Herald Journal - Voters' Guide 2010
Herald Journal / Dassel-Cokato Enterprise Dispatch / Delano Herald Journal

Delano School Board

Sarah Baker

Why are you running for Delano School Board?

I was appointed to serve as a director on the Delano Board of Education in January 2010, and I am currently running to serve a four-year term school board seat.

My husband and I, and our two children moved to Delano in 2006. We specifically chose Delano for its excellent school system, as well as the sense of small-town community that exists within our school district and surrounding area.

I’m running to serve on our Delano School Board because I value public education and the role it serves the students and families in our local community, our state, and our nation. Investing in our local school system is investing in our future financial, cultural, and social success.

I worked as a school counselor at Mound-Westonka High School for more than seven years.

Recently, I have been actively involved in Delano’s public school system as a volunteer at the elementary and middle school levels, and through my committee work within Partners in Education (PIE) and Site Base.

Since serving on the school board, I am a representative on the Building and Grounds Committee, the Negotiations Committee, the Schools for Equity in Education (SEE) group, and the Wright County Safe Schools Committee. I have also served as school board liaison to our district Q-Comp program.

What do you believe are the top two issues facing the Delano Public School District, and what are your proposed solutions?

Delano Public Schools provide the best of both worlds – academic achievement within a cost-effective framework. Collaboration and shared goals produce exceptional educational results.

Our district’s motto describes this shared vision – “Educational Excellence is our Foremost Goal.”

My role as a school board member remains focused on this outcome, and is aimed at continued growth and success for our students, our families, our teachers, and our community.

One of the most pressing issues facing our school district is the challenge of future fiscal decision-making.

I remain committed to a responsible course of financial planning and a value-added approach to spending.

Our district has a historical track record of conservative and effective spending, while encouraging and achieving academic success for all students. As local citizens, we must work together to develop and fund our Delano school system that serves our local students and families. Our school district provides top-notch education for the children of our community, and we must stay vigilant to the wise and resourceful use of taxpayer dollars.

Our continued commitment to educational excellence is another important issue facing our school district – specifically our preparation of students equipped with 21st century thinking skills.

We must continue as educational leaders in curriculum and instructional innovation, technology, and rigor within our academic programming. Creativity, innovation, and adaptability are hallmarks of great thinkers, and successful students are equipped with these qualities and critical-thinking skills.

Technology will continue to be an important component of modern education. Its role should continue to be a tool that helps teachers and students turn information into knowledge, rather than an end unto itself.

I want our Delano students to continue the tradition of language literacy, problem-solving competencies, effective communication, and personal initiative that moves them forward into their own best futures.

What specifically can this unit of government do to cut costs and operate efficiently, while still maintaining service to taxpayers?

To begin, I will reiterate the same message that has been communicated recently – here in Delano, we do not have a spending problem. We operate our educational system in an efficient manner. Our per-student spending typically lands us in the bottom 10 percent of the state, while achieving academic success that typically sees us performing in the top 5 percent of the state.

1. Continue to advocate legislatively for equity in educational funding from our state, as well as timely payments of education dollars from our state.

2. Continue a measured, balanced, efficient, and effective approach to educational spending in our district.

3. Continue to keep our spending student-centered. In Delano, the majority of our spending occurs in the delivery of education (teachers and staff), curriculum materials, transportation, and operation of our buildings (heat, lights, gas, etc).

I value a financial future that allows our district to maximize its resources and continue to provide high-quality and relevant educational experience to the students in our community.

I value teachers who are equipped with staff-development tools and resources to allow for effective and efficient research and development of best-practice teaching and learning strategies.

I value students, families, and community members who are engaged in and benefit from the variety of educational experiences and opportunities available through district resource.

All learners in our community (preschool-aged to senior citizen) benefit from these opportunities, whether it’s classroom learning, business partnerships, health and wellness through the Tiger Activity Center, or community education enrichment.

I value the continued collaboration between families, school staff, business leaders, and community members that keeps our schools and our communities strong, thriving, and growing.

As a school board member, I will continue to support responsible spending decisions that optimize our district’s ability to provide educational integrity and promote academic excellence for all students.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Randy Durick

Why are you running for Delano School Board?

I became involved in the Delano School District 1.5 years ago, when an opening became available. I was interested in becoming more involved in the community, and one of the compelling reasons my wife and I relocated to Delano was for the reputation of the school district. The open seat was a perfect opportunity to become more involved in the community of Delano and one of its more important assets.

What do you believe are the top two issues facing the Delano Public School District, and what are your proposed solutions?

1. School funding is the most important issue facing districts such as Delano.

The past 10 years has seen changes to how the State of Minnesota funds school districts, pushing some responsibility to the district level in the form of operating levies, to make up the difference of what is required vs. what is provided by the State of Minnesota.

