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Voter Guide: Barnum School Board

 

October 2, 2020

Beth Dinger

Beth Dinger

Background

My husband and I have made our home in Barnum for 14 years. We have four children: James, Luke, Ruth, and Rachel. I have a B.A. in Music Education, and a M.S. in Teaching. I have taught fourth grade at East Central for the last five years.

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

I have children in the district, as a teacher I offer a unique perspective, and I am concerned about the school district's budget deficit.

What do you think are the top two issues facing the school district and how would you go about tackling them?

In the short term, the top issue is providing a quality education while keeping students and staff safe during the pandemic. I would encourage continuing conversations with stakeholders (including the MN Department of Health, the school board, administration, staff, parents, and the community) to make informed decisions and build trust. The teachers are working without a contract, and settling that needs to be a priority, along with rebuilding the trust between the teachers' union and the school board. In addition, parents are rightfully worried about the safety of their children, and the school needs to continue to provide transparency and communication related to the pandemic.

In the long term, the biggest issue facing the district is a budget shortfall, partially caused by shrinking enrollment and the cross-subsidy disparity. The school board approved many cuts last spring, and I am concerned that this will be a continuing trend. I would encourage the school board to be proactive: seeking out creative ways to stretch the budget, lobbying legislators to address the cross-subsidy disparity, investigating ways to work with the neighboring districts to share resources, and fostering collaboration with parents and the community to help investigate other financial opportunities for the district.

Elaborate on something you think the school board handled well over the past two years.

The Barnum School Board members have continued to hire talented, exceptional teachers and principals. Despite being a small, rural school, the school board has been able to recruit and hire qualified teachers and principals to fill positions. The Barnum School District has a reputation of providing a quality education, and good teachers and principals are necessary to continue that tradition.

The coronavirus has changed education in many ways. Are there things we can learn from the reaction to the pandemic even after it passes?

One of the biggest disparities during the pandemic has been the lack of equal broadband coverage for rural areas. Although the schools have obtained hot spots to offer students in areas with little internet access, those hot spots don't even work in all areas. The need for the state to improve coverage in rural areas has been brought to light. At the same time, school districts have improved their digital presence, and have risen to the challenge of diversifying their instruction so that students are learning in newer, current ways.

Why should people vote for you?

I have been actively involved in the schools since we moved to Barnum, volunteering in many capacities. I am not afraid to speak my mind, but I try to do so in kindness. I am passionate about education, and look forward to bringing that passion to the Barnum School Board.

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Louis Bonneville

Background

I'm Louie Bonneville. I have lived in the Barnum District my entire life. My wife Valarie and I have six children: five graduated from Barnum, and one in first grade. We own a concrete company, and a rental real estate company. I'm on the board at Salem Lutheran Church.

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

I have always wanted to. Now the timing is right and I can dedicate the time needed to do a good job for the district.

What do you think are the top two issues facing the school district and how would you go about tackling them?

The top issue is the budget. As a business owner I know how to budget, and I am knowledgeable at strategizing and being creative to acquire new clients. I feel I could bring a lot of creativity to the board, along with great problem solving skills. With these skills, and along with other open-minded board members, I feel there is not a situation that we couldn't overcome.

The second largest issue would be enrollment. As a district we need to place an emphasis on building our programs to be more desirable for students and parents/guardians alike. With the current pandemic adding new challenges to enrollment, it is also an opportune time for our district to be creative and innovating-moving forward to make ISD #91 the best that it can be.

Elaborate on something you think the school board handled well over the past two years.

This is a tough question considering the financial cuts made by the board this past year. Although I agree they needed to be made, I feel they should have started making these cuts a few years ago instead of ignoring the issue, which would have saved some money in the reserve funds. However, the board did make some tough decisions to make cuts that moved them closer to balancing the budget.

The coronavirus has changed education in many ways. Are there things we can learn from the reaction to the pandemic even after it passes?

I believe we are testing the waters as to what educating our children in the future could look like. We could potentially see more students choosing an independent learning program, and this could challenge our declining enrollment even more. We need to consider this and use this to our advantage to come up with our own program to offer students who would still find independent learning a desirable option, long after the current pandemic has passed. Having a program where students can work at their own pace - faster or slower - and smaller class sizes for teachers, is a win-win.

Why should people vote for you?

ISD#91 needs people on the board that will make tough decisions, answer questions, and work toward a better district. Being in the district my entire life I have a vested interest in doing what is right for our schools. If you want what's right for our district, vote Louie Bonneville.

