Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 1, 2003

What's it take to 'get on board?'

By Ryan Gueningsman

Serving on a school board is not something that everybody thinks about doing.

There is a time commitment, the need to study and understand the district's needs and finances, and many other things that come into effect when talking school board.

There is also a chance to know and understand what is going on in the community's public school system, and help develop every student to his or her maximum potential.

"As a parent, the best thing I could have done to know what's going on in my child's school was to run for the board," said outgoing Lester Prairie School Board Member Nancy Krull, who has been on the board for seven years. "Serving on the board really shows you how the school operates."

"You don't need to have kids in school," said outgoing board member Barry Kyllo, who has been on the board for eight years. "You just have to come to the board with the idea of working together, but not losing yourself."

Both Krull and Kyllo's seats on the Lester Prairie School Board end at the end of the year ­ and both have expressed that they are not planning on running again. Bob Remer's seat is also up for election, and he has expressed interest in running again.

The thing that scares a lot of people thinking about running for the board is the length of the term ­ four years.

"Don't let the length of the term scare you," Krull said. "It goes by so fast. At first you're going to feel like you don't have a clue, but there are things that come up and a process that we have to go through."

"Seek first to understand, then be understood," Kyllo said. "People running for the board have to think like that."

Another thing that may frighten potential board members is the fear of having people in the community against them, or if they are a business owner boycotting their products or services because of a decision made at a board meeting

New board members will be asked, upon their availability, to attend a conference or two about being on the board.

There is a school board training which takes place. New members aren't required to go, but are encouraged to attend.

"It's a positive thing to be involved and give back," Kyllo said. "In a way, we represent the voters, businesses, and tax payers, but in the end, it's representing the kids to create the best environment for them."

Most area board members are paid a nominal fee for attending meetings.

"There is a certain dollar amount per meeting, but you're not going to get rich from it," Kyllo said. "You can't do it for money or power."

One of the most important thing to keep in mind is keeping an open mind, Krull said.

"New board members learn and watch, and it's a whole new world for them," she said. "Anyone who runs for the board has their eyes re-opened ­ it's stuff everyone is not going to know in depth."

To get your name on the ballot

To run for the school board, one must be at least 21 years old, a resident of the district for at least 30 days prior to election or appointment, and an eligible voter.

People interested can stop in the district office to file an affidavit of candidacy with the school district clerk.

There is also a $2 fee that must be paid.

Lester Prairie Superintendent James Redfield encouraged people who are thinking about running, or even slightly interested, to contact him, or any board member to discuss it.

HLWW: some will run, some won't

By Lynda Jensen

There is mixed interest by incumbents in the five open seats on the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board in the fall.

Two out of five board members are planning to run again, Charles Weber and Al Doering. Two long-time board members, Ken Zimmerman and Jim Fowler, are not looking to renew their seats.

Several attempts to reach Chairman Jim Raymond for a comment were unsuccessful.

"I have been on the school board for eight-and-a-half years," Fowler said.

"For the first six years, I felt that I could make a difference and help the district come together and be united and unified," Fowler said, "and develop a school expansion plan that was educationally sound and economically affordable. The past two years have provided me with total frustration over community and board conflicts that I have been unable to resolve."

"My decision to retire is based on that frustration, but is also motivated by the hope that a new board, along with George Ladd and others, can find the key to a unified district that sees the success of public education as something bigger than the needs of individual communities," Fowler said.

Zimmerman will not run due to serious health concerns.

He was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, but it recently took a turn for the worse, Zimmerman said.

All told, Zimmerman will complete 16 years of serving on school boards, of which most was spent at HLWW.

What advice would incumbents give to potential new board members?

"It takes a lot of guts (to be a board member)," Zimmerman said. "You get an awful lot of hell."

All existing board members noted that genuine concern for students in the district is a necessity.

Doering indicated anyone with a desire to do what's right and think "not just for today, but for the future," would be a good candidate, he said.

New board members should be willing to listen to different viewpoints would do an excellent job, he added.

"You could be on the board for five years and still learn," Weber commented, saying it was an ongoing learning process.

Four of the five seats for HLWW are four-year terms. The remaining seat was made into a two-year term to solve the board imbalance of five seats being up for election on a seven member board.

Doering will be running for the two-year term.

Just what are new board members getting into?

Once elected, new board members may find an array of subjects to learn.

There is some assistance for new board members given through the Minnesota School Board Association, if so desired, commented district secretary Marilyn Greeley.

Many organizations in other states offer assistance to prepare new board members for the tasks ahead.

The Iowa School Board Association offers the following information.

Ten Tips for New School Board Members

These 10 tips are based on the advice of seasoned board members who've learned through experience the pitfalls of being new on the board.

1. Go slow in the beginning, especially if you have come to the board to "reform" it.  Chances are you will feel differently about a lot of things in six months.

2. Remember that the only authority you have lies in the corporate action of the school board. You have no legal authority to act alone unless the board as a whole specifically delegates a task to you.

3. Do not let your differences of opinion degenerate into personality conflicts. Nothing is more devastating to good board procedures than to have one member vote for a measure simply because another member votes against it.

4. Give the superintendent and staff your public support. Except in unusual and mitigating circumstances, the superintendent has a right to expect this. To undermine the superintendent otherwise is unethical. Use individual conferences with the superintendent and the official forum of legal board meetings to iron out differences of opinion.

5. If possible, keep out of teacher/personnel problems. The board has hired a superintendent and administrative staff to take that responsibility.

6. Make an effort to be informed. School business is always important business ­ and big business ­ with budgets in the hundreds of thousand, even millions, of dollars. To be informed requires time and effort. Ask for briefings from staff as you feel the need. Visit each school over which the board has authority.

7. Welcome people who come to see you about school problems. Listen carefully, then refer them to the appropriate person according to board policy.

If the problem is controversial, remember that you may be hearing only one side of the story.

Do not commit yourself to a course of action you may regret later. The board as a whole may not support your view, and you could find yourself in an embarrassing position of having committed yourself to a stand that the board rejects, or that you later learn is inappropriate because you didn't initially have all the facts.

8. Accept your job on the board as one of responsible leadership in the community. 

You will be expected to attend and participate intelligently in many public meetings on school affairs. This is more than an opportunity, it is an obligation to interpret school affairs to an interested public.

Use your position on the board to help form public opinion and create active, intelligent support for education in your community.

9. Commit to your own learning.  Don't talk too much. You may acquire a reputation for wisdom simply by not saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment.  Take time to listen, learn and build your understanding as you begin to share your own ideas. 

Attend training classes, read books and periodicals to learn about the complex legal and educational issues facing your school district.

10. Stay focused on students and their learning as your main priority. Ensure that every decision you make as a member of the board is made through the filter, "What's best for kids?"

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