Budget looms large for new Farmington school board

  • Star Tribune
  • October 6, 2012 - 10:39 AM

When voters elect members of the Farmington school board in November, the end result will be a very inexperienced group, regardless of who wins the three seats.

Julie Singewald is the only incumbent. If she wins, Singewald, first elected in 2008, would be the only member of the six-person board with more than two years of experience come January, when the winners take their positions.

"I think we are definitely presented with some challenges in the district," Singewald said. "Fresh eyes always help, but having an historical perspective on the district can be advantageous. I can bring a perspective that the rest of the board cannot."

At the opposite end of the experience scale is Jake Cordes, a 21-year-old who graduated from Farmington High School three years ago. Cordes is making his first run at public office, using his first-hand familiarity with the district as a selling point.

"It is no secret that I am younger than the average school board candidate," Cordes, a business major at the University of St. Thomas, writes on his web page. "But I believe that will be an asset. I bring a unique perspective ... the perspective of a recent graduate, someone who knows firsthand what works in Farmington and what does not."

The other candidates running for office are Eric Bartosh, Laura Beem, Rob Carpentier and John Guist. Anthony MacDonald will appear on the ballot but has decided to drop out for personal reasons.

Six of the seven attended a candidates' forum at which they expressed concerns over district finances, about finding ways to use technology to improve education, and a desire to close the achievement gap.

"It's not a racial issue, it's economics," Carpentier, a soccer coach and teacher, said of the achievement gap. "So every district is facing it."

Budget deficit looms

Economics figures to be a big issue in the race, as almost immediately after taking office the new board will have to decide how to cut between $1 million and $1.5 million from the district's budget for next year.

"That will be one of their first challenges," said Jim Skelly, the district's public information officer. "The board will have to come together quickly to make decisions for the next school year."

Guist, a church pastor, and others promised to take a hard look at the budget to figure out what needs to be reduced and by how much.

"I'm not a big tax guy," he said. "I don't like doing that to my neighbors or myself." But he promised to "make the hard choices and reduce what we need to reduce."

Beem, a certified public accountant, said experience will be a factor in the election and on the school board, but that governance experience is not the key factor in the election.

"I think experience will be important," she said. "But it's not going to be board experience, but what experience you will bring to the board."

She points to her background in financial matters as being an asset. "I've been following the school board actions for two years," said Beem, who two years ago challenged the district and then Superintendent Brad Meeks over its openness and class sizes, which still remains an issue in the district.

On her website, Beem has the support of board member Tim Burke, who is leaving after one term, and current Board Chairwoman Tera Lee.

"I encouraged Laura to run because she ... was a grass roots community leader in the effort that caused the previous school district administration to deal openly with class size issues. She understands the issues and what's important," Lee said in the statement announcing Beem's candidacy.

Bartosh, a teacher in the Rosemount school district, believes his experience as an educator will make up for his lack of governance experience.

How important will experience be in this election, given that many of those running are new to the board or election process?

"I believe experience is crucial," Bartosh wrote in an e-mail. "However, I believe the experience that is often overlooked when dealing with school board issues is the viewpoint of the educators.

"It is extremely difficult to make decisions when you have little experience on how those decisions are actually implemented. I am new to the process but am experienced dealing with district issues since I've been a teacher for over 13 years."

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281

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