Editor’s note: Wausau Pilot & Review gladly publishes commentary from readers, residents and candidates for local offices. The views of readers and columnists are independent of this newspaper and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wausau Pilot & Review. To submit, email editor@wausaupilotandreview.com or mail to 500 N. Third St., Suite 208-8, Wausau, Wis. 54403.

Dear Editor,

When I decided not to seek reelection to the Wausau School Board over 18 months ago, I could never have predicted how stressful the last year of my second term would be.  Decisions made by the Board about how education would, and should, be delivered during a global pandemic have divided this community like nothing I have ever seen. 

Stressful situations can bring out the best in people, and sometimes the worst.  I think one of my fellow board members said it best when he stated that there is not a single person on this board that hasn’t agonized over the decisions we had to make.  We were faced with all bad choices, each with its own set of consequences.  Another board member stated that he knew every member of the board valued all stakeholders and if community members thought these decisions were easy for us, they would be wrong.  This scenario has been repeated all over the country and the world, as communities navigate uncharted territory while trying to protect citizens and meet the needs of students, parents, and teachers.

As the April 6 Spring election gets closer, and I reflect on the past six years, I find myself wanting to express my thoughts, as an outgoing board member, about what I think are the qualities needed in an effective school board member.  I urge you to consider carefully how you cast your vote.

A good candidate for school board would be someone who is respected in the community, and above reproach.  This person would not be seeking  revenge, or have a personal agenda as their motivation, but instead be willing to educate themselves on each issue before the board and think critically about it.  Good board members are willing to listen to a variety of viewpoints and be respectful to all, even those they disagree with.  Effective board members would be able to back up their decisions with facts and data yet be willing to assimilate new information and adjust their positions if warranted.  

A respected member of the board would be a person that values the culture of excellence present in the Wausau School District and serve as an advocate for our schools.  They would be someone who chooses to have their own children enrolled here, because they respect the work of our amazing teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, and all who support public education in Wausau.  Embracing a culture of continuous improvement, they would speak highly of the WSD and support its programs.  

The kind of school board candidate that I support would be someone who did their homework and came to meetings prepared.  They would prioritize their duty and show up to all meetings.  This person would be transparent, not say one thing in public, but engage in bullying and threatening behavior in other venues.  I want to vote for candidates that are ethical, not secretive, dishonest or self-serving. 

I do not view the current school board as divided, instead I think of the current board as diverse.  Although that can lead to differences of opinion, it also reflects the diversity of the community in which we live and can lead to better decisions.  A diverse board is a strength, not a weakness, in my opinion.  

As I survey the current candidates on the ballot, I remember the quote “the best predictor of future behavior, is past behavior”.  There are three people that meet my personal criteria and that I will be voting for on April 6.

I endorse Kay Gruling: I first met Kay when our daughters attended preschool together.  Through the years we didn’t see each other often, but I heard of the amazing things she was involved in as a physician or as a community member.  She has a long track record as a supporter of the Wausau School District.  In fact, Kay received the “Friend of Education” award, an honor that very few attain.  I respect Kay and I know that she will do her homework and give this position the attention it deserves.

I endorse Nic Bisgrove: I haven’t known Nic for long, but I can see that he is an involved and loving parent and I have seen his efforts to engage the community in positive projects.  With two children in the WSD, it is personal for Nic, and as a financial professional, he brings that knowledge to the table.  School Finance is incredibly complicated, but Nic will serve as an asset to the board in that regard. He has involved himself in the community in a variety of ways, including Junior Achievement, and the Entertainment Fundraising event known as Kids Groove.

I endorse Tricia Zunker: I have served with Tricia for three years and I don’t know anyone that works harder and takes the work of the school board more seriously than she does.  I have seen Tricia, as board president, respond to hundreds and hundreds of emails, in a helpful and respectful way.  She often includes links to board agendas or recordings of past meetings, as well as additional materials that give more background on topics before the board.  She has been one of the most transparent and open board members I have ever known, creating new procedures, like accepting public comment via email, making it easier for community members to participate in local government.  She also brings her legal background to the board.

It has been my honor to serve the Wausau School District.  I feel fortunate to have met so many dedicated, professional and driven individuals that serve our community every day.  As a professional educator in a respected neighboring district for over three decades, I already knew what an incredible group of teachers we have in Wausau.  They have been my heroes this past year. 

What I learned from my service, is that the WSD also has some of the best top-level administrators and department heads that I have ever had the pleasure to know.  Wausau, you can be proud of our district and the education your children receive here.  I remember when my daughter, a Wausau East graduate, began her college education on a scholarship at a top-rated private institution.  Her class of 500 had students from over 50 countries.  When she told them she had graduated from a public high school, many of her classmates, who had attended private preparatory high schools, were surprised.  Her response to them was that in her hometown of Wausau, WI, a great education is available to all.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege of serving you.

Sincerely,

Beth Martin

Member of the Wausau School District Board of Education