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Two newcomers eye two local school board seats

Voters in the Ellsworth School District will find two candidates for two available board seats on their ballots in next Tuesday's election.

The candidates are Tony Murphy and Jeff Stockwell.

They were sent questionnaires by the Herald. Following are the questions and the candidates' written responses.

Please give a brief description of yourself. Include information such as age, family, where you live and for how long, and list any educational, life or public service experiences which you believe will assist you in the position you're seeking.

MURPHY: My name is Tony Murphy. I reside in Hager City with my wife Laura, and have lived at our current residence for the last 16 years. I am 41-years-old and have five children in the district: Alexandra, 11th grade, Taylor, 10th grade, Jordan, eighth grade, Isaac, second grade, and Samuel, kindergarten. I have a B/S degree from UW-River Falls in Marketing and Business Administration. I have been involved in Ellsworth youth football in the past as a coach. I have been responsible for budgeting and revenue generation in many of my former and current employment positions. I am currently General Sales Manager for Reinhart Foodservice, La Crosse.

STOCKWELL: My name is Jeff Stockwell. I am 46-years-old, married to my wife, Lori, have three children, Ryne, 19, Brent, 15, and Abby, 13. I live near Martell and have been a resident there the majority of my life. I served as supervisor on the Martell Town Board two terms ago and believe that that experience will serve well to this position.

If you are a challenger, explain how and why you chose to seek the position and what areas particularly interest you; if you are an incumbent, discuss the committees on which you have served, review any accomplishments to which you feel you have made a particular contribution and share your intentions for involvement during a new term.

MURPHY: I choose to seek election to the Ellsworth School Board to take an active part in my children's education process. I did not want to be a bystander and talk about what "I would have done." Many of the decisions that will need to be made in the upcoming years will be very difficult and will shape the future of our district's students. I feel I am up to this challenge and will put forth a great amount of effort to make sure that these decisions will have a positive impact on the community and especially the students that are in our district. I will strive to have Ellsworth Schools be one of the top schools in the area.

STOCKWELL: I decided to run for this position for two reasons. First, I currently have two children in seventh and ninth grade and feel that I can contribute support to them and other students. Second, the failed referendum is going to force a lot of hard decisions on the district and I feel I can help in this area.

Discuss what your approach would be to cutting the school district's budget.

MURPHY: The biggest step to cut the district's budget is to analyze all expenditures in the district. Do these expenses improve the quality of the education process? With this economic atmosphere, everyone is asked to do more with a little less. School districts are no different. We all need to make sure any cuts are not shortsighted, but will improve the economic and educational position of our district in the future and continue with the number one priority of which is the students. Any expenditures need to be looked at from a cost/benefit analysis to determine if this is best for the district at this given time.

STOCKWELL: My approach to cutting the school district's budget is to look closely at everything to see where cuts can be made without jeopardizing the quality of our children's education.

Which would be more beneficial to the school district: eliminating staff positions or freezing staff salaries--and why?

MURPHY: Neither of these options would be popular. Any reduction of staffing would need to be evaluated and determine what the long term effects of these reductions would have on our educational programs. Staffing changes/cuts are an inevitable part of the budget cutting process. With regards to freezing staff salaries, if a compromise can be reached, it definitely would be a "short term" solution.

STOCKWELL: I would rather see the freezing of staff salaries than the elimination of staff positions. The school system's job is to educate and, by reducing staff, I believe you can jeopardize the quality of education by seeing larger classroom sizes.

How should the school board go about engaging residents in a meaningful dialogue about important issues facing the district?

MURPHY: The school board is a function of the district in which it serves The school board members need to be available to the community members and be willing to have honest and open dialogue. All school board meetings are open to the public and our community needs to take advantage of this democratic system. I would like to see times set aside where the school board members can meet openly with district residents on dates other than specified meeting dates. These meetings could be informal and give some time to residents to have one-on-one discussions with members about our school district. I think this would be less intimidating to some residents than a formal meeting would. Any information/ideas generated by this could then be shared by the board members. This focus group approach may help generate ideas that could shape our district's future. Positive communication and community support in the board's decisions are a key to Ellsworth School District's success.

STOCKWELL: The issue of engaging residents in a meaningful dialogue, I believe, is a difficult one. The minutes of the school board are published and are open for the public, but probably read by few, which poses the problem of people not being informed about issues.

Identify and elaborate on any other issues facing the board which you feel to be important.

MURPHY: One area I am concerned about is the declining enrollment, some of which is due to open enrollment to other districts. It is important to look at why students would opt for other districts in our area. Is it a result of academics, location (long commute/bus ride), athletic programs or other factors? Enrollment issues are definitely a concern for a district of our size.

STOCKWELL: Continuing to provide quality programs and how to keep people informed about the district are two main issues that are important to me.