NORTH CRAWFORD - Voters in the North Crawford School District will vote on Tuesday, April 7, to elect three members of the North Crawford School Board. There are four candidates vying for the three positions. Those candidates are incumbent Wade Dull, Jill Stefonek who was appointed to the board to serve out a vacated seat, Ed Heisz, and Tanya Forkash who previously served on the board. Aaron Fortney has filed papers of non-candidacy.
Wade Dull has lived in Crawford County his whole life, and worked as a farmer and a groundskeeper at a private estate. He is a retired dairy farmer. He has served on the North Crawford School Board for six years, as well as the Crawford County Board of Supervisors. As a county board supervisor, Dull sits on the INCLUSA board, the County Fair Board, and the Health Services committee. He also serves on the Soldiers Grove Village Library Board.
“The reason I choose to serve by sitting on the school board is all about the kids,” Dull said. “I want to do what I can to ensure our community’s kids get a good education.”
Dull described several issues that he sees as facing the board in upcoming years:
• Trying to stay within the budget so the district does not have to dip into its reserve. He says the school will likely need to replace its roof in the next few years.
• Determining the path forward with the school’s septic system. Dull supports the idea of a joint sewer project, but hasn’t seen the numbers yet. He thinks it likely that it would be advantageous for the district to tie into a joint municipal system, where the only costs would be the lateral and ongoing sewer charges.
• Dull agrees with the decision to close the schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. He believes that the teachers will be able to deliver instruction to the students in the interim. He thinks that the county needs to prioritize ensuring that all county residents have internet access.
Jill Stefonek has served on the North Crawford School Board since September of 2019. She was appointed to fill a vacancy made by a resignation. Stefonek has worked at Organic Valley for the last 15 years. She worked as the accounting support for CFO Michael Bedessem for many years, and recently transitioned to work in information technology.
“My work experience and involvement in the community have lead to my interest in serving on the school board,” Stefonek said. “I want to do what’s best for our community and our school.”
Stefonek says that she is a well-organized person who brings a strong understanding of finance to her role on the board.
“I want to ensure that the board is spending the taxpayers money wisely to ensure that our students can be successful after graduation,” Stefonek said. “I want our students to be prepared to go on into careers, or to technical college or university educations.”
Stefonek said that her motivation for running for the board is “to give back to the community and school, and to bring her skills and experience to bear to provide what our children need.”
The biggest issues Stefonek sees for the board include:
• Ensuring that small rural school districts continue to exist, and have the funding needed to continue to educate the community’s children. “State funding for rural schools continue to shrink while the needs continue to grow,” Stefonek said.
• Stefonek pointed out that the world is changing rapidly, and the district has seen a large increase in the amount of students with special needs. She said that the school district must meet those needs, and in order to do so, it requires adequate funding.
• Stefonek says that she is incredibly impressed with the dedication of the district’s teachers. “The way that they have pulled together to continue to provide services while the school is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic is truly impressive,” Stefonek said. She said that she forsees a greater need in the future for the district to be able to provide distance learning, and noted that in order to accomplish this, students will need access to the internet and a device to connect.
• Stefonek also noted that she is very impressed with the dedication of the school board and administration. “They’re doing one of the hardest jobs in the world, and doing it well with limited resources.”
Ed Heisz has lived in this community his whole life, except when his duties in the armed services took him away. Heisz graduated from North Crawford, and his children and many of his grandchildren were or are students in the district. Heisz currently farms the home farm in rural Gays Mills, along with his brother.
“As a family farmer, I have a lot of experience with operating within a budget, and making tough financial decisions,” Heisz said. “My extensive experience in the military, including serving as a squad leader in Desert Storm and as Sergeant First Class controlling inventories for the National Guard, have provided me with leadership skills.”
While a student at North Crawford, Heisz played sports all four years. He also served as a coach for the district, coaching football and girls track and field. Three of his grandchildren currently attend North Crawford, and all of his children graduated from the school. Heisz served in the military for three years, starting in 1975, and in the National Guard for 21 years.
“This school means so much to me, and I want to serve on the board for the kids, including my grandchildren,” Heisz said. “I want to see the school get stronger, and I’d like to see an improvement in teacher retention.”
The biggest issues Heisz sees coming up for the school board include:
• Everything falls underneath the budget. Things have to get juggled, but the board needs to ensure that the school is a good place to work.
• Ensure that everything to do with hiring and firing of staff is done with a common sense approach.
• The lockdown in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic was the right thing to do, Heisz believes. Now he says the challenge for the district is to ensure that all students can access distance learning. “I’d rather have the students be overprotected than regret not having done so.”
Tanya Forkash served previously on the North Crawford School Board, but chose to resign her position. She has one child that has graduated from the district, and two that are still in the school. Forkash also previously worked for the district as an administrative assistant.
Since leaving her employment with the district, Forkash has obtained an associate degree from Southwest Tech in business administration and an accounting certificate. She currently works for Vernon County as a personnel assistant, as well as the business manager for her family’s business, Forkash Electric.
“In deciding to run for the board again, I was approached by multiple members of the community who said that they liked what I did when I was on the board, and liked my voice,” Forkash said. “I believe that it is good for the board to have contested elections, and good to have both new and ongoing members of the board.”
The issues that Forkash sees as facing the board in coming years include:
• Developing the district’s capacity to deliver distance learning has come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic and school closure. “I’m living it right now, with two kids in the district and one home from the university.”
• Forkash says she thinks the staff of the district are amazing, and that the district needs to see this challenge as an opportunity to develop distance learning as an option in the future for students whose special needs would be best served by it. She said it would also be helpful for maintaining the district calendar, and being flexible in times of flooding or storm cancellations.
• Compensation of teachers and staff will be a big issue for the board. “Budgeting is always tough, but I believe that the staff, the administration and the community need to pull together to make our school district successful.” She said that the community needs to understand how they can engage with the school district, and that the current school closure is proving that more than ever.“What I’ve seen in the last week since the closure from the district is an inspiration,” Forkash said. “This is why I want to be a part of it.”