Our school district has a history of achieving academic excellence in a fiscally-responsible manner. However, recent decisions made to balance the state budget on the backs of the school districts, inadequate changes to the state funding formula, and simply the rising costs associated with running a school district have forced several hard decisions that will begin to affect the performance of our district.

The current focus, given the funding model, is to promote and pass an operating levy that will allow the Delano School District to maintain the current level of educational programming for the kids in our district.

2. It cannot be understated how important the legislative process is to the operation of our school district.

The Minnesota State Constitution mandates that our schools are adequately funded. We need to advocate that the politicians that we send to St. Paul are aware that the decisions made during the legislative session impose significant challenges on our district. As voters, we need to educate ourselves beyond the political rhetoric and hold our legislative representatives accountable, so that current and future students in our district are provided ample educational opportunities to become responsible and contributing members of our communities.

What specifically can this unit of government do to cut costs and operate efficiently, while still maintaining service to taxpayers?

This is an interesting questions as it relates to the Delano School District. As a current member of the school board, I have been quite involved the past 1.5 years to the cuts that have been made to the district budget.

Delano has been, and will continue to be a fiscally responsible unit of government. The recent cuts that have been made are now beginning to impact the performance of our district. Class sizes are at historic highs, we are now at a point where we can no longer cut “things before people,” which had a direct impact on the performance within the classroom.

As information is distributed about the renewal and increase to the district’s operating levy, you may notice that as supporting evidence to our fiscal responsibility, the Delano school district ranks near the bottom in its per pupil spending.

Amy Johnson

My name is Amy Johnson, and I am seeking re-election to the Delano School Board. My husband, Gino, and I have lived in Delano for 10 years, and we are proud to have two boys in the school district, one in the high school and one in the elementary school.

I will celebrate my 15th anniversary with Best Buy Corporation in November, currently managing the training and business support function for Business Team Operations.

When I am not working, I enjoy walking our giant dog, Duke; running, reading, camping, and playing games with my family.

Why are you running for Delano School Board?

I am seeking re-election because I have always been passionate about education and ensuring our students have the best possible system in place to help them achieve. This is my way of giving back to the community, and to be an advocate for students of all ages, especially in these difficult times. I’ve enjoyed being a part of the board for the past four years, establishing and maintaining organizational structure for the district through policies, approving curriculum, and helping to create a climate that promotes educational excellence.

What do you believe are the top two issues facing the Delano Public School District, and what are your proposed solutions?

Classroom sizes. When the levy proposal failed last year, we were forced to make about $750,000 in cuts that directly impacted class sizes, especially in the elementary and middle school.

We need to secure the passage of both proposed levy questions on the ballot this November to ensure we are not forced to cut more, increasing these classroom sizes even further.

I am hoping that through reform in state funding, we can increase revenue per student, allowing us to maintain classroom sizes of less than 25 students.

Introducing technology. We are surrounded by districts that have passed technology levies that have allowed them to introduce Ipads and various other advanced multi-media based curriculum into their classes.

Delano students have always excelled in test scores – ACT and other college readiness factors.

How long until our students fall behind, in comparison to the districts that have the curriculum and technology resources available to their students?

We need to continue to test various technology offerings, and find creative funding sources to ensure we are staying competitive in this space.

What specifically can this unit of government do to cut costs and operate efficiently, while still maintaining service to taxpayers?

This district has nothing left to cut that won’t dramatically impact the quality of education for our students. As a community, we need to start investing in the school.

Median home prices have increased over the past three years by 4 percent, in comparison to the declines seen in surrounding communities. However, if the proposed levy questions do not pass, we will continue to make cuts that will further increase class sizes and cause all middle school athletics and activities to move to community education, where it will be 100 percent fee-based.

This district has maintained excellent service to its taxpayers, and will continue to do so through conservatism and fiscal responsibility.

Supporting an increase to our operating levy that will ensure we are able to provide an environment where students are able to achieve academic excellence is also the responsibility of our taxpayers.

Three candidates will be elected for two-year terms.

Corey Black

Why are you running for Delano School Board?

1. What initially started for me as an effort to get involved in the community has turned into a passion for schools.

The Delano School District operates in a way that is fiscally and socially responsible, and in a way, that has our children performing at very high levels in our schools.

It is the responsibility of this entire community to keep this momentum moving forward. We all have to be involved in some way to ensure the children of this community are given the same opportunities that all of us have been given in previous generations.

If I am re-elected to the Delano School Board, I will make myself available to anyone and everyone in this community to provide answers to, and take guidance from, regarding Delano Public Schools.

What do you believe are the top two issues facing the Delano Public School District, and what are your proposed solutions?