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Steph Ferrin

Background

I am a mom of four kids: one in college and the other three in Barnum schools. Before having children, I worked full time as a software developer in Washington D.C. I am currently a tax preparer and work with the Barnum schools as a substitute paraprofessional and substitute teacher.

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

Being a substitute and working on the return to school planning committee I realized that I enjoy being involved and problem solving difficult issues.

What do you think are the top two issues facing the school district and how would you go about tackling them?

The biggest challenges facing the Barnum schools - other than issues with the pandemic - are primarily related to budget and future growth. I would like to work with all interested stakeholders in finding comprehensive solutions to these issues, not only short-term but long-term solutions as well. It will take creativity and collaboration to address these issues and I feel I have already shown my desire to work with the administrators, staff and other parents to solve complex issues related to the pandemic. I also work as a tax preparer during the tax season and like digging into the numbers so feel I am well suited to really look into specifics with the budget and understand how that process works.

Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years.

The board was faced with having to hire new principals for both the elementary and the high school as well as a new superintendent within the last two years. I feel having gotten to know each of these administrators more closely over the course of working as a substitute as well as over the summer working on the planning committee that the board did a fantastic job finding and hiring these individuals.

The coronavirus has changed education in many ways. Are there things we can learn from the reaction to the pandemic even after it passes?

This is a really important question and this pandemic may change many things about education moving forward. I feel that giving parents options regarding their child's education and how it is delivered will continue to be key when facing future issues.

Online and distance learning may need to be a continuing option moving forward and making sure we are prepared as a school district to provide quality education in these formats will be vital.

Why should people vote for you?

I feel all the candidates running would do an excellent job. The reason people should consider me is that I am a strategic problem solver and don't shy away from difficult problems. I also work well with all personalities and have an optimistic attitude.

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Brian Collins

Background

I was raised in Moose Lake and have lived in the surrounding area for most of my life. My wife, Jordan, and our sons, Jack (10) and Elijah (1), are involved in the school district. I hold a master's degree in management and have diverse executive leadership experience.

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

I strive to live a life of service. The school board represents an opportunity for me to serve while making critical investments in our children.

What do you think are the top two issues facing the school district and how would you go about tackling them?

The biggest issue, at least in the near-term, is educating our students while ensuring everyone's health and safety during the pandemic. I support the localized, data-driven approach Minnesota has taken to begin the 2020-21 school year. It allows our schools to be responsive to the needs of students, staff, and the community in real time according to our unique challenges.

Long-term, the most important issue is delivering excellent educational and extracurricular outcomes through the effective use of scarce resources. Enrollment in Barnum and throughout rural Minnesota is dropping. Because funding and other resources are largely based on enrollment, the school board must steward money effectively and seek innovative ways to recruit and retain talent. Key to that effort, we must address the special education cross-subsidy deficit by supporting legislation to increase federal funding for special education. From 2002-2017, Barnum's cross-subsidy increased 22 percent to $511 per student. In FY2019, it grew to $603. This shortfall is funded with state and local aid that's supposed to pay for teachers and staff, fund new programs, and purchase supplies.

Elaborate on something you think the school board handled well over the past two years.

I appreciate the Barnum-Moose Lake-Willow River School Board Cooperative. It exists to explore ways to collaborate and share resources to drive down costs and increase opportunities for students. These types of partnerships are important as rural school districts are forced to get outside the box to address their unique challenges.

Why should people vote for you?

My background and experiences can add value to the school board. I look forward to working with the board, administrators, teachers and staff, the students, and the community to enhance our children's education.

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James Fuglestad

Background

I grew up in the area, graduated from Barnum, and am a business owner in the area.

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

Being a business owner in the area, I have a vested interest in the community.

What do you think are the top two issues facing the school district and how would you go about tackling them?

Dealing with declining enrollment (along with most rural schools) in Barnum and the financial impact that comes with that. I think that the board needs to continue making the necessary decisions to keep our district financially stable and to continue looking at other options to offer our students as many academic options as possible.

Louis Bonneville

Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years.

I think the board has done a good job in laying the groundwork to keep our district successful - with staff and what they are offering the students.

The coronavirus has changed education in many ways. Are there things we can learn from the reaction to the pandemic even after it passes?

I think we have learned how versatile our district can be and how different education can look.

Why should people vote for you?

I care about this community, I'm vested in the community being a business owner, and I will do what is right for the Barnum school district.

 
 

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