WILLMAR -- Six of the seven Willmar School Board candidates favor passage of the operating levy proposed by the district.
Dan Croonquist, Bill Fenske, Jill Gould, Linda Mathiasen, Shawn Mueske and Nathan Streed all support the district's effort to revoke a $498.49 levy per pupil unit and replace it with an $898.49 levy which would last for 10 years. Don Thorpe is the only candidate who opposes the levy.
Voters will choose three of the candidates in the Nov. 2 election to serve four-year terms on the board.
Three incumbents decided not to run for re-election this fall, opening three seats on the board.
An eighth candidate, Brian Bollig, has withdrawn from the race for personal reasons. Because ballots had already been printed when he withdrew, Bollig's name will still appear on the ballot.
Each candidate described their views of the levy in e-mail interviews last week:
Croonquist: I feel this is a reasonable amount. State funding has simply not kept up with the costs of education. The money raised would not be used for "extras," but rather would fund core academic programs. It would be used to preserve current offerings and keep current with ongoing needs. The board has cut close to a million dollars a year over the last nine years. I believe they have been fiscally responsible. Over time, it simply reaches a point where there is not much left to cut if a district wants to maintain and increase achievement for all students.
Fenske: One of the major issues affecting our school system is the lack of adequate funding from the state. It is due to the shifting of state dollars and the deferment of these dollars from schools that require local school districts to request additional funding at the local level through operating levies. I fully understand the challenge this places on local taxpayers, but support is necessary to continue investing in our children and their future.
Gould: I have spent the past two months presenting information on the levy, the financial health of the district, how $7 million in cuts have already affected our students and the vital importance of passage to local service clubs, neighborhood groups, teachers and chamber members as part of Education Matters. Two years ago, I was part of this same speaking committee. Connecting with voters is necessary, and I am proud to be part of more than 50 volunteers advocating for our district's children.
Mathiasen: The levy is an opportunity to reinforce our commitment to education. The School Board has worked hard to prioritize spending -- reducing the budget $7 million in the past six years. However, we cannot keep cutting programs, increasing fees and delaying the purchase of curriculum, books and technology. Voters need to take ownership of this generation's education to ensure it is of the same or better caliber than previous generations. I am running for School Board to identify how to proceed under these conditions while remaining fiscally responsible.
Mueske: The Willmar Public Schools need the increase in levy funding to maintain the quality of education our students deserve. The 10-year time frame will provide some long-range financial security. My tolerance for inadequate state funding due to a broken funding formula is at the breaking point. Rural and inner city districts need to unite and apply political pressure at the state level to return sanity to funding K-12 education. The school district is not to blame for our financial difficulties; the blame falls on the shoulders of state government.
Streed: When levies were first introduced, they were used for capital improvements and buildings or to expand current offerings that our local board and educators thought were of importance. Since that time, our funding for our schools has changed to force our local districts to ask for operating levies because there is not enough support from our federal and state governments which impose the rules, regulations and mandates. Until adjustments can be made in our system, we have to take care of our kids locally and that's why I support this levy.
Thorpe: I do not support any property taxes or property tax increases. Property tax is not a fair tax and should be eliminated altogether. The state and national governments need to step forward and start funding education, the foundation of our country and state.