The six candidates for the Willmar School Board seat recently answered the following inquiries by the West Central Tribune:
1. Background information.
2. Why are you running for the school board in this special election?
3. Please name the top two or three issues you believe the Willmar School Board is facing.
4. How would you like to see the board handle the issues you listed above?
Abdirahman Hussein Abdi, 24
1. I have been a resident of Willmar for the last nine years. I live with my mother and my little sister. I graduated from Willmar Senior High and attended Ridgewater College. Currently, I am a student at St. Cloud State University studying pre-medicine. I have a public administration degree from Ashworth College. I serve the community in different fields such as helping the community filling the county forms, immigration papers and filing taxes. I am executive director of an organization I created called Kandiyohi Immigrant and Community Service. The role of this organization is to help immigrants who move to Willmar without looking at his or her ethnicity. Most of the work I do is volunteer. When new families arrive, they need help to go to the county and fill out forms. I have been on the board of the Islamic Society of Willmar for the last five years. Currently, I am a member of the Human Rights Commission.
2. The ranking of our school district is very low and I want to change that and be there for our children. I want to help our most vulnerable citizens achieve their dreams of getting decent, high-quality education. My great passion for education will enhance the quality of education and put our district back on the right track. My proven leadership quality with my ability to be practical and transparent will uplift the standard of education at our school district.
Some of the top issues that Willmar Public Schools is facing are: 1) Lack of transparency. 2) Losing a lot of English-as-a-Second-Language teachers, which is not good for newcomers. 3) A lot of parents aren’t aware of what is going on at the School Board meetings.
The current board members are doing a great job, but they still are missing some of the issues that I mentioned above. As with all human beings, they are not 100 percent right.
Justin Bos, 38
1. Family: I live in Willmar with my wife, Sara; and our two children, Colin (12) and Meryl (10)
Education: I am a graduate of Willmar High School in 1996, Calvin College in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, and the University of Minnesota in 2001 with a degree in mortuary science.
Occupation: I have been employed as a funeral director at Peterson Brothers Funeral Home since 2003.
Community involvement: I am currently a member of the Willmar Hockey Association Board, the Willmar Civic Scholarship Association, the Willmar Sertoma Club, and the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center Board of Trustees. I am a member of Vinje Lutheran Church where I have been involved in a number of areas, including serving as a lector, usher, Sunday School teacher, confirmation mentor and on the church council. I have also volunteered in a number of other areas including United Way Community Reviews and several school events.
2. I believe our area is a great place to live and feel that a strong public school system is vital for our community to thrive. Having strong schools not only ensures our students are well-educated but also is an important factor for business owners and professionals to be drawn to our community. I want to be part of the school board to help make sure that Willmar Public Schools has the staff and policies in place to continue to provide our students with a great educational experience. I believe my service and involvement in our community give me the experience to be a strong candidate for the school board.
3. I feel that school funding is the largest issue facing the school board. It will be a challenge to continue to provide a high-quality and well-rounded education to our students if funding for our schools does not increase. If further budget cuts are required, the school board will also have a challenge in deciding where cuts should be made.
I also feel that the unsettled contract with teachers is an important issue facing the district.
4. In regards to funding I feel that the school board should continue to lobby our legislators to consider finding room in the state budget to increase funding to keep up with the growing cost of education. I also feel it is important to examine the district’s budget for any areas where savings could be found. If further budget cuts are necessary, I would like to see the board be very diligent in determining which cuts would have the least effect on providing our students with a well-rounded education. I would also like to see that board explore grants and other sources of funding.
I would also like to see the board be active in contract negotiations with teachers so that this issue is settled in a way that positions the district to provide a competitive package that will also allow the district to attract and retain excellent teachers.
Bill Busta, 64
1. Family: Married for 43 years to Deb who is a retired NLS teacher. We have two daughters, Stacy and Andria, and six grandchildren
Education: Graduated from Valley City State Teachers College in 1974 with a teaching degree in industrial arts and art. After moving to Willmar in 1981, attended St. Cloud State and received a post-graduate certification in special education with a focus on emotional and behavioral disabilities.
Occupation: Retired after 26 years as a teacher and 10 years as the district’s director of human resources.
Community involvement: Board member for Eagle Creek Golf Course for three years. As a member of Willmar United Methodist Church I am involved with Meals on Wheels and Family Promise.
2. All of my adult life I have been involved in the education of children. For me, as a retired teacher and school administrator, the next best way to be of service in my chosen profession would be school board.
3. Student success, financial stability and current building/remodeling projects.
4. Our biggest issue, above all else, is student success. It is our primary mission. Like any organization or even a business, to accomplish this mission you need the best staff, they need to be supported and provided with the resources necessary to do this mission. It sounds simple but it isn’t. It needs a good plan determined by input from all stakeholders - students, staff and the community. And with these plans, we need continuous self-examination to be sure we are following plans which are leading us to student success. My responsibility as a board member is to make sure we are following our plans and that no stakeholder is left out of this process.
Another issue is financial stability. Because of the complex way the district is funded, it is important that we are vigilant on our accounting processes and with that how we spend money. We do this so that the district never faces a financial crisis that impacts student and staff.
