Class sizes, technology, funding common themes
Four of five candidates for three seats on the Lakeville School Board presented their cases for election Tuesday night at a Lakeville Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum.
Incumbents Bob Erickson and Judy Keliher and challengers Jennifer Harmening, the former PTO president of the former Crystal Lake Elementary, and Terry Lind, a former educator in the district, showcased a number of policy positions and opinions, but largely agreed that when it comes to Lakeville’s schools, change is good.
Fifth candidate Bader A. Alossaimi did not attend the forum, held at City Hall, though in the past he has also championed change.
One theme was adapting education to the 21st century using technology and other innovations while keeping the fiscal belt tight.
The district needs to be “educating for jobs that don’t even yet exist,” Keliher said. “We’ve already saved tens of thousands (of dollars) not having to purchase printed textbooks that will be outdated in a couple of years.”
iLearn, the district’s online learning initiative, was a popular program among the candidates.
“I fully support iLearn,” Harmening said, adding that with elementary classes of 30 or more students technology can open windows to customized learning, which would help teachers handle diverse learning styles in such large classrooms.
Erickson pointed out that the district now has wireless access throughout the schools and funds two technology positions with literacy funds from the state. The two people are in charge of much of the district’s effort to use more technology in the classroom.
“We are no longer waiting for the future to come to us,” he said.
Community surveys have indicated that the public generally supports the tech initiatives. A 2010 technology levy referendum “missed being approved by only 132 votes,” Erickson said. “I’m encouraged by the future for iLearn.”
Lind said new technology encouraged him as well, but “we must remember technology is a tool and not an end unto itself,” he said.
The audience of about 30 people was not allowed to ask questions of the candidates – chamber Executive Director Todd Bornhauser said this was because of time constraints. A number of the audience members sported T-shirts in favor of their preferred candidate.
The candidates were asked what their top three priorities were. The challengers emphasized addressing ever-increasing class sizes, especially at the elementary level.
“Class size is a real challenge,” Harmening said. “My fourth-grade daughter is sitting in a class of 34 students.”
All candidates advocated for more community engagement and input into district decisions.
“I want all members of the community to have direct ownership in Lakeville schools,” Lind said. He talked about having committees for nonparents and senior citizens, in addition to the current parent committees.
Harmening said there needs to be “a shared community vision,” which is “critical to the success of the schools.”
Keliher, the board’s current chair, also said she wanted to increase engagement with the community.
For Erickson, the board’s treasurer, at least part of better engagement is a transparent budget process.
Building on the fiscal focus, Keliher said she wants to ensure that part of stabilizing the budget is “aligning (employee) contracts more with corporate America.”
A recent survey by consultant Springsted indicated that Lakeville voters would approve an operating levy referendum worth an average $164 increase annually in property tax per household. However, the numbers indicate that the amount would not be enough to stave off budget cuts.
In 2010 there were three levy questions: One to renew the current funding level, one to expand on that to mitigate cuts and another to fund technology efforts. Only the status quo question was approved.
The candidates were asked about a new potential levy referendum in relation to the Springsted results. The levy would be on a ballot in November 2013 with funds available to the district in the 2014-2015 school year.
They all agreed that a levy passage is possible if the budget is transparent. It is not enough to just ask for money with no road map, they said.
“We have to work to define need,” Harmening said.
Keliher said the district must “prioritize knowing we can’t have it all.”
Things such as STEM programming or maintaining or reducing class sizes require levy funding alone beyond what the survey says people would approve, she said.
Erickson, a vocal supporter of the 2010 technology levy referendum, also emphasized that needs must be well-defined.
Lind said if elected he would not support anything over the $164 threshold if there was not community support for doing so.
In closing remarks, all candidates attested to their dedication to providing Lakeville’s students with a quality, forward-thinking education within challenging fiscal restraints.
The next chamber-sponsored debate focuses on mayoral candidates. It is at 6:45 p.m. on Oct. 9 at City Hall. There is a City Council candidate forum the following Tuesday, same time and place. The forum for state legislative candidates takes place on Oct. 23 at 11 a.m. at Crystal Lake Golf Club during the chamber’s membership luncheon.