1. How are our schools going to be funded in the future?

The state of Minnesota continues to hold back on their commitment to fund public schools at a level that is appropriate. By doing this, they force that responsibility down to a more local level. For that reason, as the costs associated with running a school continue to rise, school districts like ours are forced to continue to ask for levies to bridge the gaps in funding.

2. Who do we want to send to St. Paul to represent our children’s future in a responsible way?

We all need to hound our legislature on funding for schools. Some of our politicians follow along with their political party’s playbook, with the illusion of “no new taxes” or “reduce our taxes.”

Well, that sounds great to all of us, but have any of our taxes gone down – even a little bit – recently? State taxes may have, but it has forced county and city government to increase their taxes to close their funding gap.

We all need to better understand how our elected officials plan to shift funding from one source to another, and then take credit for all the savings that they claim. We all need to pay attention to the details of our elections.

What specifically can this unit of government do to cut costs and operate efficiently, while still maintaining service to taxpayers?

1. As an existing school board member, I have been very close to the cuts that have already been made within Delano schools. For that reason, it is my position that additional cuts to the budget will result in a dramatic negative shift in the performance of our schools, and therefore additional cuts are not possible without longstanding effects.

Can we make more cuts? Yes, but we will all need to be prepared for the impact it will have on our schools.

Mark Larson

Why are you running for Delano School Board?

My wife and I have four children in the district, currently in the high school, middle school, and elementary. It is my desire to give back to the community by serving on the school board.

I currently am assistant controller at Rimage Corporation in Eden Prairie. I am a certified public accountant with 20 years experience in public accounting, auditing, and finance in large companies. I have also served on the Minnesota Society of CPA’s board of directors.

I feel that I can bring understanding of complex financial issues and previous board experience to the school board. I highly value our schools, and believe that our number-one priority should be providing the best education possible for every student, while listening to input from parents, staff, and the community.

What do you believe are the top two issues facing the Delano Public School District, and what are your proposed solutions?

Obviously, the greatest issue currently facing our district is the need for both questions on this year’s levy to pass. The cuts that will be needed if both questions don’t pass will be devastating.

Even now, there are classrooms with students sitting on the floor because of large class sizes and lack of space.

The board needs to continue to work on raising awareness in the community of how schools are funded in our current political and economic environment. Funding will continue to be an issue well into the future.

Secondly, I believe Delano needs to decide which direction we are aiming to take the district.

Is our goal to remain a semi-rural small town school, or a competitive suburban district?

Good teachers are able to find jobs in neighboring districts and make significantly more money.

How do we attract the most talented staff and stay competitive, yet maintain low operational costs?

What specifically can this unit of government do to cut costs and operate efficiently, while still maintaining service to taxpayers?

Delano schools have done an outstanding job of running extremely lean. School funding will remain a problem in Minnesota for years to come; it is going to take creative ideas to trim extra costs and increase revenue.

Should both questions on the levy not pass, extremely difficult decisions will need to be made.

I believe extracurricular activities should be the first to absorb these cuts. The school may have to look at funding ideas that may not be ideal – like advertising in schools. We need to continue the work we’ve begun on energy savings, recycling, etc. We’ve made progress toward paperless schools, but can continue to improve in this area. Another idea is moving spring break to February, when it is much more expensive to heat our buildings. We are going to have to think outside the box.

If both questions on the levy do pass, it still only allows us to maintain our current level of service to our students. Our board is going to have to be as knowledgeable about education and finance as possible, in order to maintain the excellent level of education we have grown to expect.

We are fortunate to have quality schools that we can be proud of, and it is my goal to help make sure they stay that way.

Carolyn Milano

Why are you running for Delano School Board?

I believe, unequivocally, in the institution and the value of public education. It is, and has always been the cornerstone of our democracy. I am dedicated to serving as an advocate for all children.

My decision to seek re-election was based on my fundamental belief that in some way, one must give back. I believe that giving back and serving, in whatever way you can, is such an important responsibility that really does makes a huge difference.

As a Delano School Board member for the past six years, my decisions have always been based on what is best for all students, the livelihoods of those the district employs, and the economic well-being of our community.

What do you believe are the top two issues facing the Delano Public School District, and what are your proposed solutions?

I believe that the two major issues that face our district are equity and adequacy in state funding. I have had the honor of representing the Delano School Board, as the liaison for Schools for Equity in Education (SEE), an association of 60 school districts, about one-third of Minnesota’s k-12 public school students, for the past six years.