Finally our current building/remodeling projects; they are the largest in the district’s history. Learning from our past experiences it is vitally important that we have the resources to staff these buildings. We also need ironclad guarantees that if any construction errors happen, like a leaky roof, the district will be able to repair those leaks/errors without needing to take a contractor to court. And last these projects need to be multi-use facilities; first they are classrooms, but they are also places for community activities.
Christopher Frank, 30
1. Family: Single
Education: Willmar High School graduate, 2004; bachelor’s. in accounting from St. Cloud State University, 2009; law degree from Ohio Northern University, 2015
Occupation: Attorney at Frank Law Office. in Willmar
Community involvement: Member of Next-Willmar young professionals group, Co-leader of Goal 3: “Things to do” in the Willmar Lakes Area for the Vision 2040 group. Member of the Minnesota Bar Association.
2. I believe my education as a lawyer provides me with a neutral base to serve all members of the community and balance everyone’s interest in a way that will allow everyone to thrive and get along. I was a graduating student in 2004 and believe I have firsthand knowledge of many of the problems students face in the school today.
3. a. (My biggest Concern) The racial divide that exists in the school and community as a whole. Neither the students, teachers, nor administration have done an adequate job dealing with the diversity in the Willmar schools.
b. The current opening of the new school, ensuring that it goes smoothly and remains fair for everyone involved. Managing the budgets, including keeping a safety net for unexpected problems arising from the opening of the new school, but not sacrificing needed services/jobs to do so.
c. The retention/attraction of qualified/good teachers, and the current state of the tenure system. Tenure reform is coming and we can see the current system has broken down in the current process of firing and rehiring the district currently goes through every year.
4. a. Several efforts could help to alleviate the problem, including hiring teachers familiar with multiple languages/cultures from universities we begin programs with, building our own teachers from local graduates and differing cultures that can begin to bridge the gaps, promoting the school administrators and teachers to reach out into the communities they are not familiar with to help students that they do not entirely understand or connect with, more communication between parents and staff, more events inside the schools to acclimate fellow students to cultures they are not familiar with.
b. Outreach to the community for donations before cutting certain programs/positions to see if an alternate source of funding can be found is an option we saw with orchestra. Slightly reducing the size of the safety net allowance to not lose core programs, such as the fourth-grade orchestra.
c. Tenure reform could help to make money more flexible for both fronts in hiring the qualified teachers we need, but also not handcuffing the budget each year with tenure and tenure-related expenses. The board would work with interest groups on both sides to find acceptable reform that allows more flexibility and communicate what we see in our community to state officials to help them reform the tenure statutes.
Mike Kubesh, 43
1. Family: Wife, Jess; sons, Isaiah and Ethan
Education: Associate degree from Willmar Community College (now Ridgewater)
Occupation: Manager at Willmar Bus Service
Community involvement: Past Willmar Chamber Ambassador, current STRIVE Mentor, active emergency medical technician on Willmar Ambulance (21 years), past member of Willmar STAT (Tactical Paramedic), active youth leader at First Baptist Church
2. To get a better understanding of all the cuts. Budgets and teachers - to get a better understanding of how the district is run and if possible, get teachers back to “teaching.” To assist on any other issues that I feel I can.
3. The updated construction of buildings along with the building of the new school and the current budget cuts.
4. Be more transparent than they have been and better inform the residents of the district.
Jennifer Mendoza, 38
1. Family: My grandmother is a Minnesota native, as is my mother, and I have about 80 relatives in the surrounding area. I was born into a family of strong women and caring uncles. Like many of my family members before me, I became a parent at a young age, but I knew I was never alone. I have five children ranging in age from 3 to 22 years old and have been blessed with a very supportive, understanding spouse for the last 13 years.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in justice administration and a minor in Spanish
Occupation: I have worked for PACT for Families GUIA Program as a coach for the last five years and as an interpreter for the last 10 years
Community involvement: Currently the chair of Willmar Area Multicultural Business Center (WAMBC); involved in the West Central MN Human Trafficking Task Force; involved with the Cinco de Mayo Planning Committee for over four years before the committee took a break; teach a Wednesday School class at St. Mary’s; member of the local YMCA; enjoy helping people in and around my community with resource connection.
2. I am a Willmar High School graduate. I utilized our local resource the Willmar Area Learning Center when I became a young parent. Looking back I feel like the schools did a lot of things right in order to help me along my educational path, which helped me graduate with my class.
I have one child who has already graduated from the Willmar School District and will have children in the Willmar School District for the next 12 years. I would like more knowledge and involvement in the education they receive. I figured I would run for the school board during this special session because it’s a shorter commitment, which I figured would give me enough time to understand more.
3. I think the Willmar School Board could use some diversity both economically and ethnically. I also would like to help my community connect with the school board, not everyone comes from the same background and I feel we need to open more dialogue so others are more involved. We need to utilize our strength for our schools, community and workforce.
4. I think the issues addressed could easily be remedied by voting me into the Willmar School Board. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I always try to greet people with a smile and understanding, and I am a person who gets things done by the deadline. I give assistance without asking for anything in return. And finally I am a people person, looking for similarities to build upon.