128 thoughts on “Election 2008 discussion: Northfield School Board – candidates and issues”

  1. Only five days left till the election.

    Citizens, feel free to keep asking questions of the school board candidates and/or discussing the candidates and issues among yourselves.

  2. The NEA (Northfield Education Assoc) has issued its school board candidate endorsements. Ray Coudret sent me a Word doc that I converted to a PDF:

    After reviewing the candidates responses to our NEA questionnaire, reading their profiles in the Northfield News and online at locallygrownnorthfield.org, and visiting with each of the candidates at the open forums, the endorsement committee has recommended that we endorse the following candidates for School Board:

    Anne Maple
    Rob Hardy
    Diane Cirksena
    Ellen Iverson

  3. I’ve been alerted to this July post on the Rice County Republicans blog:

    In this election year, we’ll have many choices of Republican candidates in the various races.  In our own Rice-Scott County BPOU, we have several members running for office. The Northfield School Board election will have Kevin Budig and Jeff Quinnell looking to win a spot on the Board.  We know both of these men to be fine, upstanding individuals, both with a keen interest in seeing accountability to the students and taxpayers.

    I thought this was a little odd in that school board elections are non-partisan.

  4. Griff said:

    I thought this was a little odd in that school board elections are non-partisan.
    ———————————————————

    You are kidding, right?

  5. The “education lobby” has spent nearly $40 million dollars in campaign donations. 70% of those are going to Democrats.

    http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=W04

    The NEA has donated $ 1.5 millions to political campaigns 80% of it when to Democrats.

    http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/contrib.php?cycle=2008&ind=L1300

    Non Partisan?
    Even locally the NEA is very obvious in their choices……no I am not mad about the fact they din’t endorse, because I never expected it anyway.

  6. It’s a good day for solidifying School Board votes.

    Griff: Thanks for the info on Posts 102&3, clears up a few things. I may have to rethink my plan to vote for Ellen, she has many good idea, but the NEA endorsement sits badly with me.

  7. Time for a couple of last minute questions. Candidates Budig, Hardy, Iverson, Maple, Quinnell & Millin; please, answer me these questions 3:

    Over the past few years we have had a couple of boondoggles regarding the school district. The first being the Middle School. The taxpayers of Northfield were straddled with a $42 million levy, while I don’t doubt a Middle School was needed, Shakopee, in the same election, was able to pass a $25 million levy to build a comparable sized High School (and they had to buy land). What are your plans for making sure this type of wasteful spending does not continue?

    The second that I am concerned with, is the signing of a teachers contract guaranteeing a 7% pay raise over 2 years. The problem I am specifically concerned with, was that this was committed to without underpinning the budget (similar to the recent hiring of ESL teachers – where it was reported in the NN that “we had to hire them, but we’re not sure how we’re going to pay for them”). Then when the state funding was not there, the school district was left short. What are your plans for ensuring that this type of fiscal irresponsibility does not continue (as it has until this past year)?

    Given the current economic climate, many companies are freezing or even reducing salaries. With regards to Northfield, a vast majority of the school’s income comes from a taxes. With housing values down, and the local real estate market with it; what is your position likely to be when the teachers contract comes up for renewal, specifically regarding salary increases?

  8. Peter, no, I wasn’t kidding. I think there’s a real advantage to having members of our school board, city council, and county board NOT be partisan/affiliated with a political party.

  9. Guy: I think all of us would agree on the need for fiscal responsibility, and I believe that, whatever the composition of the new school board, it will exercise careful stewardship of the district’s resources. I certainly don’t see any major building projects being undertaken in the current climate.

    I wasn’t involved in framing the levy for the new middle school, so I don’t have all of the information to explain the difference between Shakopee’s levy and Northfield’s. It’s often difficult to compare the financial situation of different school districts because of the disparity in the amount of state funding they receive. For example, Shakopee receives $1.8 million in annual compensatory revenue from the state; neighboring Prior Lake-Savage receives $270,000 a year. This has to do with levels of poverty in the district (numbers of students who receive free and reduced priced lunches). I suspect that each district looks at its own circumstances and tries to decide what it can afford. In the current economic climate, I’m sure that Northfield can afford less, and will have to make decisions based on that reality.

