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Seasoned Willmar School Board members won't seek re-election

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WILLMAR -- Three Willmar School Board members whose terms expire this year have decided not to run for re-election.

Mike Carlson, Brad Schmidt and Dion Warne said this week they would not file to run for office when filings open Aug. 3. They are the only board members whose terms expire this year. The three will have each served nine years when their terms expire. The board members whose terms will not expire are Wayne Lenzmeier, Mike Reynolds, Eric Roberts and Sandi Unger.

"We came in together, and we're going out together," Carlson said.

All three have served as board chairman during their tenure. They have also often joked about their common background in attending Concordia College in Moorhead.

The three said they wanted to make their intentions known now, so that others would have time to consider running.

"Especially with school boards, it's good to have a new set of eyes," said Schmidt, who is a lawyer in Willmar. "I think I've now got some passion to go out and do some other things."

Carlson, a Lutheran pastor, just took a new job working with six small congregations in the area. He also wants to spend more time with his wife and three children. "It's time to just be dad and spend time with them as they go through these transitions," he said.

Warne said he also wants more family time -- he and his wife have four children -- but he also wants to get involved with the schools in other ways, like through booster clubs and advocating for referendums.

Warne, Schmidt and Carlson said they urge people who are considering it to run for the board.

"You will have a good experience," Schmidt said.

However, they warned that people who want to focus on a particular issue may have a less rewarding experience. Unless other board members agree, a person who wants to tackle a particular issue is likely to end up being frustrated and angry, Carlson said.

It is difficult to leave, said Warne, who is a senior vice president at Home State Bank in Willmar, because they have acquired so much knowledge about the school district. "For me, I really enjoyed it; I think we all did," he said. "I sometimes feel I can be a better advocate outside the school board."

Though schools throughout Minnesota face some financial challenges, the retiring board members said they feel Willmar's school district is relatively stable, for now.

Budget cuts -- Carlson said it's been a total of $10 million during their time on the board -- have kept the district's budget in check and protected its reserve funds.

Though the cuts have been difficult, they feel the board has been able to maintain the quality of education in the schools. They pointed to the cultural diversity of the high school's honors graduates as a sign of that.

The listed other reasons they feel they are leaving the district in good hands reorganization that closed two buildings a year ago; a successful transition to a new superintendent during their tenure,

The school district was in statutory operating debt and the board was responding to the crisis when they joined the board.

"When we were first on the board, our meetings were under a lot more scrutiny," Warne said. That faded, he added, and he feels the public confidence in the board has increased over time.

All three said they felt the current board has been good at reaching consensus, they said, and board members have always kept the focus on the district's 4,000 students. Even when they disagreed about an issue, all board members have stood by the final decision, Carlson said.

When they listed their top accomplishments, all day, everyday kindergarten was the first one they mentioned. Warne said at least 1,500 students have benefited from that in the five years since they made the decision.

The realignment of the district's elementary schools was another good thing for the district, Warne said. Carlson said the realignment addressed one of the chief complaints from parents, that their children were moving to a new school every couple years.

Schmidt said he was proud of how the district made the transition to a new superintendent two years ago, too. Hiring a superintendent is "one of the biggest things a school board does," he said, and he said he feels the district has an excellent administration and staff.

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

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