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Two School Board Candidates Face Off at Candidate Forum

Incumbent Jeanne Holland and challenger Jim Shovelain shared their qualifications and fielded questions from St. Michael-Albertville citizens three weeks before election day.

Four candidates are running for three seats on the St. Michael-Albertville school board; three incumbents are vying to maintain their seats and one new face, Jim Shovelain, has entered the race as well.

At Tuesday evening’s St. Michael and Albertville candidate forum, two of the four school board candidates-Jeanne Holland and Jim Shovelain-attended to share their experiences and opinions with voters. Candidate Drew Scherber was unable to attend due to a family emergency, and candidate Carol Steffens declined to participate.

Each candidate had five minutes to tell the audience about themselves, and a question and answer session between audience members and the candidates followed.

 Jeanne Holland

Holland has served on the local school board for nearly 12 years, starting her tenure the year her youngest of five children was a senior at STMA High School. Along with all of their children, she and her husband, Wes, graduated from St. Michael-Albertville, and she said they are proud to now have a grandson at Fieldstone Elementary.

Holland said she has learned a lot about school finances over the past 12 years. She said fighting for equity in school funding has become an issue of utmost importance to her, saying the Edinas or Wayzatas of the state have funding advantages that make it harder for small districts like STMA to provide all the same opportunities without the same funding advantages. Holland said she has been to the capitol and to Washington D.C. to help promote rural communities with not a lot of commercial and industrial development to help lighten the tax bill. She said she has helped work with the district’s lobbyist, Schools for Equity in Education (SEE), to rectify this issue. (Note: SEE represents an association of 60 Minnesota school districts with lower property wealth on the issue of school funding equity).

“That is really important to me,” Holland said. I think we deserve to have what all the other metro schools have, and I’ll work hard to keep that going.”

She has been on the school board through the construction of three new schools as the community expanded rapidly through the 2000s.

“We’re really, really grateful for that support, and the support of the levy,” she said. “It’s great to be part of this school system.”

 Jim Shovelain

 Shovelain said he has been part of the St. Michael-Albertville community for over 33 years; his wife, Marie, was raised here and this is the community where they chose to raise their five children.

Shovelain is the race’s only new face, but he said he has the experience necessary for the position. He has served on the Great River Regional Library’s board of trustees for the past two years, representing the people of Wright County. He has been either the assistant of head baseball coach for the St. Michael baseball association for the past five years, and prior to that he was on the St. Michael Parish council for 14 years, out of which he only missed one meeting.

“It’s very important to me to participate in as many functions as possible,” Shovelain said.

He said he wanted to run for school board to make certain that all students stay on track to meet academic achievement standards and to ensure the school is financially responsible to the community.

“When you look at the taxes that we pay and the revenue we receive from the state, it’s quite low because we don’t have a sufficient tax base in commercial,” Shovelain said. “Homeowners pay a higher tax per hundred thousand than anywhere else in Wright County, and it’s very important that we work with state legislatures. I have acquaintance with [several legislators] that I think I could use as a way to get taxes more equitable for the school district.”

Shovelain said his work experience with Xcel Energy as an accountant for 36 years provides the experience, understanding and attention to detail that is necessary to manage the school budgets.

Question and Answer

One audience member asked how the district plans to try and lower taxes when they keep asking for levies. Shovelain responded that the main issue is to talk with the state legislature to address their complex funding formula. He also said if elected he would look at the budget and see what cuts could be made. Holland also mentioned working at the state level to advocate for equitable funding. She said the state legislature tends to forget about smaller districts in the outlying areas, and she said she is “very proud” of their budgeting processes despite their funding disadvantage right now.

The same audience member then asked how the school board plans to collect enough money for all of its new buildings when the population growth isn’t what they thought it would be because of the recession. Holland said their schools are actually filling up, despite the fact that it seems like a bad economy.

“Our foreclosures are filling up; we have a lot of young kids,” she said. “The year the new high school opened [the senior class] had 300 kids, and now our younger classes have … pushing up to the 500 range. We might be struggling in the future, just with the kids we already have.”

Shovelain said he wasn’t a part of the decision making process to build the new schools, but said going forward he would work with the city to try and get more commercial businesses in town to help decrease tax burdens on homeowners. He said he would have to look at the issue further before making any other comments.

Eric Boone from St. Michael then asked the candidates if they did or would support holding school levy elections on off years, as was the case in last year’s school levy vote. Shovelain said he would have to look at when the budget requires a necessary tax increase to see if they can hold off, but said if they can’t wait they would have to push it though. Holland said she did support the off-year vote. Though she said she understands the positives of having the referendum during a regular election and would normally support this, she said it needed to be done to prevent the levy from falling off the tax roles, which she said would have required major cuts.

Boone responded, saying he thought the former levy still had five more years to go, moderator and Patch regional editor Mike Schoemer said he believed the district was seven or eight years in. Holland said the levy money had one year to go due to the fact that tax roles are nearly a year behind.

“If we would have had it at that time, we would have had to wait another year,” she said. “They levy was falling off, the state was cutting back and … the state was holding 40 percent back from the per-pupil monies schools get.”

Shovelain said they perhaps should have moved the levy up a year in order to allow for it to be during the general election of 2010, since they knew the state’s finances were not doing well and could have projected the budget into future years to see what the need would be.

 

Rick October 19, 2012 at 03:27 AM
Eric, that is exactly right. Unfortunately, I had arrived late and the school board was the first to speak. My question would have been "will you ever accept temporary federal funding again?" which is what partially got us into this mess. Second. "Do either of you plan on letting the current levy expire and not submit a proposal for a new one? In other words, live within your means." I also would have liked Mrs. Holland to tell everyone attended who paid for the lobbyist during the last levy and exactly how much. If that lobbyist was paid for from school funds, that is taxpayer money, period. I think anyone reading this can figure I am thoroughly disgusted with where and how OUR money is being spent. If there needs to be equity with the state, fine. Go hold the states feet to the fire. But this tripe about whining to the taxpayers because we had to have a new high school built and all of the other fun things has got to stop. How about pension reform for starters? Start teachers out at a higher salary and have them control their pensions rather than Dooher and his union?
Al Anderson October 19, 2012 at 10:38 AM
Eric In the Patch commentary discussion from last year about the 2011 levy -- the understanding was that the school district wanted to have the special off-election year referendum so that if it failed - that they would have a couple more cracks at it to get it passed. That's part of the problem with levy referendums -- the school district can come back the next year and the next year and the next year and so on to ask for the same thing if it didnt pass. No realistic mechanism to undo levy's.
Eric October 20, 2012 at 12:28 AM
My condolences to candidate Drew Scherber on the passing of his father. This was the family emergency that kept him from the forum.
Al Anderson October 20, 2012 at 11:11 AM
Thanks Eric for the clarification -- and condolences to Drew Scherber as well and his family. My point wasnt a dig - its just that I would love to have had all the board members (and more Q & A time) to ask questions
JoJo October 22, 2012 at 05:26 AM
I agree there needed to be more time for q and a for the school board section. And more candidates there. I wonder if Jeanne was knowingly lying when she gave the info on the levy re: timing. You wouldn't think that is something a school board member would forget. But maybe she's just not that good with serving on the school board, and is there because she's such a likable person? IDK, just makes me wonder. Carol doesn't seem to even want to be on the board...wonder why she even filed? Too bad there aren't more new candidates to choose from. Wish I knew someone to encourage... That's too bad about Drew's father passing. Hope they are doing ok.

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