    A 7% raise over two years translates to 3.5% a year. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average budgeted raise for all workers in 2008 is 3.8% and will be 3.7% for 2009. In September (the last month for which data is currently available), inflation was at about 4.9%. So, an annual raise of 3.5% doesn’t keep pace with inflation. If inflation remains this high, it would seem that, in effect, the contract guarantees a pay cut.

    In general, though, I think it’s commonsense not to demand or to guarantee something it’s impossible to pay—or impossible to pay without significant cuts (including, in some cases, staffing cuts). I would hope that all parties would enter negotiations with common sense and with an appreciation of the economic realities.

    At the same time, Northfield wants to attract the best teachers, and so has to offer competitive pay. We know that math and science education are crucial for America’s economic security, but there is a shortage of math and science teachers across the country. There needs to be an incentive for talented scientists and mathematicians to become teachers.

    Clearly, some systemic changes need to made as well: for example, in the way in which the state funds education, and in a healthcare system that drives up the cost of benefit packages at an unsustainable rate.

    We’re all in this current economic mess together, teachers and taxpayers, school board members and union negotiators. I don’t think any of the parties are well served by taking an adversarial position. We need to work hard to understand each other and to get through this together.

  10. Griff,
    I respectfully disagree. School board elections are far from being non partisan. It is no secret that the left has heavily influenced our school system.
    Just look at our district David Bly and Kevin Dahle are all part of the school system and get the majority of their votes from the respective colleges.

    Those endorsed by the NEA are clearly left leaning and as I have proven to you the NEA heavily favors the Democrats. It’s a fact.

    I don’t believe that 3.5 % of salary increase is necessarily excessive. The only part that bothers me that it is automatic. Most people have go through a yearly review and get increases paid on their performance, this shouldn’t be any different for teachers.

    We need to look at school financing in a bigger picture. It is impossible for a small community like ours to rely on funding for schools through property taxes alone.
    While I am in general for smaller government and less involved government, when it comes to education I tend to be a bit more social liberal.

    A well educated country is more competitive in a global market. One way to keep more jobs in this country is by using innovation. Innovation creates jobs.
    Almost every country in the world has a national approach to education. As a result they are catching up with us and in some cases are moving ahead of us.

    For example, we bring in people from India to do our computer programming, shouldn’t those jobs be done by Americans?

    We need a statewide, maybe even national, approach to school funding. This will go a long way in making us more competitive and protect jobs.

  11. Thank you Rob & Peter.

    One further question if you please (for all candidates):

    What is your opinion on year around school?

  12. Guy,

    I will look at any option and suggestion that delivers MEASURABLE results. The keyword is measurable.

    Having said that I don’t believe that year round schools alone will necessarily improve performance. Other factors like smaller class rooms, better teachers and accountability for results, both for students and teachers, are needed.

    As with any radical change we should study the benefits thoroughly before we implement it.If students, teachers, and parents do not support the year round schedule, it is bound to fail.

    If schools choose to implement year round schools they need to look at their motivations. If they are making their decisions based solely on money they are quite possibly setting the system up for failure.

  13. Griff,
    I’d appreciate clarification of what you’re saying here. What exactly do you consider non-partisan to mean? Is it enough if the parties don’t endorse or work for a candidate?

    Or are you suggesting that people who have political beliefs that are generally compatible with either the DFL or IR should be considered less fit to serve on the School Board than those who don’t?

    For example, I have called myself a Democrat since 2001. (I did so because I am generally left-of-center in my thinking, and because there is a strength in numbers that was required to defeat the [once?] highly organized and powerful Republican machine.) However, I have never attended a Democratic party meeting, paid any dues, or participated in any party activity beyond last spring’s caucus. About the extent of my affiliation with the party has been my self-description, and my gift of money to particular Democratic candidates. I’ve never cast a straight party ticket, and I’ll happily vote for a non-Democrat given the right candidate – especially in local politics.

    Does my general philosophical affinity for the Democrats over the Republicans really make me less qualified to serve in local office? Should Ray Cox be looked at askance if he decided to run for a local office?

    If so, then I’d just like to declare: I am no longer a Democrat.

    That was easy.

  14. I would have posted this last night but I needed to leave it overnight to make sure that my thoughts are clearly stated.

    I can’t help but to bristle at the characterization of our Northfield Education Association members as political caricatures whose opinion can be discounted simply because many of my colleagues vote a certain way in state and national contests. Claiming that our recommendations were made with partisan pretense simply because our Association leans to the democratic side in state and national politics is far too simplistic for such a complex topic. Our kids go to our schools. The members of the Northfield Education Assocation are a part of this community. Whether we have Republicans or Democrats on the board isn’t important.

