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.
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.”
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.