The Orono Public School Board will have three seats open on the ballot on Nov. 5. Current Director Laura Wallander and current Board Clerk Michael Bash are seeking re-election as well as facing challengers Ali Howe and David Schuler. The winners will begin their four-year term in January 2020.

The Orono School Board is also asking voters to authorize approximately $2,109,804 levy for taxes payable in 2020 to pay for technology projects. The levy is expected to fund projects for 10 years at a total cost of $21,098,040.

“Shall the school district’s existing capital project levy authorization be revoked and the new capital project levy authorization to fund technology proposed by the board of Independent School District No. 278 be approved,” the Nov. 5 ballot asks.

Passing the levy would bring an additional $1.1 million in funds in 2020 and would allow the school district to revoke the current technology levy from 2011. If the referendum is voter approved , property owners would also see their property tax increase based on the market value of the property. The owner of a $250,000 home would see an $116 property tax increase and the owner of a $1 million home would see a $492 property tax increase.

The four school board candidates were asked to submit their responses to three questions related to the future of Orono Public Schools.


Why are you running for a seat on the Orono Public School Board?

It’s been an honor to serve as a member of the Orono School Board for 16 years. That experience, and understanding the complexities of public schools, along with my professional expertise as the Chief Financial Officer of a $270 million electric utility give me a unique perspective to be an excellent member of the Orono School Board. It’s also about community service. While others volunteer in the classroom or community, I have experience and perspective as a board member to make sure public education in our community benefits all of us – both those families with students in the district and those (the majority) who don’t currently have school aged children.

What do you hope to accomplish if re-elected?

Maintain the excellence of Orono Schools while making sure that excellence extends to every student. We must do that in the context of prudently using the financial resources provided by the state and voters in the Orono school district. Since each student is unique, our approach to student achievement is varied to meet the needs of individual students and their families. While most of our graduates will attend college, we must also address our own achievement gap.

We offer targeted after school tutoring. Our staff gets ongoing training in cultural competence. Our “Great Expectations” program, a partnership with IOCP and the Wayzata School District, delivers resources to students who are at risk of falling behind due to family income levels. At Orono High School we have a guided study program to provide extra support for students taking their first AP courses.

We are reinvigorating our Character Counts program (Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship) at all grade levels to ensure our students graduate not only with academic excellence but also with character.

What is your long-term vision for the community?

We know the excellent reputation of our local public school district has a big influence on our property values and long term community vitality. Many families choose to live in our community because of the Orono School District. We have a waiting list in almost all grades for families desiring to enroll their children in our schools.

We must also keep changing. Our curriculum is evolving – less memorization and more learning to apply concepts. Our STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) program at all levels helps students learn age appropriate, real world skills. Orono High School now offers 4 years of engineering classes where students work with the software tools used by professional engineers.

As a School Board member, one of the most important things I do is listen – to parents, teachers, administrators, school staff and community members. We have one of the best public school districts in the state because we’ve listened to the expectations of the community and collaboratively worked to make them happen.


Why are you running for a seat on the Orono Public School Board?

My desire to serve on the Orono Public School Board is driven by my commitment to community service and my passion for education. I am a strong supporter of public education and believe it is critical to the development of successful, happy and healthy youth who will become our community’s future leaders. Throughout my 15 years of volunteer experience in the district in various leadership capacities, I was fortunate to develop strong relationships and a personal understanding of the perspectives and needs of students, families, teachers and administrators. Furthermore, my skill sets developed both professionally as an attorney and in my roles as a community and school volunteer, are well-suited to contribute to a collaborative, respectful, responsible and compassionate school board. I would be honored to continue my service to the community and Orono Schools as a school board member.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

If elected, I will work hard to ensure that the district fulfills its mission to maximize the full potential of all students because of their experiences in Orono Schools. Maintaining academic excellence will be a priority along with student safety and the further development of student support programs addressing the achievement gap and the social and emotional well-being of students. I will also work for the improvement of the character program and curriculum at Orono Schools in conjunction with an emphasis on greater cultural and social awareness among students and staff. As a parent with children enrolled in the district, I want to make sure that the district maintains the characteristics that brought my family here - quality teaching and curriculum, small class sizes, individualized learning opportunities and a small community experience. As a resident of this district, I am interested in maintaining the value that our school district brings to our community. Lastly, as a school board member, I will take my responsibly as a representative of the community seriously. I am interested in listening to our district residents and creating and maintaining constructive and open communication.

What is your long-term vision for the community?

Orono Public Schools is a valuable asset to the community with a strong tradition of academic excellence and fiscal responsibility. The stellar reputation of the district has a direct and positive impact on the value of residents’ properties and the community as a whole. The students of Orono Schools today will be the future leaders of tomorrow. It is in our best interest to invest in the success of all Orono students as a community. Students greatly benefit from the support and involvement of residents in the district. Strong community connections help students develop into successful adults and community members with a strong sense of civic responsibility. Historically, many Orono graduates return to the district to live, raise a family and own a business. I hope these connections and relationships between the students and graduates of Orono Schools and the community continue and strengthen. A community that supports its youth is contributing to its future success and vitality.


Why are you running for a seat on the Orono Public School Board?

