Independent Town Pages election guide: Farmington School Board
Nov. 4 is right around the corner, and voters in Farmington and Rosemount have some choices to make.
To help voters make an informed decision, we asked the candidates some questions and gave them a total of 800 words to answer, distributed however they chose. This week we will run responses from city council and school board candidates. Candidates for county commissioner, state representative and Dakota County Sheriff will follow next week.
Following are the candidates for the Farmington School District 192 Board of Education.
1. What do you hope to accomplish in your four years on the Farmington School Board? In four years I hope to accomplish the following:
1. Prioritize projects. What do our teachers need that will have the highest impact on the largest number of students as we prepare them to be responsible, employable citizens.
2. Continue to look at ways to manage our classroom sizes.
3. Upgrade technology and security.
4. Prioritize expenditures and create a funding plan that has the least impact on taxes, but targets the needs of our schools.
5. Establish a business mindset in the district when it comes to spending and budgeting decisions.
2. Why do you think you’re the best person to get that done? My work and personal experiences are diverse and varied. I have the experience and concept of how businesses make financial decisions and implicate measures to be successful. My background encompasses coaching youth and high school sports and collegiate basketball to being an electrician, business owner and operator, a volunteer firemen, police dispatcher, business operations manager, customer service manager, and now my current role as a customer technical support manager at Thomsen-Reuter. I have experience in communicating and negotiating with people so a resolution can be implemented that is acceptable. I believe that everyone needs to be respected and feel valued for their concerns and ideas. I attempt to use critical thinking and problem solving skills on a daily basis. I have a strong work ethic and am honest, dependable, organized, and open-minded. With my experience, I bring a strong business background to both the public and private business sector. As a Board of Education member, I believe these skills will be an asset to our school system. In addition, I am, and always have been, a huge advocate for children. Our community benefits when our children are well educated.
3. What do you consider the most significant challenge facing the Farmington School District? How would you address it? The most significant challenge that the district is facing is the budget.
My top priority would be to prioritize projects within the school district, and see what needs immediate action. From there, I would look into the district’s budget to gain an understanding where we can save money or make the appropriate adjustments to accomplish these tasks. The district has several looming cost issues in the near future: the retiree medical trust is running out and it will need to start making payments for those obligations; several buildings are in need of expensive repairs; with start of all-day kindergarten, buildings are short of classroom space; and iPads leases are up for renewal next year. For financing large expenditures we need a three, five and 10 year plan likely through a combination of bonding and additional levies.
4. The Farmington School District has made a push in recent years toward more individualized and student-guided learning. Do you consider this a positive trend? I would agree that individualized and student-guided learning is a positive trend, but we need to manage it and create measurements along the way to see how we are doing. Teachers cannot be replaced by technology. We need to provide them with professional development to integrate the ever changing technology to prepare them for a job that probably hasn’t even been created yet. What we do know is that students will have to take the initiative and use critical thinking and problem solving skills, gathering information using technology. We need to be sure to provide them with these tools.
Tera Lee • Incumbent
1. What do you hope to accomplish in your four years on the Farmington School Board? My top priority is to continue the work we began four years ago. First, this school board has become a place where people are heard and respected, and differing opinions are welcomed and listened to, often producing positive change. Teamwork and collaboration, even in the midst of disagreement, have replaced fighting and division. Second, we have made some very fiscally wise decisions that have resulted in saving taxpayers over $35 million in interest, and have lowered our resident’s taxes three years in a row. Finally, we have increased academic rigor and improved test scores and student achievement. These are all accomplishments that I will work to continue. In addition, I would like to ensure that we move forward on the work of customizing education for every student, meeting their individual needs.
2. Why do you think you’re the best person to get that done? I have experience in successfully bringing a divided board together, and bringing an environment of respect and teamwork to the forefront between the board and the administration. I have grown up in Farmington and have a connection to the residents that causes me to listen intently to our stakeholders, and I volunteer in our schools, observing firsthand what happens in our classrooms. I care deeply about Farmington and our schools and I am fully invested in their success. Also, I am currently in school to become a teacher, which gives me an entirely new perspective from which to draw. With the financial outlook facing school districts, and the implementation of our strategic plan, it is important to have experienced board members to continue to propel us forward. Farmington is now a leader in education, and we need leaders with a vision to remain that way, and to increase our achievements even more.
3. What do you consider the most significant challenge facing the Farmington School District? How would you address it? Our most significant challenge is the budget. We have a deficit going out several years, and we have many financial needs that must be addressed, such as OPED bonds, facility needs, and safety and security, along with the desire to keep class sizes low and support our students in all of their endeavors. To that end, the board is planning a retreat to prioritize these costs, separate out wants from needs, and determine what needs to be done now, versus what needs to be done in the short term or long term. In addition, we will identify areas in the district where we can make further efficiencies and cuts. We will then begin to share with the community and gather feedback in regards to the community’s priorities. After listening to the community’s thoughts, we will devise a plan and determine how to balance these needs with the tax burden on our residents.
