Four candidates run for two River Ridge board seats

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Justin Campbell

Jason Drone

Emilie Mumm

Cory Raisbeck

Compiled by Correne Martin

The River Ridge School District has two seats up for election on April 7—one currently held by Bob Key, who chose not to re-run, and the other held by Bob Mathre, who did not advance past the February primary election. Four district residents are running for the two spots. Each of the candidates was recently asked to respond to the same set of provided questions:

1. Explain the two biggest reasons why you are running for election to the River Ridge School Board?
2. How do you plan to be a voice for the residents of the school district, if elected?
3. Are you a believer in moving all students/staff to one location, or keeping the current setup of two separate school locations in Patch Grove and Bloomington? Why?
4. Do you support the referendum? Keeping it short, explain why or why not?
5. How important is a unified district to the future of the River Ridge school system? And how do you plan to bring people back together, regardless of whether the referendum passes or not?
6. What is the greatest advantage River Ridge has over other school districts and why do you feel that way?
7. What is the greatest weakness of the district and how could it be improved?

Justin Campbell
Systems administrator for Peoples State Bank, Bloomington. Lives in Bloomington. Married to Amy and dad to Emory (5), Jocelyn (4), and another on the way.

1. I have two young children, and I want to ensure they have the best education, teachers, and a safe and clean learning environment. I also want to make sure the correct steps are taken so there will be a River Ridge school district for my kids and their kids. My grandparents and parents made sure these opportunities were available to my kids and me, and I’m going to make sure it doesn’t end during my term.

2. Over the last couple of years, I was part of the CCG (Community Communication Group) that the River Ridge school board formed.  We were tasked with reviewing and understanding all of the information from the air quality, architectural, and engineering reports, communicating the findings to the community, and reporting back to the board. Being a part of this group has kept me informed with the facts, not opinions, from the licensed engineers and architects. The CCG also worked to investigate different one- and two-site scenarios and help develop the most efficient, cost-effective solution for our children and the taxpayers. Even though the CCG is no longer together, I have stayed part of the process by attending school board meetings and talking with community members. This has allowed me to educate myself and members of the community with the facts of River Ridge’s situation instead of opinions.

3. I am a believer in moving all students/staff to one location. I know operating two facilities will take money away from more important things like expanded educational opportunities for our youth and competitive salaries for our teachers. I also know the infrastructures are outdated in both buildings, and without major improvements, they will take a lot of operating money to maintain. This is not utilizing tax dollars very wisely.

4. I support the referendum. River Ridge has serious concerns with air quality and fire safety, and they will be addressed if this referendum passes. As a parent, these need to be fixed immediately, and as a taxpayer, I want them fixed the correct way. The licensed architects and engineers have advised us to replace much of our old infrastructure, and I agree with them. Our issues are not going away and need to be addressed by any means necessary.

5. Many school systems are facing economic challenges with aging facilities and state aid short falls. These challenges are only overcome by districts that support and take pride in their school system, and River Ridge is one of those districts. The River Ridge school district has dealt with consolidations and referendums in the past, and our many small communities have come together to ensure generations of children get a great education and plenty of opportunities to succeed. River Ridge’s history allows me to believe we will always be unified despite the struggles we presently have.

6. As a district, our communities and businesses have dedicated a lot of time, money, and effort in to improving opportunities for the youth, creating First Responder teams, fixing old structures at public sites, helping out neighbors, etc. This “small town” lifestyle makes our district great and will remain a way of life for our communities as long as we keep a school district.

7. As a Bloomington resident and a River Ridge graduate, I would like to see the communities unify for the River Ridge school district despite where the building(s) may be located. The physical location(s) of our school(s) do not and should not define the River Ridge School District. Community and business support for needed projects is always overwhelming. I would like to see this same passion and effort put toward improving River Ridge for the future.

Jason Drone
Electrician working at D&D Electric in Lancaster. Also in second year of the electrical construction apprenticeship program at SWTC, working toward a journeyman’s license. Lives between Bloomington and Patch Grove. My wife, Nicky, and I have been married for 13 years and have lived in this school district our entire lives. We have three very active children: Sidney (11), Logan (10), Josey (7).