    As an example, one of the best school board members we have had in my time here was Republican Ray Cox. He is a Northfield native as well as someone who is active in the community. Ray took the time to become informed about the issues and cares about the big picture. On the other hand, although he was an extremely good Superintendent, the most difficult negotiations we have had since I came in 1994 were with staunch DFL’er Charlie Kite.

    Dr. Kite was all about the bottom line and took pride in being able to step on a nickel and tell you if it was heads or tails. Dr. Kite, along with a board that included Noel Stratmoen and Ray Cox, lead our District through tough economic times and helped to build a system with programming options that rival any in the state at fraction of the cost, building a budget surplus along the way. I use these two as prime examples where an R or D next to your name doesn’t make you more or less qualified to be on a school board, to lead schools, or to understand the value of fiscal responsibility. What IS important is that the people who sit on the board are prepared, are informed about the opportunities and challenges in schools, and demonstrate a willingness and ability to engage with the community (including but not limited to the teachers) to make our schools work better for every student.

    The endorsements by the Northfield Education Association were made to reflect the strengths and diversity of the four candidates that were endorsed. When it came time to hear from each at the candidates forums, the four that we did endorse were the most prepared and most well spoken; They also offered clearer answers for every question. If you look back at the forum on this website and then at the Northfield News articles, you will see the strengths of communication and knowledge of school policy for Diane Cirksena, Rob Hardy, Anne Maple, and Ellen Iverson reinforced over and over. That is why we chose them.

    Partisanship had no place in this process.

  15. In reference to comment # 107 regarding teacher negotiations.

    (Again, I would have posted last night but I needed to check for clarity)

    Salary and the salary schedule for teachers are topics that are woefully misunderstood. Who has the
    advantage in a system with steps and lanes starting at a low salary with no increases after seventeen years into a 40 year career? Why are steps and lanes part of the system?

    This system was put into place to ensure predictability in school budgets. Under the system of steps and lanes, Teacher’s trade a low starting salary for modest continual growth throughout ONLY the first half of their career. The “up side” is that a teacher knows they are going to receive an increase for their first 17 years. The “down side” is that you start at a low salary and end at a level that is low compared to our peers with similar education.

    More specifically I have taught for 18 years, starting at $21,000 for my first year in 1990. Last year I received my last increase. I will retire at age 60+ at my current salary, with the exception of negotiated improvements to the schedule which have averaged about 2.5% over the last 18 years.

    Guy also goes on to imply that teacher’s salaries should be frozen (comment #107). I would be all for that IF throughout the 90’s when everyone else was receiving up to double digit salary increases, my colleagues and I had received similar increases. Instead, during the greatest economic boom in U.S. history those of us who were teachers were getting 3% – 5% increases INCLUDING benefits. I didn’t hear anybody advocating for larger increases for education and educators then. If someone would sign a pledge to fund the school formula at the cost of living during our next economic crunch, I would trade that kind of stability for a few years of salary freeze in a heartbeat.

    As far as negotiated improvements in the salary schedule that were mentioned (comment # 107), a few years ago the Northfield Education Association negotiated for a 1% salary increase. In the ten years that I have been involved with negotiations, the improvements on the salary schedule have been 1%-3%. Regardless of what you make in the middle of your career, the underlying fact is that the cost for a beginning teacher and the cost for every teacher in the second half of his or her career has gone up between one and three percent every year. Show me one other industry where the top and bottom salary have had that small of an increase since 1998? Show me another industry where a forty-three year old with eighteen years of experience is locked into 0%-3% increase for the next twenty years. So, yes we did negotiate for increases of salary AND BENEFITS at 3.5% for 2007-2008 and 3.5% for 2008-2009. NOTE: THIS WAS FOR SALARY AND BENEFITS!

    However, our settlement was reached after the state had set funding for the biennium which means that the budget was in place and had been projected for the term of the contract and this settlement came after a 1% increase.

    In short, the members of the Northfield Education Association are not the enemy. Although I appreciate the debate, it is difficult sometimes to hear community members characterize my colleagues and myself as part of the problem. The world is much more dynamic than these arguments would suggest and education is too important to our common existence to fall into simplistic arguments for complex subjects.

