The Anoka-Hennepin School District, faced with hiring a new superintendent and trying to heal from a recent past that included student suicides, lawsuits and national scrutiny over bullying, saw voters elect a newcomer to the school board Tuesday, along with two incumbents.
William Fields, an Air Force Academy graduate who was a pilot, instructor and training manager during his 10-year military career, defeated former Ham Lake Mayor Paul Meunier and Janelle Kirkeide, a school library media specialist, for one of three Anoka-Hennepin seats up for election.
The other Anoka-Hennepin seats went to incumbents Jeff Simon, who ran unopposed, and William Harvey, who overwhelmingly defeated challenger Grace Baltich.
"I'm excited," said Fields, who says he has not run for an office of any kind since high school. "I'm grateful and humble," said the father of four.
Fields said his "conservative mind-set and respect for the taxpayers' dollars" may have won over voters. Of Minnesota's largest school district's recent troubled history, he said, "You can always learn from the past."
He and other board members must quickly look to the future. Dennis Carlson, superintendent since 2009, has announced he will retire at the end of the school year.
"Our main focus has to be [choosing] the superintendent," Fields said, "and to continue to strive for sound academics that will one day make our students competitive in the global market place."
Four board seats were at stake in the St. Francis School District, which in recent months saw one board member ousted after admitting to plagiarism and another avoid ouster by a 3-2 vote.
In a six-way race for three at-large seats, incumbent David Roberts led the field. Roberts was appointed to the board early this year as a replacement for Matthew Rustad, who had been removed after confessing to plagiarism. One of the other winners Tuesday was incumbent Marsha Van Denburgh, who, after Roberts' appointment, accused the board of violating open-meeting law because a roll-call vote hadn't been taken.
The other at-large seat went to Barbara Jahnke, a recently retired and long time St. Francis school counselor who finished second. Van Denburgh finished third.
In a special election for a two-year seat on the St. Francis board, Betsy Roed, a St. Francis High School graduate with three young children, defeated Scott Schwartz.
In Lino Lakes, Mayor Jeff Reinert ran unopposed. In a tight race for two at-large seats, Rob Rafferty was one of the winners. William Kusterman and Melissa Maher were two votes apart in the contest for the second seat. Both Rafferty and Kusterman supported loosening the city charter, in part to allow rebuilding roads without a referendum. Maher did not want to change the roads requirements.
In another tight vote, Coon Rapids voters passed a $17.4 million parks and trails referendum. Some $15 million will be set aside for parks and trails construction — an eight-year project that will begin in 2015.