Knockin’ on the electorate’s door

Newly re-elected ISD 194 board member finds a more hopeful community

Lakeville School Board Member Bob Erickson was out getting exercise this fall.

He and his campaign committee (and sometimes just Erickson) knocked on 3,000 doors around the district, including areas in Burnsville, Lakeville and the townships. He was invited into more than 100 different homes for discussions.

Bob Erickson

As an incumbent, achieving name-recognition with the electorate was less of a concern, though it is good due diligence when a race has a cadre of quality candidates.

What Erickson wanted to achieve was something that he could bring back to the school board: Confirmation of the community’s thoughts and feelings about the district.

“One of my primary goals in doing my campaign was to validate survey results that we received as part of our engagement process,” he said. “I was able to measure what the prevailing attitude was about district programs and finances.”

When he initially ran for office four years ago, Erickson walked the same path. He visited empty-nesters and young families; big houses and mobile homes were also on his itinerary. He also walked neighborhoods in Eureka and New Market townships.

What he saw, Erickson said, was progress. In one part of Elko New Market he visited, the number of vacant homes was half that it was in 2008, he said.

He saw new houses under construction in all of the communities ISD 194 serves.

“In the field,” Erickson said, “I was encouraged by how (the new housing) will positively affect future enrollment.”

District officials have projected a steady decline in enrollment for the next five years. A smaller student body means reduced funding from the state.

People seemed more willing to help out the district, too. In 2010, voters approved a renewal of an existing $236 per pupil operating levy, but turned down two other questions: one that would have added $512 per pupil in extra funding and another that would have provided about $900,000 to replace computer equipment.

A 2012 survey conducted by Springsted revealed that a majority of voters, after experiencing the draconian effects of more than $15 million in budget adjustments, would be willing to vote yes on an operating levy referendum – within reason.

The survey results indicated that 60 percent of the public would support a modest operating levy, about an increase of $168 in property taxes a year for a home worth $230,000. This amounts to about $300 more per pupil in funding.

That is below the $525 per pupil funding the district would need to maintain status quo, said Superintendent Lisa Snyder in August, but it would make cuts less intrusive.

With the district facing another biennium with about $13 million in deficit with the potential for more budget adjustments, Erickson found many people who affirmed the study’s results.

“There was a realization on the part of district residents that we need additional funding to avoid any more increase in class sizes,” Erickson said.

Terry Lind, the former elementary school principal and 43-year employee of the district, was one of three people elected to the school board last week (and the only non-incumbent).

During his campaign, he held listening sessions – often at Mainstreet Coffee Cafe in downtown Lakeville. Between that and door-knocking, Lind said that he had learned a few things.

He heard a lot of expressions of concern about class sizes growing too large. Overall, he said during an interview with Sun Thisweek this fall, people want to “feel ownership over what’s going on.”

The city side
During his campaign, mayor-elect Matt Little and his team stopped counting how many doors they knocked at about 11,000 in September (estimates vary, but sources say it could be 15,000 or more).

“Generally, people are concerned about taxes, falling home values, the quality of schools, and keeping their community safe,” Little said.

What he enjoyed most about door-knocking was learning about issues specific to a given neighborhood.

“There are instances of code violations, needed street repairs, or missing signage that people don’t normally bring up at a council meetings that can be quite easy for the city to take care of if we know about it,” he said.