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Candidates discuss the issues they'd tackle

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WILLMAR -- Seven candidates are competing for three open seats on the Willmar School Board.

The board has three open seats because the incumbents who had held the seats for the past nine years all decided not to see re-election. The candidates in the Nov. 2 election are Dan Croonquist, Bill Fenske, Jill Gould, Linda Mathiasen, Shawn Mueske, Nathan Streed and Don Thorpe.

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Mueske is a former School Board member who was defeated for re-election two years ago. Several others have recently served on school district committees or task forces.

Six of the candidates, all but Thorpe, support the district's proposed operating levy on the ballot this fall.

Eight candidates originally filed for the board, but Brian Bollig has withdrawn from the race for personal reasons. Because ballots had already been printed, his name will still be on the ballot voters will see on Nov. 2.

The candidates were asked to provide biographical information and to discuss the issues that are most important to them in the Tribune's Voter Guide, at www.wctrib.com. Some of their answers are summarized below. The full answers are available via the online Voter Guide.

What are your top campaign issues?

Croonquist: 1. Continue to build on Willmar's tradition of educational excellence. Review, examine and set policies that allow district staff to support, maintain and increase student achievement for all students while also closing the achievement gap.

2. Maintain the quality offerings and programs that have been a part of the Willmar School District's tradition. Willmar has been able to offer many wonderful opportunities for students in athletics, music and other extra-curricular activities.

3. Continue to be vigilant concerning fiscal responsibility. Make sure that taxpayer dollars are being used efficiently and effectively. Look for new ways of working collaboratively and in partnership with neighboring districts and community organizations.

Fenske: 1. Quality of curriculum -- The broad-based curriculum offered through the Willmar district is important and critical to the success of our students, the growth of the district and community and the overall growth of the region.

2. State funding -- The continued lack of adequate state funding has required the local school district to make cuts to the curriculum which negatively affect students. State funding and inflation-based increases must be resumed to ensure the quality of education in Willmar's district.

3. Declining enrollment -- The declining enrollment will continue to increase pressure on program and curriculum funding based on current state funding methods.

Gould: 1. Advocating for academic excellence is my most important issue. I believe the primary function of a school board member is to ensure academic excellence for all students; we cannot afford to fail a single student.

2. Maintaining financial solvency is another critical issue. State funding for Minnesota schools has increased an average of 1.1 percent annually since 2003-04, which does not allow our district to keep up with inflation.

3. Strengthening our community reputation is economically vital as we cultivate a school district that provides an excellent education, produces contributing citizens, and because of its educational opportunities, helps draw employers and employees to our region.

Mathiasen: 1. School effectiveness: Providing high-quality and accessible education to all children in a safe and productive learning environment while promoting a work atmosphere conducive to professional and personal satisfaction.

2. Funding: Current funding system is broken. More local control is necessary to provide a responsive, well-rounded learning experience for all children.

3. Expenses and efficiency: Expenditures need to be evaluated by return on investment and long-term viability.

Mueske: 1. Improving student achievement is my top priority and will always be whether involved with the school board or not. Improving student achievement is the primary function of the school district.

2. Immediate and long-term financial stability of the district will be a major issue for this campaign and for the campaigns in the future unless things change at the state level. The state funding formula for education has been altered to the detriment of rural Minnesota.

3. Enhancing communication with all stakeholders is an issue that needs continuous improvement. Improved communication between the public and the district is critical during these times of uncertainty.

Streed: 1. To continue to offer the necessary educational opportunities within our budget.

2. To fast-track the work that has begun in working with the other districts on cooperative agreements of shared administrative services.

3. To increase the overall understanding of the educational system so that we can begin to work locally on changes that need to be made on a state and national level which will, in turn, benefit our local district.

Thorpe: 1. All-student education -- not no student left behind, but all students moving forward. "Education the Foundation - Our Children - Our Economy & Jobs - Our Future" by Larry Rice

2. Secure and pleasant place to work for staff and students.

3. Reduce/eliminate property taxes and outrageous fees (parking $100, sports $300). State and national governments have to become responsible again for fully funding schools, the country's future.

Why are you the best candidate for this office?

Croonquist: If by best candidate you mean one who will put the best interests of students first and will help set policies that will enable our staff to succeed in educating every child in our district, then, yes, I feel that I am the best candidate because these are the things I stand for and the qualities that I believe make a good school board member.

Fenske: My broad experience in organizations the size and complexity of the Willmar School District support my candidacy for this position. I understand the demanding priorities of public education, the local economy, the impact that local funding has upon the district, and the demands for public funding and tax dollars.

Gould: I am the best candidate for this office for three reasons: first, my volunteer work in the schools, allowing a bird's-eye view of the operations; second, my deliberate involvement with administrators, students, teachers and the business community; and most importantly, my belief in the inherent potential present in every student.

Mathiasen: I am a parent of young children and am concerned about the changes happening in schools. I have 12 years of public relations and internal communications and background in quality management, strategic projects and corporate training. I want to be part of the conversation and I am willing to work for Willmar residents and its neighboring communities.

Mueske: The thing that separates me from the pack is my experience and my unique insight as an educator. I will be ready from day one if I am fortunate enough to have earned your vote. I know many of the candidates and consider several to be friends. I believe the district is going to be in good hands no matter who is elected, but it will take several years to see their full potential realized.

Streed: I believe that if you ask people who know me from an administrative position, they will tell you this -- He is not afraid to speak his mind or go against the norm if necessary and yet, when a board decision is made, then it is made and let's move on.

Thorpe: Listener. Think outside the box. DOn tHOrPE -- Do Hope.

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Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340
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