Sunday, March 21, 2010

In which we solve all the district's problems in 50 words or less

WSJ profiles or MG school board candidates can be found here, while the H-I coverage can be found here. My responses are reproduced following:

Peter Sobol

Age: 47

Address: 6005 Midwood Ave, Monona

Family: Married to Kristin; children Katherine, 13, and Will, 11

Job: Senior Instrumentation Tech., UW-Madison Department of Geoscience

Education: Bachelor's in Physics, University of Notre Dame; Master's in Physics, Purdue University

Political Experience: Member, Monona Grove School Board, for three years. Served as board Vice-president, Treasurer and Chair, Business Services Committee

What do you believe is the most important issue facing your district?

Sobol: Performance. Monona Grove has quality schools, but growth in academic achievement needs to be improved to meet the needs of our students and the expectations of the community. (The district) has taken important steps but needs to complete the transition to an outcome-oriented model of operation, including strategic planning and instituting a culture of continuous improvement.

Early last year, the district considered busing students to other schools to alleviated crowding in Cottage Grove schools. Where do you stand on using busing to solve this problem? What other options do you favor?

Sobol: The Cottage Grove elementary schools are at capacity, but the situation is manageable with existing facilities. Enrollment projections are stable or decreasing over the next few years in those schools so I don't anticipate the need for additional measures. If this changes then options such as modular units or two 4K-4 facilities will likely be less expensive than busing a significant number of students.


Peter Sobol
MG School Board

Age: 47

Family: Spouse: Kristin, Children: Katherine 13, 7th grader at GDS. Will: 11, 6th grader at Winnequah

Education: M.S. (Physics) Purdue University, B.S. (Physics) University of Notre Dame

Website: I maintain a blog at as my contribution towards keeping the community informed about issues before the board and my perspective. Information about my campaign can be found at

Occupation: Senior Instrumentation Technologist, U. of Wisconsin, Dept of Geosciences; and CTO, Synchrotron Research Inc. a developer of analytical instrumentation.


• Three years as MGSD Board Member. I have held the offices of Board Treasurer, Vice-President, and Business Services Committee Chair during that time.

• Good working relationships with District Staff.

• Parent of two MGSD students

• Small Business Entrepreneur.

• Former Department Director for a hi-tech Fortune 500 corporation

• Extensive Management and Quality training.

Best Book:

John Adams, by David McCullough. We tend to idolize the nation’s founders as giants, but what I find most interesting is that their lasting accomplishments where made despite their all too human weaknesses and failings.


Interests/Hobbies: I’ve always loved sailing and after a several year hiatus I recently purchased a small sail boat for use on Lake Monona this summer. Year round I like to read and listen to history in books and podcasts.

Campaign Contributions:

To date I have not received any contributions from any current or former board members. Except for current board members I will accept contributions from any community member wishing to support me.

In my first campaign I raised and spent just $1000, I expect to spend about the same this year. I have become concerned about the increasing amounts of money spent in School Board campaigns in recent years and hope the trend is reversed. Campaigns that are too costly become a disincentive to qualified members of our community.


Guest Column:

District must focus on deficit, but also on improved performance

Our district faces two serious challenges in the next several years. The looming budget deficit is a pressing issue that will dominate much of the board’s time and district’s activity for the next several years. But I think a greater challenge facing the district is the one of performance. We have a good school district and quality schools, but more needs to be done to fully live up to the high expectations of our communities. Improving the performance of our school district is critical to the future of our students and the continued success of Monona and Cottage Grove. Specifically I believe we need to complete a transition to an outcome oriented model of operation where educational decisions are made based on a set of carefully defined goals that leave our students well prepared for the next step in their lives. Our district has taken important steps in this direction, but difficult work remains to be done.

Based on my experience with best practices from both the public and private sector I have developed a plan to help address the performance and budget issues facing the district. Some of the key elements I would like to implement if given the opportunity include:

• Completion of a strategic long-range plan to provide essential guidance for budget decisions and alignment of district activities and curriculum 4k-12 to well defined goals.

• Continue working toward adoption of relevant, quality assessments in all areas and improved data utilization to provide comprehensive feedback as basis for accountability for district performance at all levels.

• Administrative re-organization to focus the talents of our highly trained educational leaders on the core academic mission of the district.

• Improve the capability of staff at all levels through the development of high standards for staff hiring decisions, collaborative professional development and goal oriented accountability.

• Explore creative solutions for support services, such as cooperative agreements with neighboring districts – if we are going to achieve significant savings to preserve the fiscal condition of the district we are going to have to find new ways of doing business.

The district will have to make some difficult choices over the next several years, but with the right leadership and a willingness to engage the community and search for creative solutions I believe our schools can emerge from the current budget crisis as a stronger asset to our community. More details of what I would like to achieve can be found at http://sobolformgsd.

