November 2, 2018: Vote

Hello Black River Falls Community! This is Dr. Shelly Severson, Superintendent of the School District of Black River Falls, and I’m here to share this week’s Spotlight on Schools! This week we are going to talk about an old message that cannot be repeated too often. Next week is election week. Unless you live under a rock and never turn on the radio or television, you may have seen a few political advertisements. As frustrated as we may get with the polarizing messages that are lobbied back and forth between candidates, it is important that we don’t get to the point of frustration and decide that our VOTE no longer matters. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The right to vote can be taken for granted, but please remember that there has been bloodshed over the right to vote. It is also a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. Each of us has a civic duty to do our homework on the candidates, which often means digging deeper than the fliers in our mailboxes, to find out where each candidate stands on the issues that are important to us now and those that may affect us in the future.

Education is a topic that is very important to me, both personally and professionally. Personally, I have strong beliefs about the power of a free and appropriate education being available to ALL, not just our best and brightest as some countries believe, but ALL of our youth. Professionally, you’ve likely heard education in the spotlight during much of the current gubernatorial race. Likely this is because one of the candidates currently holds the office of State Superintendent of Schools. However, education continues to be a hot topic on the national and state level. Much like we teach our students throughout their US History and Global Politics courses, our job is not to convince people who to vote for, but to teach students how to dig behind the billboards and commercials to get at the real issues at play, and then make an informed decision from there.

One issue that you’ve likely heard a great deal about is the issue of School Choice. I want to take a moment to explain to you exactly what that means, particularly for us in Black River Falls. The School Choice program has been widely expanded in recent years through legislation in the state of Wisconsin and Nationally under Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVoss. What School Choice allows is for a parent to choose to take their child to a private/religious school instead of the public school, and the public schools send public tax dollars that they receive for the education of kids in their community to these private/religious schools. You may not think this is a significant factor for us in Black River Falls as there are not many private schools close enough for many parents to make that choice. However, consider communities on the outskirts of La Crosse or Eau Claire as they both have multiple private school choices. That being said, even though we do not have a large number of private schools in our immediate area, the laws surrounding school choice continue to make it easier and easier for public dollars to be diverted to private schools. Currently, the SDBRF gets thousands of dollars taken off the top of our state aid to fund the Wisconsin Parent Choice Program. This means even if no students living in our community attend a private school we are still contributing funding. Additionally, private schools are not required to meet many other state reporting mandates. They don’t have to hire certified teachers, in short, they aren’t governed by the same set of rules but still have access to public dollars. My greatest concern is that nobody wants their taxes to increase and if the current financial situation is going to try to fund two parallel systems, both the public and the private school system, I am clear that our children are going to be the losers.

In keeping with our theme this week we are going to share some feedback from families last February who had the following to say about Mr. Paul Rykken, long time social studies teacher at the high school and facilitator of our Mock Elections since 1990; “All of my kids have benefited from having Mr. Rykken. My college age student said that he was incredible at getting her ready for college especially in the area of writing!” Another parent simply stated that he “treats all fairly and respectfully and is an amazing teacher!”

As you likely learned from your high school social studies teacher, it’s time to do your civic duty and get out to VOTE next Tuesday. Every voice matters.

If you have any questions about this, or anything else within the District, please don’t hesitate to contact me! Let’s show our Tiger Pride in all that we do!
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