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Meet the candidates for Anoka-Hennepin, St. Francis school boards

  • Article by: Paul Levy
  • Star Tribune
  • October 22, 2013 - 1:49 PM

Replacing Dennis Carlson, who retires at the end of the school year, heads the to-do list for a board that will have at least one new member in January. Three seats are on the Nov. 5 ballot, and one incumbent, Michael Sullivan, is not seeking re-election after 25 years. William Fields, Janelle Kirkeide and Paul Meunier are competing for that District 4 seat.

Bill Harvey — who was appointed to the District 3 seat in January after John Hoffman was elected to the Minnesota Senate — is being challenged by Grace Baltich.

In District 6, Jeff Simon, appointed in 2012 after Kathy Tingelstad resigned, is running unopposed.

 

Anoka-Hennepin District 3

Grace Baltich — a mother, licensed social worker and Champlin Park High School graduate — says the district “should have learned that it needs to be less reactionary or fear-based and become more proactive and collaborative.” She believes that, if anything, students “have been underreporting incidences of bullying” and that staff needs to be better trained “on cultural competency and how to handle bullying and create safer spaces.”

Baltich emphasizes the need for providing mental-health services in schools to address reasons that bullies act out. She said the school board must support staff to change the culture and safety of schools.

“I want to ensure that all children receive just as good, if not a better education than what I received growing up here,” Baltich said.

 

Bill Harvey, of Champlin, has three children who have attended or are attending Anoka-Hennepin schools. Harvey says he has volunteered, coached and participated in the district’s schools for 13 years.

“We currently lead the nation in the policies and procedures … to reduce bullying and harassment in our schools for all students,” Harvey said. “It is my hope that the antibullying task force can suggest improvements in our current practice.”

He said Carlson will leave the district on solid ground. He hopes the next superintendent can create “a culture of continuous improvement, an organization that is data driven,” while using taxpayer funds efficiently. He wants the district to respect “the right of parents to be their child’s first educator.”

 

Anoka-Hennepin District 4

William Fields, of Andover, is an Air Force Academy graduate who was a pilot, instructor and training manager during his 10-year military career. The father of four says he gained an appreciation for the “academic environment” through his roles with the military.

“While we had some very unfortunate incidents occur in the district, I don’t think the federal government needed to be involved in any solution,” Fields said, referring to the settlement of the lawsuit. But, concerning the consent decree that resolved it, Fields said he looks “forward to input from the A-H task force going forward.”

As for Carlson’s successor, Fields said, “I think the next superintendent needs to reflect the values of the district … and maintain a focus on academics with respect for the taxpayers. It is important for the superintendent to find ways to streamline areas that will produce quicker results with less red tape.”

 

Janelle Kirkeide, of Ham Lake, is a school-library media specialist with the St. Anthony-New Brighton School District. Kirkeide, a Coon Rapids High School graduate, says she has lived her entire life in the district. She and husband Gary, a Ham Lake council member and former mayor, have two adult children.

“As a teacher I understand that bullying is an insidious problem in schools,” she said. “Every kid needs to feel safe and welcome in school.”

“I’m passionate about education and reading,” she said, “and would be an advocate for school libraries in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.”

Kirkeide said that she has sat on committees that have chosen three superintendents for the St. Anthony-New Brighton district.

“I’m familiar with that whole interviewing process, the vetting process and making sure the candidate is a good fit,” she said.

 

Paul Meunier, the former Ham Lake mayor and City Council member, is the father of a Blaine High School freshman. As a psychologist, Meunier has served Anoka-Hennepin students for 14 years. He is now director of services for the Minnesota Youth Intervention Programs Association.

“In regards to the tough times the district has been through recently, I think the lesson learned is that all students deserve a chance for a quality education in a safe environment,” Meunier said. “As a person who has worked with at-risk youth most of my adult life, I believe I can bring some insight to the board about achieving this goal.”

Meunier wants District 11 to receive the same compensatory revenue as other school districts. He said he would continue the board’s practice of investing more than 70 percent of general-fund dollars into the classroom and keeping administrative costs at 3 percent. He said the selection of a new superintendent has to be representative of the entire community’s wishes.

 

St. Francis SCHOOL BOARD

For the seven-member St. Francis school board, this election is pivotal. Four seats are being contested. Union contracts are about to expire. And the election follows a period when the board itself has gone through a few controversies.

Last year, two board members tried to have then-Chair Marsha Van Denburgh removed from the board. With two board members absent, Van Denburgh survived a 3-2 vote. Amy Kelly and Janet Glover, who voted for Van Denburgh’s removal, are now the board’s chair and vice chair, respectively.

A few months later, another board member, Matthew Rustad, was ousted after he admitted plagiarizing a column. Then Kelly also was accused of plagiarism. Kelly, who said she never claimed credit for a child’s tale she told in the school district newsletter, survived the challenge.

