Q&A: Trish Baker for School Board

Questions by Stevens Point League of Women Voters

What background qualifies you for this position?

I am a licensed attorney and have held a variety of government positions over the past 18 years. I was an Assistant District Attorney for nearly ten years and am now the Portage County Clerk of Circuit Court.  As such, I understand the twin goals of all good government – transparency and accountability.  As a department head, I manage a budget of roughly $2 million.

Additionally, I have two children that have graduated from the Stevens Point School District and have gone on to have successful college careers, one is a Chemistry major at the USMA at West Point and the other is studying Biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota.

What strengths and interests do you bring to the board?

Working as an attorney, I already have a solid understanding of Wisconsin open record law, open meeting law, statutes, Wisconsin administrative code.

More importantly, I bring an ability to listen, mediate, and negotiate in a fair and unbiased manner.  In addition to my law degree, I participated in the Alternative Dispute Resolution program at Marquette University and was a family law mediator for Portage County for several years.  I believe that student achievement should be the overall goal of the School Board and intend to do all I can to refocus the Board towards this goal.

As a board member, how would you foster a more positive public opinion of the board?

First and foremost I will listen carefully to ALL the constituencies of the board: front-line educators, students, administrators, parents, and the business community.

Also, as no one in my family works for the school district, my children are no longer in the district, and I have no financial ties to the district, I don’t come to the Board with any predispositions or financial allegiances. I am able to listen and weigh all positions without bias.

Additionally, we enjoy tremendous support of our local businesses and I intend to strengthen those relationships.  In order to attract new residents and businesses, and retain the same, we need a positive reputation for our district.

What is your knowledge and understanding of the current public school funding situation in Wisconsin?

Much like county government, the district is funded by a combination of local property tax levy, State general aid, federal aids, and interest revenue.  Wisconsin Statute 121.01 outlines the general intent of how funding should occur.  The reality is that state general aid has been declining every year since 2007-08.  Additionally, in 2011 the State also decreased levy limits for school districts, impacting property tax levies statewide, causing all school districts to scramble to make ends meet. Benefits have been cut sharply to balance budgets.  Referendums to deal with specific financial issues can be held but in Stevens Point have had only marginal success.

What is also of huge importance is how the State private voucher school program operates.  This program siphons money directly from a local school board budget to pay for students to attend a school that has met the voucher school criteria.  In Stevens Point, over twenty students are utilizing the voucher system to attend private schools at taxpayer expense.  This is probably the greatest threat to public school finances across the state.