  16. The fact remains that the “education lobby” choses to donate between 70 and 80% of their money to Democrats. This is an indisputable fact. Numbers don’t lie.
    Those are not individual contributions either those are institutional contributions.

    I don’t judge people by their intentions I judge them by their results.

  17. Patrick, by non-partisan, I just meant that I think it’s best for political parties to avoid endorsing candidates or for candidates to avoid associating their candidacy with a party’s platform — again, only for school board, city council, county board races.

    I’m 100% fine with card-carrying Democrats or Republicans running for these non-partisan offices. For example, I tried to get Ray Cox to run for City Council after he lost to Kevin Dahle. But no, he wouldn’t listen to me. 😉

  18. Ray C: I’m sorry, I wasn’t clear. My point was that to outsiders, whose primary source of information is the Northfield News, the school board & superintendent were being fiscally irresponsible, and I wanted to know their opinion.

    I apologize if you felt I was attacking the teachers, the teachers are the foot soldiers in this battle and deserve our support in doing their jobs.

    My father always said that every job had it’s perks, and I find that more true today than ever before. I work for a ‘pay for performance’ company. I do not enjoy any great amount of job security, but I do enjoy a high op tempo (something I personally enjoy), and a high salary. The biggest perk a civil servant has is job security. In general when folks enter civil service it’s for some altruistic personal belief, or maybe it’s just the security blanket – but my point is you traded your rights to a high salary when you did so of your owe free will. So I don’t have much sympathy, sorry.

    In every job there are high performers and low performers. The root of most evil are the unions (NEA, UAW, PSEA, PBA, etc) – the concept is sound, the implementation is poor. The members of the unions are only at fault that they do not hold their union representatives accountable for their actions. Unions protect the low performing employees (in this case through tenure) and as such, bring down the whole. As was mentioned before – no one should be guaranteed a raise of COLA allotment. All increases should be based upon merit and tangible results.

    There I go again, trying to boil the ocean. Good night folks, and to the candidates, good luck tomorrow.

  19. Just to be clear. I wasn’t complaining or asking for sympathy, I was making the exact point that you stated … there are trade offs.

    As for your comments on unions, I will have to leave that for another day.

    The five day work week, equal pay for women, health care, livable wages, the end of child labor in America, workplace safety standards, sick leave, paid vacations…these didn’t appear out of the goodness of Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan.

  20. Unions are necessary and have their rightful place, and yes a lot of perks we have today we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for unions.

    However it seems to me that in the past the unions are more concerned protecting the non performers and playing politics then fight for better working conditions.
    Some time ago I lived in Pittsburgh which is a heavy union town. Some of the rules put in place by them where absurd an unproductive.
    I got time slipped once for carrying a container from one place to another. I was told that this was ” the runners job” HUH?
    These and other rules like it are what makes union lose their cloud.

  21. On the one hand, I am disappointed, and can only believe that I would have done much better in this election if Phil Busse hadn’t stolen all of my lawn signs. On the other hand, I am looking forward to spending many hours on LocallyGrown complaining about the horrible job the school board is doing. Congratulations to Diane and Ellen and Anne and that other guy the teachers’ union didn’t endorse. (Damn unions.) Northfield is fortunate to be able to field such an extraordinary slate of candidates, and it’s been a pleasure to be publicly humiliated by the four of you. Especially you, Ellen. I’m never speaking to you again. Seriously, I’m honored by the support I’ve received from Griff and the evil teachers’ union and the roughly 3,000 people who accidentally voted for me.

  22. P.S. to comment #124: That’s what an attempt at humor sounds like at 1:00 in the morning after too many beers at Griff’s party.

    Sincere congratulations to Jeff, Diane, Ellen and Anne!

  23. Congrats to all four that were elected and thanks to those that put themselves out there to run. At the beginning of this, there was a question of whether there would even be four candidates to fill the four positions.

    I really did like Rob’s thoughtfulness so I hope you stay involved as you have been in the past.

    The four who were elected look like a good mix. Jeff’s background as a product of Northfield School’s will be a bonus, Diane brings perspective from a state policy standpoint and an ability to get things done, Anne has shown she knows how to organize and has extensive experience in every aspect of education and Ellen brings passion for and knowledge of the variety of elementary program offerings. All in all a nice mix of experience and fresh perspective.

    Most importantly, Ellen Iverson can remove the restraining order for Rob Hardy now that he has pledged to never speak to her again 😉

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