1. I would like to see us move past the issues of 20 years ago that seem to linger and be a united board for the future of the children and families in this community. I feel that having open-minded and motivated individuals on the board can accomplish this. I am an active member of the Timberwolf Touchdown Club youth program. To witness firsthand how the program has grown by leaps and bounds in only two years and to see the community come together as one to support our youth has been overwhelming. I hope that I can help accomplish the same success of bringing the community together for the school district as I have for our youth programs.

2. I feel as though I am a well-respected, open-minded person in this community. Both of my parents taught in this school district for their entire teaching careers. They were both very active with the school and still are today in the community. I have learned a lot from them and especially the value of a good education. By coaching three different youth sports and being an active parent in the district, parents know that I am looking out for the best interest of their children. Parents should feel comfortable coming to me with their questions and concerns knowing that I will do my best to make a difference.

3. I feel that moving to one site is the best decision for our school district and for the education of the children. The money spent to continue to operate two sites (one of them housing only two grades) is not a fiscally responsible decision that we can continue to make. One site will unite our community, unite our teachers, and give our children, and the children to come, an education that they deserve.

4. I wholeheartedly support the referendum. The state is requiring our board to bring the buildings up to 1960s state code if the referendum does not pass. If the referendum passes, all of the health and safety issues will be completely resolved by bringing the facility up to today’s standards. Hopefully, this weighs heavy on voters’ minds as I do not see the point of living in the past some 55 years ago. We need to be living in the present and preparing for the future.

5. A unified district is extremely important. I plan to make sure that the people are getting the facts and to get them involved in the decision making by keeping them informed and listening to their concerns.

6. The strongest point of River Ridge is our teaching staff. Our staff goes above and beyond, is very compassionate and involved in giving our children the best education possible. I feel we are obligated to provide a facility that allows our staff to teach in a healthy and safe environment. I want the teachers to feel that they teach in a school district that is strong and united and moving in the right direction.

7. I believe that our greatest weakness is that we are not putting the children first. We need to put the emotions aside and strive to come together as one to do what is best for our children.

Emilie (Horkheimer) Mumm
Customer service representative at Brechler Insurance in Fennimore. Lifelong resident of Bloomington. Married to Mark and mom to Addison (20), Isaac (18), Beatrice (15), Connor (13).

1. I am very concerned about the future of our school. We have a great system here. School is not necessarily a building, but an experience. I am also concerned about the obvious disconnect between school administration, school board members, and community members.

2. Communication, honest communication, is vital. Community members, taxpayers, school staff, etc., all have excellent thoughts and ideas. I am running so they will be heard.

3. At this time, I believe in the two separate schools. As I have said, I believe this whole situation has been so extremely difficult because the school board is trying to find a solution to a problem that we do not have yet. We need to be patient, plan and prepare for the time when all students might fit into one building. Until then, we deal with the state-mandated issues and keep excelling.

4. I do not support the multi-million dollar referendum that will be put to the voters in April. There does not appear to be a clear plan of action as to how this money will be used. The November referendum was clearly voted down. The board coming back with a $9.9 million referendum was done to seem like a bargain. I am confident the taxpayers will be facing multiple referendums in the future, because there will not be enough money to accomplish everything that is proposed to be done whether it needs to be done or not. I also feel that if necessary, money should be spent on classrooms rather than athletic facilities, but when you look at it, we already have both classrooms and athletic facilities in Bloomington!

5. It would seem a unified district would be very important. Conflict and politics seems a common pair. Regardless of the referendum results, honest communication needs to be addressed between school administration school board members, and community members.

6. Not only does River Ridge have great teachers and staff, but extra-curricular activities are a big positive for our school. The middle school has especially had some very positive recognition. Our children have had very positive educational and extra-curricular experiences at River Ridge.

7. Our greatest weakness, unfortunately, is our declining numbers and this cannot be controlled. Another weakness that we are now realizing is the lack of proper maintenance to our buildings and this we can control. We need to develop a system of maintenance plans so that we can avoid possible problems in the future.

