In preparation for the upcoming election, Central Schools held an open forum for school board candidates to explain their views and what they would do if elected for the position. There are four spaces opening up with nine candidates running, two incumbent. This open forum had seven speakers, with Sandi Harms and Emily Perlbachs unable to attend.
Candidates first got the opportunity to introduce themselves to the audience. They were then asked questions by Darrin Fox, who served as a moderator. The questions were how the candidates felt about board members getting involved with staffing needs, how they feel about finances and transparency, how they felt they should represent Central as a board member, and what they thought the biggest issues facing the district are and how to deal with them.
Sara Eischens stated that she and her family have been part of Central for years, her children still attending. She’s served on the board before, and with a new superintendent, she wants to keep helping on the board to see the positive changes he can make. She hopes to see Central become what she called a “destination district” that can create many opportunities for incoming students.
In response to the questions, Eischens felt that the role the board serves when it comes to hiring and firing staff should be minimal. Instead of conducting interviews, the goal is to create a process that works and have faith in the admins. However, if there are major concerns she’s willing to hear them. She also feels that the district should be spending their budget on what’s best for the students while having a strategic plan for the next few years. She believes that procedures and budgets should be transparent and available for viewing. As for representing the district, Eischens stated that being a part of the board means being a public figure, and a member should “ooze Raider pride” as well as think through any public statement with the question, “Would this make Central proud?” Finally, Eischens says the school district faces many issues, the first and foremost is to stabilize the budget, which is why she voted for the referendum. She also stated that the district needs to look at enrollment, improve marketing and communication, update technology, and much more. Conducting surveys was one of her ideas for understanding why parents don’t enroll their children in Central.
Shelby Erickson is the nurse manager at Waconia’s birthing center and her husband is a teacher in the middle school. She’s seeing many changes in the district, and wants to make a difference and feels the district is “positioned for a bright future”.
As for her responses, Erickson did not believe that board members should be involved in the hiring and firing process for Central, but instead the board serves as the check and balance system with the superintendent. Their involvement in staffing would instead be examining ratios of students and staff and the budget if reductions are needed. She feels that transparency is incredibly important, and that the public needs to know about how finances work in schools. Being a representative would be simple, according to Erickson, as she’s already used to having to be responsible, respectful, and approachable in her work and that the board should meet people where they are, whether physically or media communication. For her, enrollment is the biggest issue the district faces, and proposed sending out exit surveys in order to understand why people were choosing to leave.
Scott Knight has served on the board for 22 years already, and in his time he’s enjoyed watching the growth and considers Central a great public school.
Knight believes that policy and procedure is the job when it comes to being on the board. However, he asked the community to talk to him if they see something wrong in the school. He also believes that all funding must go back to the school and that the school should be able to accommodate every student. He also stated that the board needs to be a voice at the capitol in order to speak up for the school’s needs. Knight wants the public to be informed of board action when it comes to finances in order to avoid frustration and confusion. For Knight, being a board member means being approachable and talking to the community, whether in person or via social media. He’s proud of he’s already done as a board member in the community. He stated that the biggest issue he sees the district in is with enrollment as numbers continue to go down. His idea for helping solve that problem is showing what Central does well, such as being a school that trains kids for specific trades.
Sarah Lehrke is a Central alum and lives in NYA with her family, with her kids being the fourth generation to attend Central. While she admitted during the forum that she’s no expert on being a board member, she also sees the need for change in the district and wishes to be a part of that.
Lehrke, like the other candidates, believes that a board governs a district, creating the policies that control staffing but otherwise don’t have much of a hand in the process. If the process isn’t followed, then the board would take action. As for finances, Lehrke while admittedly unfamiliar with the laws and regulations regarding school funding, she knows that the community wants the school to do well and be able to compete. She feels that community members should be reminded about board meetings and invited to open forums to stay informed. To represent, she said that “the board should be the biggest cheerleaders” as well as kind, trustworthy, open, and responsible while be themselves. Lehrke sees the enrollment and budget issues as hand-in-hand. To help fix the budget, enrollment needs to improve. She agrees with the idea of the exit surveys to understand why a third, according to Lehrke, of possible students are choosing not to attend.
Amber Michels lives in Hamburg with her family, and her four children attend Central. She finally has the chance to run for school board after being an official resident. She has a “strong passion for kids and education” and wants to see how the school will change.
For Michels, the board is the policy setter primarily, and the administration will carry out those policies. The board makes decisions regarding cuts and reductions based on the budget and class sizes. She feels that the board needs to follow the law in regards to financing, and should be transparent. She’d like to see monthly reports from the business office in order to see if the budget is on track. She also stated that the public should attend meetings to stay informed. Being on the board is a privilege to Michels, not a responsibility to be taken lightly as the board represents the school and the community. While a public figure, she does believe it’s important for a board member to have boundaries when it comes to interaction, and encouraged residents to participate in public forums. The biggest issue facing the school right now is the finance and budget issues for Michels, and the main reason behind it is enrollment. She feels the levies will help the budget issues, and feels that the curriculum and elective options needs updates to make Central more appealing.
Kristen Rickaby lives in Hamburg with her husband. Her children graduated from Central and she now wants to be a part of board seeing the changes that are coming. She’s excited to be working with Superintendent Schochenmeier, and believes that NYA has no bad option when it comes to the board candidates.
Like the other candidates, Rickaby believes the administration is in charge of vetting employees while the board makes the policies for vetting. However, she believes hiring staff should be the “right decision, not the easy one” and that the Central needs to attract the best staff. She feels that financing decisions the board makes should be transparent and available for the public to see. While she isn’t a fan of social media, she understands its role as a tool for the board to keep the community updated. Rickaby stated that to represent the board means being respectful, even when they are in disagreement. The board should be accountable for Rickaby, while staying positive and doing their best. She sees enrollment as the biggest issue facing the district, and believes that the expansion of 212 will help dramatically. She feels that Central residents should be as proud of their school as Waconia is of theirs.
Kyle Strickfaden has four children that attend Central, and has served as a coach for community education. He’s worked in businesses for years, and sees the community as the shareholders in the school, as the school is the center of the community. He sees the positive changes coming and wants to be a part of the effort.
Like the other candidates, Strickfaden believes the board doesn’t have much role in employment aside from making policies. Instead, their job is establish goals and evaluate the superintendent and that the easy route should never be accepted. He also stated budget information needs to be accessible and up to date, citing the fact that previous minutes and agendas aren’t even available for viewing on the website. He also thinks there could be summaries of finances posted on the website to avoid confusion. He sees the board as voted to represent the community, and they need to be professional and genuine. He believes that “mediocrity has been accepted for too long” in the district, and that the district needs to set strict goals in order to improve as well examining the culture within the district in order to make improvements.