When David Roberts was appointed in March to replace Rustad, Van Denburgh accused the board of violating the open meeting law because a roll-call vote hadn’t been taken.

Seats held by Kelly and Glover are not up for election this year, but four others are. Roberts and Van Denburgh are among six candidates vying for three at-large seats; two other candidates are competing in a special election for a two-year seat.

 

St. Francis at-large seats

Sharon Collier, of St. Francis, says she’s running because she has four young children in the district “and I want to be a voice for parents, students and teachers.”

Collier, whose husband is a K-9 deputy with the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, said she would like to see federal grant money that would enable every family in the school district to have Internet access in their homes. She sees kids with special education needs as a priority, wants the school board to keep and maintain a strict budget, and believes school board members can do a better job listening to the concerns of parents, teachers and the students themselves.”

“I want to give back to the community,” Collier said. “I have no real agenda; this is from the heart. I want to share with other communities just how great our school system is.”

 

Barbara Jahnke, of St. Francis, retired last spring from the St. Francis district after having been a school counselor for 19 years. Before that, she taught for more than a decade. She’s also been a community counselor, having worked with indigent and homeless people. And she volunteers.

“The essential voice of experience,” Jahnke said when asked to describe her assets as a candidate.

She’d like to see the district build on what she considers a strong foundation.

“We have wonderful teachers, a system that works, competitive test scores,” she said. “It’s hard to understand what goes on in a school. I’ve experienced that. I would have that to offer.”

 

Juanita Reed-Boniface, of Oak Grove, is a retiree who worked with youth development at the University of Minnesota Extension Service and has run an independent education consulting business. She chairs the Anoka County extension committee, and two months ago she was honored for her 50 years of service with 4H activities at the Minnesota State Fair. She served nine years on the Oak Grove council.

Reed-Boniface has two children who graduated from St. Francis High years ago. So, why is she running?

“I’m a high-energy person with a strong conviction for public education and equal opportunities for all kids,” she said. “Others look for short-term fixes, but with age you develop some wisdom and perspective. There are about 3,500 to 4,000 retired people in our school district and I feel they need to have a voice.”

 

David Roberts says he and his wife moved from Coon Rapids to Oak Grove with hopes of getting involved with the community. Roberts has four kids, the oldest age 7 and the youngest born a month ago. He’d like to remain on the board for a while.

“My goal is parent involvement, opening up communication between students and parents and the district itself,” Roberts said. “I’d like to see a more transparent way of doing business in the district.”

“I’m just making sure the community really feels it’s vested in what’s going on in the district,” he said.

Roberts is interested in programs and extracurricular activities for middle school students and hopes the district will explore options that will keep it competitive with neighboring districts.

Marsha Van Denburgh not only hopes to return to the board, she also hopes the “collaborative approach the district had maybe three years ago” can be rekindled.

“There’s discontent on a lot of levels,” she said. “I don’t see teachers being valued. Some of our staff is disillusioned. We used to have site management councils that took the lead on budgets. They could see the needs of a certain department. About two years ago, that was taken away from them.”

Van Denburgh, of Oak Grove, is running for her second term. She is a therapeutic foster parent. She has nine kids, including three birth children, whose ages range from 6 to 28.

“I have a unique perspective,” Van Denburgh said. “I see challenges that others don’t see.”

 

Malcolm T. Vinger II, of Nowthen, is an engineer with two young daughters in the St. Francis district. He says he frequently attends school board meetings — enough to be concerned about the district’s declining enrollment, changing curriculum, budget issues and sometimes unsettled staff.

“I’ve seen some of the problems that plague the schools,” said Vinger, whose father was a principal in Cass Lake.

“We need to provide a quality education for the kids,” Vinger said. “That’s the bottom line.”

He said board members need to remember that their decisions affect the entire school district, including families with children in school.

 

St. Francis two-year seat

Vying for District 15’s two-year seat are Betsy Roed and Scott Schwarz, both of Oak Grove.

 

Betsy Roed is a St. Francis High School graduate with three young children — “my main motivation for running,” she said.

She worries about people’s perception of the district.

“I’ve lived here forever and know that negativity spreads like wildfire,” Roed said. “I’m here to show people that there are a lot of good things happening in the community.”

Roed says that a hardworking school board isn’t enough. Board members must learn to work together and support one another, she said.

“I want to improve the communication lines between the school board and the public,” she said. “The board needs to be willing to work together.”

 

Scott Schwarz, who is in sales, has seen all four of his children graduate from St. Francis High School. Guiding his kids through school and the ability to understand budgets may be his greatest strengths as a school board candidate, he said.

“There has to be more transparency toward everything going on on the board,” he said. “Negotiations are coming up for the teachers and different unions in the district. The school board needs to discuss these issues openly in the meetings so that the public understands where the money is going.

“We need to be open to the public. We need to show that we’re doing our jobs.”

 

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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