Bloomington's 30-year ruler

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 4, 2011 - 4:41 PM

This is Arlene Bush's 30th year on the Bloomington school board. Even she is not sure how many terms she's served.

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Arlene Bush, who will be 80 in July, will be celebrating her 30th year as a Bloomington school board member during 2011. Her current term runs through 2014.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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The new year is a big one for Arlene Bush.

She turns 80 and celebrates her 30th year serving on the Bloomington school board -- a rarity among school board members anywhere.

This month the Minnesota School Boards Association will honor Bush, the only board member in the state who will reach the 30-year milestone in 2011.

"It's so hard to believe, you know, 30 years," Bush said. "But it is still so important to me that we give a good education to all of our students."

According to the state association, the longest service by a school board member on record was achieved by a 92-year-old northern Minnesota man who served on a board for 48 years.

So will Bush run again in 2014 when her term ends? She's lost track of which term she's on -- sixth or seventh -- since they changed from three to four years.

"Oh heavens, I don't know," she said.

Daughter Kathy Larson of Lakeville said public service is important to Bush.

"She gains as much from doing this as she gives," she said. "She really enjoys what she's doing. She has such a passion for the students."

Since Bush was first elected, Bloomington has changed a lot.

She grew up in Odin, a small town in southern Minnesota, and attended classes in a two-room schoolhouse until moving to Minneapolis with her parents. She graduated from the former West High School in 1948 and went to the University of Minnesota to study education and then business, though she did not graduate. She was married and moved to California while her husband served on a Navy carrier in Japan during the Korean War.

They returned to Minnesota in 1957 to the booming suburb of Bloomington. As an involved mother of six daughters, Bush joined the school board in 1981.

She soon learned it wouldn't be an easy job. In her first year, the board voted to close Lincoln High School, which her youngest daughter was attending.

"I don't know if her friends have forgiven me yet," she said jokingly.

Since then, the district has become increasingly diverse, and enrollment has declined by about 3,000 students, forcing five schools to close. Technology is now as much a part of classrooms as student desks.

"It was a whole different school district," Bush said of when she started in 1981.

Ample training

While Minnesota does not have term limits for board members, only a handful will serve as long as Bush. Twenty years ago, about a half-dozen board members served 30 years; now, it's one or two people a year.

"We have seen a lot more turnover," said Greg Abbott of the state school board group. "We're seeing a lot of people barely make it one term. It ends up being a lot bigger job than a lot of them thought it would be."

Nationwide, 93 percent of school board members serve four years or less. Most are 40 to 59 years old.

Bush said she's stayed on the board because of her firm belief in education. It's also helped her stay active since her husband died 16 years ago.

"That's been tough," she said. "After my husband died, it was good to stay busy."

Bush served on the state school board group for 11 years. She's had more than 1,000 hours of school board training, more than any other Minnesota board member. When she's not at school board meetings firing up her Mac laptop, she's regularly attending sporting events, concerts and other school events.

"She's been so involved in the community," said board chair Jim Sorum, who will celebrate 20 years on the board. "And she just has the biggest heart for children and Bloomington schools."

In July she'll celebrate her 30th year on the board and her 80th birthday with her six daughters and 14 grandchildren.

"I'm thankful to be here," she said of her time on the board. "It's just been a great, great place."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

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