4. The Farmington School District has made a push in recent years toward more individualized and student-guided learning. Do you consider this a positive trend? Yes. Each student is unique and has his/her own learning strengths and weaknesses and their own spark that should be cultivated. We want to create a learning environment that will allow students to create a full education based on their strengths and passions, and teach them to be life-long, self-motivated learners. Producing self- motivated, creative students that are capable of critical thinking and collaboration will do infinitely more for our students than teaching them how to take standardized tests will. Businesses continuously report that these are the kind of employees they are looking for, and our schools need to prepare our students to be successful in life after school.
Melissa Sauser • Incumbent
1. What do you hope to accomplish in your four years on the Farmington School Board? My priorities are communication, fiscal responsibility and implementing the district strategic plan-meeting the needs of all learners. The district has engaged the community in multiple discussions regarding all day kindergarten, school boundaries, high school class rank and the importance of technology. Engaging with all of our stake holders is important, whether there is a new initiative or not. As a board we have reduced property taxes through working with legislators to change policy and restructuring existing bonds to more favorable interest rates. I want to make sure that our district continues to move forward to customize education for every learner.
2. Why do you think you’re the best person to get that done? During my term on the board I have served as clerk, vice-chair and now as treasurer. I represent Farmington on the Intermediate School District 917 board, which gives me a better understanding of special needs programs and technical career options. I also represent the school boards in Dakota County on the Minnesota School Boards Association which allows me a broader perspective of education in our state. I have worked in public schools at all age levels with English Language Learners and I am an active volunteer at school events. I have advocated for transparency, supported reducing taxes and approved measures to further customize education for all. Farmington has become a leader in innovation stemming from the roots of our strategic plan, identifying one’s passions and creating ways to engage all learners. If you feel the district has improved during the past four years, I ask for your vote so we can continue to improve and provide the best education for our community.
3. What do you consider the most significant challenge facing the Farmington School District? How would you address it? The most significant challenge facing the Farmington School District is the budget. In our last fiscal year I am proud to report that we had a surplus. Yet, in the upcoming years we have many fiscal needs to solve. It is important we do not compromise student safety, whether for security or deferred maintenance needs. We also have benefit obligations to employees and facility space concerns to address.
This year with all day Kindergarten our buildings are a little more crowded and this makes programming for special needs and additional programs for community education difficult. In my term I have approved multiple measures to reduce tax payer burden. It is critical that we share with the community our specific needs and how it relates to meeting the needs of all learners. We were able to provide iPads to all within current budget parameters and we have also kept the superintendent to task on our class size policy. If we are to ask for voters for any additional taxes it will be at a point where we have done everything we can to tighten the budget without penalizing the students. I strongly believe that any new bonding should be put to a community vote.
4. The Farmington School District has made a push in recent years toward more individualized and student-guided learning. Do you consider this a positive trend? This push comes directly from our strategic plan. I had the honor of serving on the strategic planning committee, which consists of district, parents and community members. It is important that we find the way to reach and challenge each individual student. As a student learns to manage their time, they will be more successful in their desired path after high school. This is why the board approved iPads as a tool to help individualize education. There are many examples of this mission being applied in our district. At the high school there are academic support times for students to receive extra help with their classroom teachers. There are also hybrid and self paced classes which allows students to move at their own pace within the subject area. At the middle school students are taking independent art classes and receiving extra instruction in areas of need. Gateway Academy is another example of allowing students to follow their passions in a supportive learning environment while still meeting academic standards. I strongly believe as we continue to move toward individualized and student-guided learning we will continue to move closer to truely custumizing education for all.
Brian Treakle • Incumbent
1. What do you hope to accomplish in your four years on the Farmington School Board? The last 4 years we have cut debt, reduced waste, and begun a transformation of the school district in a leader in education. The next four years I would like to continue that work. I want a district that teaches our children to be successful in life, engages our children, and is cost efficient.
2. Why do you think you’re the best person to get that done? The experience I have in accounting, managing a small business, and negotiating contracts separates me from the rest of the field. In the last four years I have led the push to eliminate wasteful spending, improve efficiency, and to refinance our debt. The savings from this has allowed us to keep class sizes from growing, add technology, and reduce current and future taxes by over $52 million.
3. What do you consider the most significant challenge facing the Farmington School District? How would you address it? The constant and most obvious challenge is the budget. We are constantly looking for efficiencies, yet we still have inflationary pressure. This is not just higher labor costs, but increased expenses due to increasing state and federal mandates. We need the state and feds to cut the mandates and give us the freedom to educate, and make efficient use of our funds.
4. The Farmington School District has made a push in recent years toward more individualized and student-guided learning. Do you consider this a positive trend? Absolutely it is. For the last 125 years, our schools have been working with a factory style model. Kids are batched into class rooms and given a certain amount of time to learn a set amount of info. Our society has changed and we need the schools to change with it. Technology is only a piece of that puzzle. We need each child to learn at the pace they are capable of, not a factory scheduled pace. We need them engaged and learning skills to be successful in today’s world.