I’d like to thank the voters of the district for the opportunity to serve on the School Board for the last 3 years; with my experience and record of success I believe that I can continue to be an asset to the school district in the future.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A plan for the future:

A comprehensive plan for preserving the fiscal condition while improving outcomes of the Monona Grove School District:

1) Complete a strategic plan for the district: A strategic plan with well designed goals, reached through a process of significant district and community input, would provide a framework for all budgetary decisions on an ongoing basis. By measuring all budgetary decisions against a plan we will avoid expenditures not focused on the core mission, and have guidance for any future cuts that might be made.

2) Administrative Re-organization: The district has a talented and skilled team of highly trained educational leaders, however much of their time is spent on organizational duties that are essential, but peripheral, to the core mission of the district. A thorough review of responsibilities will reveal ways to improve both efficiency and effectiveness of our administrative teams.

3) Share Resources: Explore the possibility of consolidated support operations with neighboring school districts. Most school districts in the area are in similar straights and facing growing structural deficits, and yet all have similar needs in such areas as transportation, food service and IT. I believe that there are opportunities for significant savings if the district was to form cooperative ventures to supply support services with nearby districts. By taking advantage of increased purchasing power, reduced duplication of services and the ability to specialize in larger organizations it may be possible to improve services while reducing costs.

4) Draw on the expertise of the citizens of the district. There is no shortage of experienced professionals willing to help the district in its time of need. By focusing a board, administrative and community committee on a review of district operations and finance it may be possible to find new and creative modes of operation that will save significant money.

5) Continue and Expand Energy saving efforts. Efforts introduced over the last year successfully lowered district energy consumption at a rate that will save the district over $120,000 per year, but energy costs are still one of the largest non-educational expenditures. We need to continue and expand these efforts to improve the bottom line.

6) Referenda: Once the district has demonstrated a commitment to efficient and quality operation and has established specific well supported goals, it may be appropriate to ask district residents to help through an operating referendum that would be used to preserve and protect the features of the district we value most: small class sizes, exceptional arts programming, leadership in assessments and strong academics.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Press Release

Peter Sobol announces his candidacy for re-election to the Monona Grove School Board in the upcoming spring 2010 election. Peter is seeking his second term on the board where he has served as Vice-President, Treasurer and chair of the Business Services committee, as well as a member of the Energy & Sustainability committee. Peter and his wife Kristin are Monona residents with 2 children in Monona Grove's MG schools. Peter is a member of the academic staff of the UW Department of Geosciences and is a partner in Synchrotron Research Inc, a company that develops unique scientific instrumentation. Peter believes that successful Monona Grove schools are the ultimate asset of our communities and high-quality public education is key to its future.

Peter believes that his experience overseeing the annual budget process has helped develop a grasp of the intricacies of district finance that will be invaluable in the difficult decisions the district will face in the coming years. Peter understands the difficult choices the district faces due to the structural budget deficit: “But my experience has shown me that successful organizations use tough times to focus and orient around that which is important, and I believe our schools can emerge from the current budget crisis as a stronger asset to our community. This process will require innovation and forward looking leadership capable of identifying, promoting and implementing the best practices in education and school operations.”

Peter highlights several areas of accomplishment including his leadership role in developing the energy efficiency contracts that will save more than $117,000 per year in energy costs. “Three years ago I identified that MG spends much more per student on energy than the average Wisconsin school district. Although I can’t overestimate the contributions of many on the board and district staff, my sustained leadership in this area played a key role in achieving these savings while at the same time providing critical infrastructure improvements and setting an example to students and the public about our commitment to a sustainable future. Through this effort I believe that I have helped place the district on a firmer financial footing that will help us weather difficult financial times in the future.”

Peter also maintains a blog (at designed to help keep the public informed on school board business as well his thoughts on issues before the board. The blog also serves as a convenient forum for feedback and questions from the public. “Campaign promises about improving communication with the community are as common as yard signs each spring, but little is accomplished. I have taken up this challenge by creating a frequently updated on-line blog intended to keep the public informed, despite a barrage of criticism from other board members.”

Peter believes his efforts at communication help counter a disturbing trend towards less of openness and public participation in school board decisions. He gives as an example recent decisions by the board to eliminate all committees that included public members. “I opposed the decision of the board to abolish the committee structures that have served the district for so long. Fourteen people from the community generously volunteered to serve on board committees this year but the board turned them all down, effectively eliminating the opportunity to benefit from their experience and isolating the board’s decision making process from public input. No citizen has been formally involved in any school board decision since last year’s re-organization, a real loss to our district especially considering the relative inexperience of the current board. If re-elected I will work to restore openness and public participation in our decision making process.”

If re-elected Peter also pledges to continue working to build a climate of academic achievement that provides opportunities for all students: “Accountability is key to our future success; we need to complete the transformation to an outcome driven model of operation.”