Cory Raisbeck
Owner at BoxLogix Automation in Prairie du Chien. BoxLogix specializes in distribution center efficiencies by implementing mechanical conveyors, computer programing and business operational reviews. Lives in Wyalusing Township. A 2000 graduate from River Ridge. Married to Nikki and dad to Collin (6) and Kennedy (3).

1. I travel across the United States working with very large and small businesses to create plans to solve their current issues. With the current state mandates at the school, I believe my problem solving approach would benefit the students, board, school and taxpayers. In addition, I think the board isn’t fairly, accurately and openly distributing information. Three examples of this are: 1.) The board told us the state report was going to cost $5 million-plus to fix, only to find out after the first referendum the actual number is $1.75 million. 2.) The district was led to believe the state was going to close our school based on air quality, only to find out the state doesn’t even have a code in regard to air quality. 3.) Lastly, I don’t hear the present board being honest and talking about the reality that, all the things they wish for in Patch Grove can’t be done with the current budget, and that some things will not get completed without requesting additional taxpayer money. For example, Greg Callin, of Kraemer Brothers, was quoted on Feb. 25, telling the school board, “So the new budget at $46 per square foot will eliminate or possibly limit some of the remaining funds that would have been available to do other things like any fixturing in that space, painting in that space, wall covering in that space, interior room reconfiguration like moving interior walls, replacement doors and replacement cabinetry.” This shows the current board’s lack of transparency.

2. I feel the current board has lost touch with the communities that River Ridge was formed to serve. I’d like to be part of a school board that listens to the community members and acts in a way that supports the majority. I have had many residents ask me how 64 percent of the community can vote in one direction and be ignored by the board. I think representing the majority of the residents is the fundamental responsibility of the board.

3. To me, it comes down to some rather simple finances. In order to move to one location, the board has asked the taxpayers to borrow $9.9 million at 4.25 percent interest over a 20-year period for a total of $15,031,749.18. The district expects $250,000 annually in cost avoidance by moving to one site. If we divide $15,031,749.18 by $250,000, we see that our investment is going to take 60.12 years before taxpayers see any real savings.

(Editor’s note: According to the district’s financial adviser,  the $9.9 million is expected to be paid off in 20 years. This would be achieved by utilizing the $250,000 in yearly operating savings, state aid received on principle and interest payments, and a decline in operating referendum taxes effective December 2019. After discussing and agreeing over these facts, Raisbeck said these dollars used for debt payments are still taxpayer dollars, and he maintains that it will take 60 years before district taxpayers start seeing any form of savings in their pockets.)

4. I strongly feel this referendum is premature. The state asked us to address problems totaling $1.75 and the board, fresh off of a failed referendum, charged ahead with a $9.9 million “solution.” I believe that we can accomplish the needs of the district much more financially reasonable than spending $9.9 million. If the referendum passes as currently stated, we will be the 13th highest taxed school district out of the 429 districts in the state of Wisconsin. I absolutely believe we need to make improvements to our schools, but we need to be fiscally responsible about this. If we want to protect the longevity of our schools, we need to get people to work together to come up with a more balanced plan. Let us not forget the lessons of the worst economic recession in the history of our country. The institutions with the highest debt did not survive.

5. I believe that the people will come together after this election to support the school system. Honesty and integrity by our board will be a great first step. As I said before, I think the lack of transparency in our current board makes this division much deeper. I will work with voters and board members no matter the outcome of the referendum to build a stronger school system.

6. I believe we have a great school system that has won many awards, educated many fine students and allowed our young people to be part of extracurricular events. Our teachers/coaches, if given the opportunity, will work together for the greater good of our students and communities. This teamwork approach has made River Ridge great for 20 years and can continue to make it great.

7. I would like to see us address some of the facility needs. We don’t need a fancy secure entrance, but we could use some updates. We can address each of these items individually and as our funds allow, improving educational experience while being fiscally responsible with our taxpayer’s money.

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