I am running for school board because I love this community, have the professional experience to help our district continue to achieve outstanding results, and feel drawn to public service so that my time and talents can improve the lives of others. My 15+ year career has been focused on being an advisor, investor and board member to small businesses, by helping them to tackle pressing issues, navigate through difficult and uncertain situations, develop long-term strategic plans, and deliver results on time and under budget. This experience favorably translates into success as a school board member and Orono’s focus on excellence.

Orono schools are excellent, there is no doubt about it. Like many of our fellow community members, the high caliber of schools was a top reason we moved to Orono three years ago. We are fortunate that this district is a very high-functioning organization already, as evidenced not only by its top statewide (and nationwide) rankings, but also the dedication, passion and commitment provided by its teachers, principals, administrators, board members, coaches, and students. The focus on character education, well-rounded course offering, multiple extracurricular options across sports, fine arts, business, and other fields, multiple AP and post-secondary courses, and top facilities all ensure that students can make the most of their full potential. In addition, we are blessed to have such tremendous parental involvement through the Orono Foundation for Education and PTO, which both help to fund supplemental programs, through classroom volunteers, and by being engaged with teachers and the district to demand the best for our students.

And yet we can’t take the success for granted, or even get complacent. Like all organizations, continuous improvement for Orono schools is required to ensure we become the best version of ourselves. Having new board members brings fresh ideas to the table, and those with different professional backgrounds provide diversity of thought. I believe my business experience, and understanding of both finance and strategy across various industries, will be invaluable to helping guide this organization as well.

I believe that Minnesota’s prosperity, entrepreneurial culture, and quality of life is a direct result of our commitment to quality public schools. This is an issue that impacts us all. And strong leaders are required to maintain that quality, which is why I am offering my experience and service to help ensure we remain the best.

What do you hope to accomplish if elected?

Fortunately, the Orono school district is already committed to academic excellence, and has amazing teachers, principals, and administrators who are motivated to maintain such high standards. So while as a board member I would be collaborating closely with the educators to ensure that our district maintains in top academic condition, my goals would be to focus on three other matters that are critical to a successful school district. First, to protect the safety of our students and employees. The district has done some great things already to prepare for the worst, including partnership with police force, communication plans, practices, and leveraging technology. But even more could be done and should be explored. The second priority is to prepare our students for the world while also protecting them from harm. Unfortunately topics like e-cigarettes, bullying (including online bullying) and mental health issues are all too present in the lives of our youth today. Fortunately the district already confronts these issues through its character education program, which provides kids with a moral compass to make the right choices, and by offering dedicated professionals to assist with mental health issues. But working with fellow board members and administer policies to address and combat these and other such external threats will remain top of mind.

The third priority is fiscal discipline. I support the spending priorities of the current board, and believe the district demonstrates sound fiscal judgment. That said, if our goal is to continue to expand programs and services in the pursuit of excellence, and yet “live within our means” and maintain a balanced budget, then savvy financial minds are required at the board level. Fortunately this is my area of expertise. One idea is to pursue investments in various energy-efficient projects (e.g. “smart” building products that reduce energy costs, solar panels to defray electricity costs) to reduce facility-related expenses over time. Another idea is to pursue public-private partnerships with local businesses and/or private donors for any sizable capital projects going forward. A third idea is to explore opportunities to “pool” together with surrounding school districts for increased purchasing power. I’m confident that once in office, even more money saving ideas will become apparent and that I can recommend we explore.

What is your long-term vision for the community?

We believe this community is a special place. We love the small town feel and serene surroundings, and yet still being only 15 minutes to downtown Minneapolis. We enjoy seeing the same families at church, Schumann Elementary events, the hockey rink, around town at Birch’s or Otten Bros, etc. Over the long-term I hope our community can continue to maintain this same feel, and I believe continued leadership of and investment in our school district will be paramount to attracting new families to our community, and for protecting the housing values of the current residents. While new development will undoubtedly occur, which is good for economic vitality of the region, the board is committed to keeping Orono schools as a small district, and the schools have the ability to remodel/expand facilities as needed, or accept fewer open enrollment students, to ensure that class sizes and graduating classes remain comparable to current levels.


Why are you running for a seat on the Orono Public School Board?

I have been an active volunteer in this community for over a decade. The education of my children and their peers is of paramount importance to me. They are the future. I enjoy taking an active role in that process and ensuring that our school district is preparing them for success in life.

What do you hope to accomplish if re-elected?

The Orono school district is currently in an excellent position. We have high test scores and great academic success. Our students are well-rounded and are learning the importance of character and being good citizens. Our teachers and administrators are second to none. I intend to help us continue on this path. There is always room for improvement, however. I would like to continue our focus on literacy to ensure that all students have the foundational skills necessary to prepare them for the future. I would also like to find innovative new ways to support the mental health of our students and combat issues like substance abuse and vaping.

What is your long-term vision for the community?

I want our community to continue to be a desirable place to live. Having an exceptional school district is a large part of that. Our schools need to have high expectations for all students to ensure that they graduate with strong critical thinking skills. They need to be prepared not only for the 21 century workforce, but also to make a positive contribution to society. Our schools need to continue to improve through staff development, implementation of best practices, and effective use of technology. All of this needs to be done while operating within our means and being good stewards of the money that taxpayers have provided to our schools.

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