Wilkerson should be shoe in for school board

CHUCK VANDENBERG

It’s election time again, and as with every other election that’s been held in the past five years, I’ve gone back and forth on the idea of endorsements.

Most of the people that have put their names on a ballot I’ve known and considered all great people that are taking a huge leap in putting their name on a ballot. Something most people wouldn’t think about seriously.

So, here we are again, sitting on a fulcrum of whether or not to put in our two cents.

And here’s why we do. Because we’ve spent time with most of the candidates and we make it our business to mind yours.

So with that being said….

Let’s dispense with the mayoral race. Matt Mohrfeld should be elected for two more years. This guy runs the city like his life. Always moving and pushing the limits. Many of the frustrated in this community care about its well-being on a level comparable to those moving the city forward. The difference is the ones moving the city forward have focused their energies to that end, not in disparaging the way in which it is being done.

Progress is progress and we support it no matter how mad some get.

Mohrfeld has energy. This isn’t carrying the water for anyone. We’ve challenged the mayor on several things, poking him in the ribs about the Humphrey building, and making sure the open meetings stay open.

Rodney Hoskins made what we think is a major political blunder taking the podium and scolding the mayor and council for not showing up when U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley held one of his 99 county town halls in Fort Madison. Hoskins underestimates the amount of time Mohrfeld spends with state officials representing the best interests of Fort Madison.

Running for office is admirable, but respecting those also running is a defining characteristic of someone worthy of a vote.

Quite frankly, the visit with Grassley had very little to do with the city. All that aside, Hoskins lost by 700 votes two years ago to Mohrfeld and couldn’t provide an answer as to how this campaign would be different, other than he wants streets fixed.

The streets are getting fixed.

Let’s move to the school board which is a riveting race with seven candidates, five are newcomers to the public political arena and that should be noted.

Tim Wondra isn’t seeking re-election. That’s about a dozen years of school board experience exiting the board. Wondra’s had to navigate some choppy waters at FMCSD, some decisions were solid and hard to make and others still require some explanation. But replacing his knowledge and commitment won’t be easy.

But Paul Wilkerson is about as close as you’ll find. Wilkerson has been involved in public and private education for all but about seven years of his life.

This is as close to replacing Wondra as the district could find. He brings a wealth of education experience to the fold, and we believe could be a catalyst to a much-improved relationship between the public and private systems in the district. He’s been a teacher, a coach, an administrator in both public and private school settings, will not have the budget learning curve of the other candidates, and will be able to form legitimate questions for what he may lack.

If you’re not ready to check his name, you’re probably not informed enough about the candidates.

The other two seats up for re-election are the seats of Brian Steffensmeier and Brad Menke.

Both have served on the board and challenged the status quo. Menke put on an empassioned plea earlier this month for the administration to listen to the staff and try harder to find quality teachers, specifically special education teachers.

We’ve had a hard time reaching Menke to do a candidate preview, which hurt Brian Steffensmeier’s candidacy, too. Menke was also unable to attend the Fort Madison Partners’ candidate forum on Thursday night.

Despite not being able to put some things down in a post about Menke’s reasons for wanting to return to the board, we have to lean toward supporting him in re-election. He brings a bold challenge to the status quo and doesn’t allow the inertia of the way things have always been done to dictate the agenda.

Steffensmeier is as passionate about the district as anyone, but sometimes has trouble articulating the passion in a way that impacts the board’s decisions. But he shouldn’t take a back seat to anyone for caring about these people – students and staff alike.

We’re also throwing our support behind Fort Madison attorney Mio Santiago for the third seat.

Santiago took a vocal role in past bond issues, has a teacher for a wife, and has three children in the system. One in high school, one in middle school, and one in the elementary system. Not sure if there’s a dinner table in the district that has a more productive conversation about our education system day in and day out.

Santiago is also an educated and savvy interrogator. That will come in handy as we try to navigate our way through the charred path the pandemic is leaving on our educational system.

We still are far away from realizing the full impact of COVID-19 on our students. We also think Santiago can be a very effective resource in dealing with the safety of our children. As a former Lee County Assistant attorney he would have a unique perspective on how to help us get past the terrifying scenarios that Middle School Principal Pat Lamb presented at the last district board meeting.

We have a rough side of mountain to climb in teaching our students how to properly capitalize on social media enterprises, while not letting it jeopardize their safety. We need the best minds on that task as soon as possible.

Aleena Garr is a bright and well-spoken woman who deserves a role with the district, but we would be better served having her on staff. We can’t have too many educators in the mix on the board. We already have a former teacher, Wilkerson should get elected handily. On a board of seven, two educators is plenty. And although Garr isn’t a teacher, she does work on a daily basis with vocational programming and has connections in the Department of Education.

We just think that has the potential to unbalance the board.

David Allen is a fun listen, and is as anecdotal as anyone. He’s well traveled and has a huge resume. But he seems a little bitter about the process and he doesn’t appear to be a fan of the media, as we’re not forward-thinking enough.

We agree. Journalism should be more proactive, but the business model is making that more and more difficult and we rely on education sources to help us remain proactive. With everyone in the world being asked to do more with less, unfortunately, that potential is limited at best.

Jadi Zioui left the Partners’ forum 30 minutes early for another appointment. We were impressed and confused by that at the same time. Priorities are intact for sure, but distractions aren’t something we need on our board right now.

Those people will need to be dedicated and focused.

So that’s it. We say Matt Mohrfeld for two more years with the mayor’s gavel, and put Wilkerson, Santiago, and Menke on the school board. We offer those opinions humbly and with a reminder that’s it’s your vote ultimately. Not ours. But our opinion is offered with a bit of reference based on conversations and observations.

Don’t forget to vote Tuesday. City and School elections typically run low turnout, but please give credence to how important the direction of our school district is right now. And our city has moved by leaps in bounds in Mohrfeld’s three years as a councilman and Mayor. It’s an important decision on Nov. 2.

And while all that is going on in and around Fort Madison, Melissa Freesmeier and the HTC Crusaders will be dealing with state tourney nemesis Janesville in Cedar Rapids. Make sure you throw them your support, as well.

But that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor of the Pen City Current and can be reached at editor@pencitycurrent.com.

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