Tracy Maki enjoys stories, the personal kind, and if you ask how it is she came to live in Stillwater, she is happy to say it's because of the schools.
Andy Kubiak, too, chose the Stillwater Area Public Schools to educate his children, and for him and his wife, Sara — like Maki and husband John Dybvig before them — that meant moving from St. Paul to the St. Croix River Valley.
Maki and Kubiak lead a campaign that seeks to persuade voters this fall to back additional funding for students.
The request, when put in final form by school board members in August, is expected to propose raising the district's current $1,005 per student levy to $1,495 per student, and would come two years after voters rejected each of three funding proposals on the November 2011 ballot.
Kubiak and Maki are seeking to turn around the district's fortunes as co-chairpersons of the Valley Parent & Community Network, a newly formed community group, and a campaign initiative dubbed Our Schools Our Valley.
They agree that the 2011 proposal had a rushed quality containing language that was difficult for some people — Maki included — to fully grasp. Both, however, were solidly in favor.
Kubiak, who owns the business Superior Natural Foods, is a Stillwater Area High School graduate who still identifies with the school's nickname.
"I'm a 'Pony,' " he said. "I was going to vote 'yes.' "
Maki, development director of the St. Croix River Association, desired a more personal touch from levy advocates.
"Ask for my vote and work for my vote. Don't take me for granted," she said. "Engage me. Educate me. Tell me what you're doing. Make me a believer."
The Valley Parent & Community Network, by contrast, is working early to forge those connections. Last month, before school let out, the group had about 100 volunteers make thousands of calls to residents asking if they were aware of the levy proposal, if they supported it and if they needed more information, Kubiak said.
The group is also raising money for the fall campaign.
The outreach effort has gotten a favorable response, Stillwater Area school board member George Hoeppner said.
Maki is well aware of the network's effectiveness. She was called by a volunteer, she said, and because her husband has a different last name, he got a call, too.
Last fall, the district began convening community and staff members to develop a new mission statement. It asks that the schools, families and the community work together to "develop curious individuals who are active and engaged leaders in an ever-changing world by challenging each student as he or she travels along their personalized learning pathway."
Kubiak, who was part of the effort, said, "We were kind of the dreamers."
Later, the district enlisted community members to help develop a new strategic plan that contains elements that are to be funded by the proposed levy. The district also spelled out $11 million in cuts that would need to be made if voters reject the proposal.
Kubiak said that the message is clear that a "yes" vote means instituting the new strategic plan, stabilizing the district's finances and strengthening school security. He offered no specifics about the fundraising thus far, saying only that "we're on target."
Maki said that the campaign will be "ready to roll full force" when schools are back in session this fall. In the meantime, the group is entrusting liaisons at each of the district's schools to talk up the levy at community events — even neighborhood barbecues.
Said Maki, "You have to engage the people where they live."