Meet the School Board Candidates

Karl Zelle

Name: Karl Zelle

Bio: I’m a father with two children in the Mount Horeb school district. My family has been in the district since 2013, and we appreciate the quality of education the district has to offer. I work at Epic, and I enjoy woodworking, being outdoors, and playing the tuba.

Why are you running for a seat on the Mount Horeb Area Board of Education? 

Zelle: I decided to run when I heard that there were current board members leaving. I realized I could either step forward and run or do nothing and hope for the best. I have no specific policy to change or enact; I simply feel it is important for the board to continue to make informed decisions as it serves the whole community. 

Which qualities, skills and/or experiences make you the right candidate for the job? 

Zelle: The primary skills I’d bring to the board are listening and problem solving. Most of my work involves problems that are not clearly defined – I listen, assess constraints, and then find solutions. That fits well with what the board does: evaluate situations and determine the best path forward. I am a parent and taxpayer, and have several family members who have served as teachers, which will help me assess issues from multiple points of view. 

The past two years have been difficult for everyone, including children and teens in the Mount Horeb Area School District. What has the school district done right during the pandemic, and what should it do differently moving forward?

Zelle: The district was successful in making hardware for remote learning available to students. With that groundwork and the extra effort teachers put forth, we were able to make remote learning meaningful for many students. We should continue to encourage safety measures such as vaccinations and masking for students and staff in order to continue with as much in-person schooling as possible while ensuring student and teacher safety.

The physical toll of the COVID pandemic is clear and fairly easy to quantify. The long-term developmental, psychological and emotional damage caused by the pandemic (and the steps taken to try to fight it) are much harder to gauge. But it’s clear that people – particularly children – are increasingly isolated and fearful, and that learning outcomes have suffered, in Mount Horeb and across the country. How can the school board balance the risk of physical harm from COVID with the amorphous problems the fight against the pandemic can cause?

Zelle: Where possible, the district can continue to use least-intrusive protections such as encouraging vaccinations and masking, thus helping to keep classes in-person. More broadly, the district can help normalize discussion of both physical and mental health, in and outside of schools. 

The local school district includes about 2,500 students and serves eight communities. It receives $30 million in funding annually, and receives 40 percent of the local tax bill. Talk about the current state of school funding, and your vision for its future? 

Zelle: The district should strive to use its funding as effectively as possible. We should pursue any funds that are available outside of local taxes such as grants. Since local funding currently makes up the majority of the district’s budget, we should also advocate for more state and/or federal education funding.

What, as you understand them, are the responsibilities of a local school board member? What is the scope of your responsibilities if elected? Local issues? County issues? State issues? National ones?

Zelle: The board sets goals for the district, and helps evaluate the success of those goals, so individual board members need to have a broad focus on what is best for the district as a whole. This includes gathering and evaluating community feedback, and communicating the district’s plans with the community. The board can also serve as an advocate for the district in county/state/national issues.

Who are school board members elected to represent? With the complexities and problems of the pandemic thrust upon everyone in a way that was maddening for pretty much everyone, the community debated whose interests the school board should be looking out for, particularly because those interests do not always run in tandem. Students? Teachers? Parents? Taxpayers? 

Zelle: The primary focus of a school district is the education of students. However, policies that claim to benefit students but which unduly burden teachers and/or parents are inappropriate or unsustainable. The district’s obligation to taxpayers is to use the available funding responsibly.

What can the school board do to promote and protect local government transparency?

Zelle: The board can strive to make meetings available via livestream alongside publishing of minutes, whenever possible and appropriate. I feel the current board has done well to promote transparency.

How do you define Critical Race Theory and what do you feel its role, if any, should be in the classroom?

Zelle: Historically, Critical Race Theory has been a concept used in law schools to discuss the impact of the legal system on various groups of people. Recently, the term has often been used as a catch-all to refer to teaching at any level which includes discussion of topics such as institutional racism. While CRT doesn’t technically apply to the primary and intermediate education the district provides, it is important that concepts like race and racism should not be off-limits topics for teachers to discuss when they are connected to the curriculum.

If elected, what are your top priorities? 

Zelle: My first priority would be to familiarize myself with the whole picture of MHASD. I’m not bringing a specific policy I would like to implement or a change I’d like to see made, so I will be searching for roles that suit me well and serve this community.

What are the school district’s biggest challenges in 2022 and beyond? 

Zelle: The issue that is most top-of-mind is of course the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we are seeing a surge, it is my hope that we can return to a sense of normalcy soon. Another large challenge the district faces (and which has been exacerbated by COVID) is staff shortages and teacher burnout. We need to find ways to help alleviate the causes of teacher burnout and attrition and consider the impacts to staff as a part of decisions on school policy.  

What are its greatest opportunities? 

Zelle: As Mount Horeb and surrounding communities continue to grow, we may see opportunities that come with size to broaden educational opportunities for students. We have done well to provide a variety of Career and Technology Education programs alongside college-focused curriculum, and as the district grows we should evaluate where we can continue to add more diverse programs for students.

 What role can/should local schools play in addressing mental health issues in the community? 

Zelle: Schools should strive to be a safe place for students, where students feel they can discuss any mental health issues with experts. The district should continue to address the issue of bullying, both by working to reduce bullying in school and by encouraging appropriate behavior outside of school. We can also provide guidance for community members to help them find mental health care when they need it. 

Three years ago, the Mount Horeb Area School District completed work on $38.5 million in building expansions and upgrades approved and paid for through a voter referendum. It was the largest successful referendum in district history, and future referenda are currently in the works. What role should these ballot measures play in funding the district going forward? 

Zelle: Funding large school projects with referenda can be an appropriate way for the district to move forward with projects that require a large initial financial outlay. The district should provide clear guidance to voters on what a ballot measure plans to accomplish, and should provide voters with tools to determine how much that specific project would impact their property taxes.

What is the district currently doing well? 

Zelle: The district’s single-cohort grades are helpful in building a cohesive student body. The way the district has implemented 4K with community sites works well, and provides options for parents. We provide a good variety of learning opportunities for a district of our size, and our schools feel well integrated with the community.

In what areas could it improve? 

Zelle: The district has asked a lot of our teachers, staff, students, and parents through the pandemic, and we need to make sure we are not asking them to maintain the exceptional levels of mental energy that have been required through the pandemic. We should also explore additional opportunities such project-based learning, Career and Technology Education, or increased college preparatory classes. 

In a very crowded field of candidates, what message would you like to make sure voters hear about you and the job you would do on the board if elected?

Zelle: I’m not bringing a personal agenda; I am here to listen to the needs of all those the district serves and give them appropriate priority. I will do my best to assess all the district’s needs equitably.

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114 East Main Street
Mount Horeb, WI

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