On Wednesday, March 29, Operation Fresh Start hosted a forum for Madison Metropolitan School District school board candidates as they campaign for the upcoming 2023 spring election. Candidates Badri Lankella, Blair Monser Feltham, and Nicki Vander Meulen answered questions directly from OFS participants who are currently earning their high school diplomas in the Legacy program.
"I like forums where the students ask the questions. I want to hear their points of view," said Nicki Vander Meulen.
Questions came from participants' personal experiences, such as limited resources for students and teachers, detrimental environments for LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent students, lack of driver's education, and safety concerns in the classroom.
"First coming out here [to OFS], I had a bad experience with school so I wasn’t really in the right mindset with school," OFS student KJ Roebuck said. "OFS really changed my perspective on learning."
They [participants] say Wednesday's forum was as much about listening to the candidates as sharing their concerns with them.
"Coming here and listening to them talk really opened my eyes, and letting them listen to us and a helping ear, they’re going to probably take some of the things that we said and put them in schools so they can help people like us in the future," Roebuck said.
Another issue brought up at the forum was the proposed budget cut and "surplussing" of a 0.5 FTE teaching position that OFS students rely on while completing their education. The teaching position is half funded by MMSD and half funded by OFS.
School staffing allocations have not been made public yet, but more cuts are expected in next month’s budget. Staff members spoke about their concerns during each of the four School Board listening sessions earlier in March based on what they had been told by principals.
That included Erich Eifler, who holds the position that teaches at Fresh Start.
“I was surprised recently to receive notice that my (Office of Youth Re-engagement) teaching position was being surplussed,” Eifler said at Memorial High School on March 15. “I’m not worried about me; I’m an adult, and I’ll be fine.
“What I am worried about is what’s going to happen to my students, what opportunities going forward are they going to miss?”
The three school board candidates will be on the ballot for the spring 2023 election on Tuesday, April 4. Nicki Vander Meulen is running uncontested to keep seat 7, while Blair Mosner Feltham and Badri Lankella are running to fill seat 6.