Meet the School Board Candidates
Name: Jeff Hanna
Bio: Kathy and I live in the Village of Mt. Horeb. Our two children graduated from Mt. Horeb High School and we have two granddaughters currently in the school system. I am a graduate of Belleville High School and grew up on a dairy farm south of Mt. Vernon. I have worked at a local business as a cheesemaker for 44 years and am finishing 21 years of service on the Mt. Horeb Area School District Board.
Why are you running for a seat on the Mount Horeb Area Board of Education?
Hanna: It’s good when people take time out of their busy work day to help with the educational duties needed for our students to get an education. Citizen involvement in school decisions is important to best serve our community.
Which qualities, skills and/or experiences make you the right candidate for the job?
Hanna: I have been here for twenty years and each year there are new challenges being thrown at us as board members. I do my best to get the job done with a limited amount of tax dollars and try to make decisions I know would be best for everybody’s children.
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?
Hanna: We have taken all the precautions at all of the schools for keeping the staff and students safe. We should work with what the CDC and PHMDC has to say as we move forward.
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 and fight it) are much hard to gauge. But it’s clear the people – particularly children – are increasingly isolated and fearful, and that learning outcomes have suffered, in Mount Horeb and across the country. How can the board balance the risk of physical harm from COVID with the amorphous problems the fight against the pandemic can cause?
Hanna: We need to keep our students in the classroom. Students need that time to be around their friends and classmates.
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.
Hanna: School funding has been “OK” in the past but this year the state only covered minor increases and the ESSER dollars are to cover the rest of the expenses. To put it bluntly, this year “sucks” and has been a challenge. We will have to make careful decisions in the coming years to meet the needs of our students.
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?
Hanna: Board members are to make policy and keep schools safe. Representatives at the county, state, and national levels do the same. We need to encourage our area legislative representatives at the Capitol to adequately fund our school district.
Who are the 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?
Hanna: School board members are elected to represent the people that live within the district. We have to take each and every day one at a time to meet all the changes that are thrown at us by the pandemic to keep all parties safe in these challenging times.
What can the school board do to promote and protect local government transparency?
Hanna: School board members need to prepare ahead of time for what’s on the agenda, be up front and open during discussion, and make decisions when and where the public can weigh in on topics of interest. The public should be able to trust elected officials to make decisions in their best interest.
How do you define Critical Race Theory and what do you feel its role, if any, should be in the classroom?
Hanna: Critical Race Theory is the thought society works against minorities as a whole in addition to individual racist acts. The theory is something taught at the college level. Some people use the issue at the K-12 level to deliberately cause division. Racism has NO place in our community or schools and our curriculum and teachers do a good job of reinforcing this value.
If elected, what are your top priorities?
Hanna: To meet the needs for all the students to get a quality education for the dollars we get from state and local taxes.
What is the school district’s biggest challenges in 2022 and beyond?
Hanna: To meet the needs of all our students with very little increase in state funding.
What are its greatest opportunities?
Hanna: We have a great school system and schools and a very good teaching staff to take us forward.
What role can/should local schools play in addressing mental health issues in the community?
Hanna: We should identify and offer assistance to those that have a need in this area. We should do everything we can to help each individual student and make them feel valued.
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. I 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?
Hanna: The school board has the choice to add a question to the voters for extra dollars to furnish, add staff and maintenance to a build. I believe that it is of vital importance to keep everything in the schools upgraded as much as we can.
What is the district currently doing well?
Hanna: I believe that our district is doing very well in providing good classroom instruction along with a wide variety of activities including music, DECA, drama, team sports etc. We have a lot to offer for a school district our size. Our property tax rate has been fairly stable even with state aid not keeping up with increases in expenses.
In what areas could it improve?
Hanna: Staff is needed in all areas of the district. Students that have learning disabilities could fall through the gaps.
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?
Hanna: I would want the public to know I have been doing this job for twenty years. I do my best to help the students and staff when there is a need. I have done what I think is the best for the students to get a quality education.