on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Scale (ACES) and the most recent surveys of children at risk show that there are high levels of anxiety and depression in students.  The schools are including counselors in the schools, these services need to be expanded with earlier intervention.  However, we need to address many issues earlier with early childhood, community and family support measures.  The schools are a perfect venue to deal with these problems with their multiple neighborhood locations to invite local community programs to support and educate the public.

Name one thing the Wausau School District does well, and how you would support it.   

We have outstanding vocational and career development programs.   Many of these are supported by community partners such as the new aviation program.  These need to continue to be expanded and school counselors must involve parents in encouraging options for their children.   Future success is accomplished by pairing a student’s passion and talents with opportunity.  When this is done well work becomes a career.

As a school board member, are there any specific subject areas you think should be included in the curriculum that are not adequately represented at this time?  

I am proud of the efforts that are being made in the Whole Child- Whole Wausau planning.  We already have excellent technological opportunities that need to be expanded and maximized to prepare students for the work force.  This, however, can not be done without supporting excellent communication and problem-solving skills.  Finally, no matter how well trained in these areas, without strong personal and family values and a good work ethic we will have failed.

One important characteristic of any elected official is the ability to step back and see both sides of an issue. Give an example of a time you did this in the past.

The recent Human Growth and Development curriculum is a great example. As divisive as it appears in public comment and Board discussion, I do not believe that it has to be, issues need to be discussed openly and civilly.  I have struggled with how to openly present biological and social facts in an age appropriate manner while still supporting the student who comes from a difficult home situation or is making decisions that will negatively impact the rest of their lives. In doing so I have tried to separate social, spiritual and political agendas from facts.

There are nearly 200 homeless students in the Wausau School District. What, if anything, would you do as a school board member to address this issue?

The schools are already actively attempting to help deal with this issue with meals special learning options etc.  Unfortunately, this is a cultural and community problem and the Schools are not able to deal with it alone.  We can be a player but it will take a concerted effort by the entire community and even then, we may only be putting our finger in the dike.

How do you see the school district moving forward in the face of the COVID-19 crisis?

This is a moving target although the schools have been a proactive as they can be at this time.  We have instituted virtual learning opportunities and worked to provide meals to needy students. Our Superintendent, Administration, Teachers and Employees have raised to the task and all need to be commended. When the crisis has passed, I believe that Education and indeed our Culture will have learned a great deal. The role of technology in education with new tools and curriculum will change because of what we have learned.  Many changes will take place in the job market which we will have to adapt to as we prepare students to be family, job and career ready.  I am hopeful that we will have been reminded of important values lesson about sharing, cooperation, dependency, mutual support, and faith.  I am concerned, however, that we are slow learners and that the zeal that was present after 9/11 dissipated quickly.

Why should voters choose you?

I bring lifelong professional experience in Mental Health to the board and make a specific contribution in that way.  Because mental health is such a major concern as evidenced by the “Youth Risk Behavior” Studies I am able to share my experience and perspective.  I have learned a great deal during my first term on the board during which time I have served as a liaison to The Wisconsin Association of School Board’s delegate assembly (WASB), the Marathon County Board’s Education Committee, and The Audit of the Bills Committee. I was recognized by WASB for my participation at the last Regional Meeting. I hope to continue to be a positive influence for our students while representing the solid traditional values that have made Wausau great.

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