Q: Please list your background and specific qualifications for this position.
A: I had the privilege of growing up in Alexandria and being educated in the Alexandria public schools (1988 graduate). I also received a B.A. of Nursing from Gustavus Adolphus College. My husband, Dean, 1989 graduate of Jefferson High School, and I have three children; a third grade daughter at Woodland Elementary, and twin boys that are 4 years old. Our children are fourth generation students of Alexandria public schools.
I'm currently home with my children. However, my previous work experience includes 16 years as a public health nurse. A good share of this position involved working with school district staff to develop and implement services for children utilizing special education services. I also have experience with early-childhood screenings, school immunization law, children's mental health, transition planning, and family support.
I have volunteered in our daughter's classroom on a regular basis, also with Girl Scouts, Habitat for Humanity, Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) advisory board, and as a Sunday school teacher.
Our community has much to be proud of with our students and our schools. I'm running for school board to ensure those same opportunities for my own children and those of the community.
Q: What do you view as the biggest challenge facing the school district right now and how would you deal with it?
A: I believe the biggest challenge facing the school district relates to education and the movement away from traditional textbook teaching to virtual instructional resources and keeping up with ever-changing technology. The district has considerable investment in technology. However, there is inconsistent teacher skill level with technology and its application in the classroom.
I support the district's five-year strategic plan, which outlines a strong vision for expanded college course offerings, distance learning, "flipped classroom" models at the high school level; and professional development related to technology.
With much attention on the new high school, we also need to keep our focus on the younger grades, ensuring small class sizes and adequate technology to strengthen proficiencies in the core areas of math and reading. Our children are of the digital/gadget age, and studies show that using technology is a key to locking in a student's interest and motivating them to do better in school.
Q: The district's current levy referendum expires in 2014. Do you support calling for a new referendum? Also, explain any cost saving ideas you have for the district.
A: The school district's finances are managed very well, despite relatively flat state aid and reimbursement challenges. However, despite budget cuts across all areas, the district is currently in a deficit spending mode.
Minnesota's schools have come to rely on their communities for additional funding as evidenced by 301 of Minnesota's 337 school districts utilizing an operating levy last year.
Per pupil funding from the state is $5,224, increasing only 1.95 percent in the past five years. Our current referendum revenue is $390 per resident pupil, whereas the state average is $751.26.
Unless we want to face severe cuts to basic services/programs, which I don't think anyone wants, with current funding, I see no way around asking the community for an operating levy. Details would need to be presented to the community regarding the level of funding needed and specific goals that would be met with that funding.
Our community has never shied away from its responsibility of educating our children, and I believe that most would sacrifice to ensure educational opportunities that will prepare our children for the world they will encounter following graduation.
The new high school project is currently $230,000 under budget and ahead of schedule. Current board members have promised to spend every dollar wisely, expecting a lot from contractors/subcontractors and material suppliers; I would too.
Also, the curriculum changes envisioned in the strategic plan may entice some of the 23.8 percent of eligible district students that are utilizing alternative school options, including open enrollment, homeschooling, private/charter schools, and Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) back to the district on either a full or part-time basis, bringing with them the state aid dollars that we're currently missing out on.
As our virtual instruction methods are developed, additional revenue could also be captured by supplying online training, services, and classes to other districts on a fee-for-use basis. As a school board member, I'd be open to cost saving ideas from staff and the public.
Q: Describe your leadership style. How do you make tough decisions?
A: My leadership style is one of being informed. I would seek to understand core issues and gain perspective from others more knowledgeable than myself about that issue, gather facts, brainstorm solutions, and consider options, while weighing impact and tradeoffs.
I believe in proactive planning, beginning with the end or goal in mind. I believe that there is much to be learned from past decisions, including mistakes. I would seek to have open communication between the district and the community. Tough decisions are best made with public input and with the best interests of all students in mind.
To keep the public's trust, it's important to be open with parents and the public about the issues facing the school district and the reasons behind decisions that are being made.
Q: According to the district's
strategic plan, special education services continue to grow while reimbursement is disproportionately low. How would you address this problem?
A: During the 2011-2012 school year, 808 students (24 percent of population) received some form of special education. Special education funding provides 10 percent of the district's general revenue; however, 22 percent of the budget is spent on special education.
Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act's inception in 1975, special education has been an unfunded government mandate. While as a district we can ensure that services are being delivered efficiently, the bottom line is that these are still mandated services that can't be cut. The disparity of increasing costs of special education and the partial level of reimbursement is really an issue that needs to be dealt with at the state and federal levels.
There is currently a proposal from the Minnesota Department of Education to replace the current percentage reimbursement model of special education funding with weighted pupil funding. This type of funding acknowledges that, as an example, it costs more to provide services for a child with severe emotional behavior disorders than a child with a simple speech delay, and awards funding more proportionately. This funding change would benefit our school district, and our representatives need to hear from us (both school district and the public) to get this change into legislation.