Falkofske, Wade for Unified School Board


Four people are running for two seats on the Kenosha Unified School District’s seven-member board. In many ways, the field is better than usual, perhaps one of the best slates ever.

All of the candidates are of legal drinking age, for starters. That hasn’t always been the case.

But seriously, folks, it’s a highly qualified field.

Jo Ann Taube is a retired music teacher with 40 years of experience working in the district plus six years of experience on the School Board.

Gary Kunich works in public relations for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is a former newspaper reporter.

Dan Wade is a retired chief of the Kenosha Police Department who has volunteered in his grandaughters’ schools.

Mike Falkofske is a consultant who helps local governments with geographical information systems. He has been active in a group of concerned parents.

On paper, it’s a terrfic field, but somehow all of the candidates have been diminished by the way the campaign has played out. The candidates have been hurt by some things that were not in their control, such as spending by outside groups, but they’ve also been hurt by some of their own actions.

The division of the four candidates into two camps has been unfortunate. We were hoping to see more signs of independence, but the candidates buddied-up early.

Taube and Falkofske held an event together, and Wade and Kunich held an event together and have sent out joint mailings. The teachers union backed Taube and Falkofske, and a newly formed group that sprang from the Kenosha Area Business Alliance backed Wade and Kunich. It’s a non-partisan race, but it looks like there is a red (conservative) team and a blue (liberal) team.

Falkofske, 41, is our top choice among these candidates because he is a parent and has worked closely with other parents in tackling specific issues in the district. They promoted a serious discussion of bullying and they worked successfully to get honors math restored to middle schools.

If elected, Falkofske would represent the whole district, not just parents, but that group has shaped his thinking about school issues. That’s OK; if the school district doesn’t satisfy parents, the school district probably isn’t doing a very good job. It would be a great leap forward if, three years from now, parents were much more pleased with their schools.

Because Falkfofske was endorsed by the teachers union and then campaigned in tandem with Taube, he has been painted as another candidate representing the teachers union. That’s not entirely fair. Parents and teachers often have similar interests, but it’s a stretch to think that a parents group would always be in synch with the teachers union.

Falkofske said he thinks the district needs to bring down class sizes in the middle schools and high schools and he is concerned about how the district handles disruptive students. He thinks the district’s curriculum should be more consistent throughout the district.

“We’re looking for a better classroom environment,” he said. “We need to come up with strategies for true individualized learning.”

We think Falkofske is the best option for voters who are concerned about a school board whose members all seem to fall into the pro-teachers-union or anti-teachers-union camps

We are less confident in a recommendation from among the other three candidates.

Jo Ann Taube, 71, has been on the board for six years. That should be a plus, but it’s not this time because the board’s performance for those six years has been disappointing. A superintendent was hired and then essentially fired, and a lot of damage was done in between those events. A curriculum audit and a math audit both depict Unified as a poorly run district.

We respect Taube’s knowledge of the district and her experience, but she appears to be in lock-step with the Kenosha Education Association and contributes to the impression that it is the teachers union that makes the big decisions.

Gary Kunich, 45, has complained about the School Board’s and the previous superintendent’s lack of communication with the public.

“The leadership on the board has to foster communication,” he said.

He has also said that the district needs more charter schools and more engagement with parents.

On his website, Kunich describes himself as an independent, moderate voice, but his independence is called into question by his alliance with Wade in the campaign. In an interview, he said the board needs “a seismic change” which could only be accomplished with two new members, him and Wade.

It’s hard not to appreciate the energy Kunich brings, but we worry that his enthusiasm will morph into overzealousness and that he will follow the historical pattern of micromanaging from the board that has driven administrative talent out of the district.

Dan Wade has a rare resume for a school board candidate. As a former chief of the Kenosha Police Department, he has experience working with professionals in a union environment. That should be useful experience in a school district.

He said the recent curriculum audit doesn’t paint a good picture of the schools, and he thinks the curriculum should be consistent throughout the district. He also said he thinks sometimes the board gets too involved in some decisions.

“We have to allow principals and the senior staff to do their jobs,” he said.

Some campaign literature has depicted Wade as anti-union — a task made easier by his daughter suing the school district for signing the latest contract with the teachers union — but in an interview Wade said, “The union has nothing to fear from me.”

Wade is probably the best qualified by experience, but of the four candidates, he seemed to be the least familiar with school district issues. That may not be such a bad thing if we want a school board that sticks to making broad policy decisions and leaves the details to administrators.

We enthusiastically recommend Falkofske for the School Board.

Of the other three candidates, we find Wade to be the best choice.