SEE districts tend to be lower property wealth districts that receive well below the state average in funding. School districts are literally looking like a Monopoly board; we (Delano) represent the Mediterranean Avenue- and Baltic Avenue-type properties, and our neighboring districts to the east of us represent the Boardwalk and Park places, all because the current funding system is broken and has created alarming funding disparities between Minnesota school districts, thus creating a very large opportunity gap between districts.

The bulk of the funding disparity is caused by the referendum levy. Years of inadequate state funding have forced increased reliance on voter-approved property tax referendums, just to maintain basic programming and operations.

As a result of inadequate state funding, 90 percent of all Minnesota school districts have had to ask local voters for additional revenue, however, the funds generated by school levies vary between $5 per pupil unit (p/p/u) and more than $2,000 p/p/u. This absolutely sets up the “have” and “have nots,” based merely upon where a child lives.

I, along with SEE, believe that the current level and distribution of funding fails to meet the constitutional mandate and is depriving Minnesota students of the high-quality education system they need and deserve because of its inadequacy of funding, inequity in educational opportunities, and inequity in taxpayer effort.

The solution to our current funding system is comprehensive funding reform. Given the fiscal challenges that Minnesota is facing, it’s understandable that full-blown reform may have to wait; however, some steps need to immediately be taken by our legisltature to remedy these problems:

• Promote greater taxpayer fairness, by increasing the equalization factor for all levies, especially the referendum levy equalizing factor that has not been adjusted upward to reflect growth since 1993.

• The General Education Levy should be re-established to provide greater funding stability, equity, and tax fairness.

• The cap on the referendum levy should remain at its current level.

• Reducing funding disparity between the highest and lowest revenue districts.

• Eliminate reliance on the referendum levy for all school districts.

All public school children must have equal access to a high-quality education, regardless of where they live in Minnesota. Our children’s future won’t wait.

What specifically can this unit of government do to cut costs and operate efficiently, while still maintaining service to taxpayers?

Some may feel that education should be cut to mitigate the burden that economic uncertainty and a growing national debt will have on our next generation.

However, for our citizenry and nation to have the wherewithal to pay off that debt, today’s students need a high-quality education to ensure they can succeed in a globally-competitive 21st century marketplace that is driven by technology, information, and high-level thinking skills.

Schools are faced with the challenge of preparing today’s children for a future career that may not even exist, and a life in a world that we can’t imagine.

Jonathan Ness

Why are you running for Delano School Board?

Six years ago, my wife and I made the decision to leave the military and choose a life where we could raise our family in a small town with a great school, offering stability and a solid education for our children.

We were living in San Antonio, TX at the time, and our Realtor sent us information on the schools in the western suburbs. Delano became our obvious choice when we compared the schools on these relevant metrics: class size, ACT scores, and extracurricular opportunities.

I am running for school board to ensure that the Delano School District is the obvious choice five, 10, and 20 years from now.

What do you believe are the top two issues facing the Delano Public School District, and what are your proposed solutions?

I believe the two largest issues facing the school district today are funding and maintaining top-tier performance.

The metrics I looked at six years ago are the outcome of the school board and administration efficiently leveraging the resources it had, and they’ve done a fantastic job. The challenge is being able to continue this level of academic excellence in the future as we face limited funds and increased class sizes.

During my years as an Air Force officer, I learned how to do more with less. Each year I was faced with both budget cuts and increased mission requirements. Understanding how to lead an organization through fiscal constraints while improving performance is a skill that comes with experience, which I received by serving in the military.

Closely tied to the current funding issue is the other leading issue, maintaining top-tier performance. At the end of all the great teaching, administration, and student performance are the metrics that families like mine use to make the decision to move to Delano.

While funding is a driver of academic performance, it isn’t the only factor. Delano has been able to maintain top-tier test scores while having a low cost-per-pupil because of great decision-making and efficient resource allocation.

What specifically can this unit of government do to cut costs and operate efficiently, while still maintaining service to taxpayers?

Maintaining top-tier academic metrics is important for both our students and the overall community.

For the students, it’s the measure of the academic opportunities they’ve received, and how well they’ve utilized them.

For the community, maintaining academic excellence means more families moving to Delano. This translates to more jobs, economic development, and, most importantly, incremental tax revenue.

I view Delano’s academic excellence as our community’s greatest competitive advantage, and maintaining that level of performance requires commitment to our schools and thoughtful decision making.

The Delano School Board is a steward of taxpayer dollars and is responsible for making efficient use of its resources.

I’ve been the taxpayers; steward before, while managing multi-million dollar government programs through times of fiscal constraints and increases in mission requirements.

I continue that responsibility today as a Delano Water, Light, and Power commissioner, where my focus is on the impact to the individual-rate payer.

I look forward to an opportunity to serve our community and its greatest resource – our schools – by making sound financial and administrative decisions that maintain academic excellence for the benefit of our students and community.

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