Did you know that school board members operate as a whole board and that board members don’t have individual authority?

This is unlike a city council where members have more of an individual voice.

School board members have a “unified voice” after board action whereas city council members maintain an “individual voice” after council action.

That information and more was shared by Alexandria Superintendent Rick Sansted during a Listen and Learn virtual event Tuesday, Oct. 26.

With the Nov. 2 Election Day fast approaching and as the race for a seat on the Alexandria School Board heats up, Sansted explained the roles and responsibilities of school board members during the Listen and Learn event, sponsored by the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

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Two candidates – Maureen Eigen and Jeff Patience – are vying for the open seat on the Alexandria School Board. Patience was appointed to the board after a member moved away from the area.

Only residents in the Alexandria School District may vote in the school board election. Parents whose children are open enrolled to the district may not vote for the school board race, Sansted shared after he was asked the question.

He also shared information about who can file for the position of school board member. Candidates must be eligible to vote in Minnesota, may not have filed for any other office, are 21 years old, have maintained residence in the district for at least 30 days before the election and have not been convicted of an offence for which registration is required under Minnesota Statute 243.166.

Sansted also said school board members represent and act in the best interest of all students.

School board responsibilities

As a governing body, Sansted said school board members are responsible for establishing policies, and each month will review current policies and make sure they match with legal statutes based on the action of the Legislature.

School board members also have the responsibility of conducting the annual evaluation of the superintendent, approving the annual budget and levy, work with administrators on educational goals, interpret the needs of the community in regards to educational programming, authorize curriculum, approve expenditures and approve the hiring of staff members, as well as resignations, terminations and leaves of absences.

School board members also attend the monthly meetings, as well as many other meetings, including work sessions, special meetings and committee meetings.

The amount of time spent as a school board member varies, but may average – in a typical, non-COVID pandemic year – about 10 to 20 hours per month.

School board members are assigned to a variety of committees and also represent Alexandria Public Schools at a variety of regional and state education organizations.

In addition, they meet with students through the Student Connections group and most recently, they have also started meeting with parents before board meetings through the Parent Connections group.

Sansted shared that new classes have been added to the curriculum based on information that came out of the Student Connections group. One such class is an aviation class where the school partners with Kreg Anderson, manager of the Alexandria city-owned airport. Currently, he said there are 60 students enrolled in the aviation class.

Policy governance

As most people are familiar with how city councils operate, school board roles are much different and sometimes can be confusing, said Sansted.

Simply put, he said that school boards govern while city councils manage.

For Alexandria Public Schools, that means following a “policy governance” model of leadership, which allows administrators to operate schools based on the policies put in place by the school board members.

Sansted said that adults working together, such as in a city council, works well, but that “adults working effectively together” can sometimes be challenging.

He added that the school district works with the Minnesota School Board Association to provide training to new board members through a four-part workshop and that additional training and conference opportunities are offered each year to board members.

126 combined years of service

When asked about attendance requirements of the board, Sansted said board members are expected to attend meetings, but that if they are unable to make a committee meeting, for example, they can have a substitute.

He noted that there has not been an issue with Alexandria School Board members and that they attend the meetings they should be attending.

A question was asked about why there are not bios on the school district’s website of each of the school board members. Sansted said he liked that idea and that it could be something they would work on. Currently, the only information included about the board members are their home addresses and when their term expires. There are no photos of them, no information about how long they have been on the board or any other information about them.

The current board, not including Patience, has served 126 combined years of service. Dean Anderson has been on the board since 1989; Dave Anderson since 2005; Pam Carlson has been on since 1999; Alan Zeithamer since 1983; Sandy Susag has served since 2011 and Angie Krebs has been on since 2013.

Board members are paid an annual stipend/salary of $3,708 with the board chair receiving an extra $500.

Anyone interested in becoming more involved in the school district, whether it is to volunteer or sit on a committee or become part of a group, can either contact the school district at 320-762-2141 or visit its website, alexschools.org.

The Listen and Learn event was recorded and posted on the Chamber’s website, alexandriamn.org.