Inver Grove Heights School Board candidates focus on budget and career readiness

ELECTION 2017


The Inver Grove Heights School Board has three seats up for election this year. Two incumbents, Cindy Nordstrom and Lynette Stensargd, are running for reelection.

Besides the school board, voters in ISD 199 will also be asked to vote on two referendum questions.

According to a district press release, the questions are intended to allow the district to increase students’ career and college readiness, help keep the district competitive and stabilize the district’s finances. One question would increase the operating levy and the other would create a new capital projects levy.

The capital projects levy would provide funds for the purchase of textbooks, curriculum materials, large music instruments and more, the district says. It would increase the annual property taxes on a median-valued home in the district, worth $235,000, by $50. 

If approved, the operating levy would increase taxes on the same home by $78 annually.

The Review asked the candidates via email why there are running, what skills and experiences they would bring to office, what they believe to be the top challenges the district faces, and what issues or projects they would prioritize if elected.

Candidates Michael Casello and Ryan Walfoort did not respond to they Review’s questionnaire. Election Day is Nov. 7.

 

Joe Harms, 39, lives in Inver Grove Heights with his wife Melissa. He was certified as a marina manager by the Association of Marine Industries and works at the River Heights Marina and Mississippi Pub.

Harms said he would bring an array of skillsets to the board that he has learned from being a business owner, wrestling coach, parent, certified marina manager and River Heights Chamber board member. 

“I’m committed to the success of our schools and students,” Harms said.

Harms said he believes the top challenges facing the district include being fiscally responsible with referendums and promoting an environment that allows students and teachers the ability to reach their full potential. 

If elected, Harms said he would prioritize “empowering teachers to make sure the district, students and teachers succeed now and in the future.”

 

Todd Kruse, 51, is an instructor in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and is married to Jaleh Nahvi. He has a master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas in international management.

Kruse said he will bring his skills and experience in the areas of networking, research, teaching, lobbying and workforce development to the board. 

Kruse said he is running “to utilize my college teaching knowledge and experience working overseas to explore collaboration opportunities for the school district to enhance student learning.”

“Our nation’s K-12 culture of ‘teaching to the test’ needs a revolution that results in ‘self-directed learning’ to harness students’ personal interests guided by teachers,” Kruse said. 

One challenge facing the district is the low percentage of parental involvement, Kruse said. He said he would look to the “sports club model of parental encouragement to drive ideas for getting more parents involved.”

Kruse said there is a vast sum of tax dollars sent to the “failing” Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts to the detriment of District 199. He said he would work with a coalition to lobby for “revision of the very opaque and antiquated state funding formula.”

Kruse said another challenge for the district is the global and economic trends where “robots are quickly replacing jobs in the Midwest.” He said the district needs to partner with local technology companies to better prepare students “and their (potentially) laid-off parents via adult education for such a future.”

If elected, Kruse said he would prioritize partnering with the business community on opportunities for workforce development. 

 

Carrie Lounsberry, 38, is married to her husband Brad and works as the student account director for The Berry Patch Preschool. She has a bachelor’s degree in language arts secondary education from Bethel University. 

Lounsberry said she would bring her strong knowledge of the school system, effective communication, problem solving, active listening and her passion and commitment to see the district excel to the board.  

“As a former public school teacher, my heart is in public education; I want to help ISD 199 thrive, thereby helping our community thrive,” Lounsberry said.

Lounsberry said she loves that the district is growing in diversity. With this growth, she said she wants to ensure that all students and families are welcomed into the schools in a way that’s comfortable to them. This could mean looking at lunch menus, as well as what stories are included in the curriculum, she said.

Lounsberry said she hopes to increase communication between the community and schools.

“Eighty percent of our community does not have school-aged children. Let’s work to ensure that they still feel connected and proud of our schools and our students. Without the support of our community, we will not be able to remain a competitive district and provide adequate resources to our students,” she said.

Lounsberry said she knows the district has a strategic plan in place and, if elected, would love to study how that plan is implemented and what needs to happen to continue growth.

 

Cindy Nordstrom, 53, has been on the board for eight years and is married to her husband Mark. She is a fifth-grade teacher in District 196 and has a master’s degree plus 60 from the University of St. Thomas in curriculum and instruction, with a certificate in engineering for educators. 

If re-elected, she said she would bring a skillset that involves communication, collaboration, a career in education, balancing budgets, and being reliable and responsible to the board.

Nordstrom said she is running for reelection because she believes in the direction the district is heading, specifically in the areas of career and college readiness, early intervention and preschool programming, and community commitment

Nordstrom said while the district has earned awards for financial excellence and fiscal reasonability for 12 years straight, the most pressing issue “for any district remains meeting funding challenges.” She added that since the tax levy is less than half the state-authorized amount, the number one task is “making the most of out of every tax dollar we receive.”

The other pressing issue the district faces, she said, will be the district’s “response to the need for career and college-ready students.” Nordstrom said she has toured four local businesses in Dakota County that need future employees who have the ability to collaborate, communicate and learn new skills on the job.

“ISD 199 is currently working with South St. Paul and West St. Paul to find ways we can offer career pathways for students to explore skills and trades that are in high demand,” Nordstrom said, adding that a four-year college is not the answer for every Simley graduate.

If re-elected, Nordstrom said she would prioritize the career and college readiness tri-district collaboration for career pathways for middle and high school students.

 

Lynette Stensgard, 51, is married to Mark and has held her seat on the board for 12 years. She is a senior business analyst/project lead for Delta Air Lines. She has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Lake Superior State University. 

Stensgard said her skillset includes being a good listener and communicator, very organized, a team player and responsible. She said she has experience working with tight budgets and limited resources.

“I am running for the same reason I had when I originally ran 12 years ago. Children need a voice, someone to advocate on their behalf to make sure schools can do what is best for kids,” Stensgard said.

She said while a lot of progress has been made over the years and many goals have been attained, there are new ones to complete, which is why she finds it important to run again.

Stensgard said the biggest challenge facing the district is the budget. She said ISD 199 runs on one of the lowest budgets in the area. With most of the budget going to salary and benefits, Stensgard said there isn’t much left to continue the needed transformation of the educational system.

“The world around us is changing at a pace schools have not been able to keep up with due to limited funding and resources,” Stensgard said.

If re-elected, she said one of her main priorities would be college and career readiness. Stensgard said helping students have a clearer idea of interests and talents before graduation is key to their future success.

 

Fred Yerke, 52, is married to his wife Carrie and works for Connections, Inc. PCE; Pro-Championship Ring Rental. He has an associate’s degree. 

Yerke said he would bring his previous experience from being on different types of boards to the school board. He has also served as chairman on committees and has numerous trainings involving special needs children, as well as honor students.

“Education is a very important part of our lives, and having been in the Inver Grove Heights school district and reaping the benefits of it, I want to give back to the district that helped me achieve the level of success that I have in life,” he said.

Yerke said the top challenges facing the district include technology, meeting the needs of all students and the speed of learning.

He said each year students are expected to learn new things quickly and teachers need to be able to meet those demands. 

“The gap between abilities also seems to grow each year. With technology advancing, we need to figure out how students can adapt lessons using it, which in the long run may help us keep more students in our district,” Yerke said. 

If elected, Yerke said he would prioritize working with the board to provide more resources and training for teachers and staff to help better equip them to meet the needs of all students.

 

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com


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