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home : 2020 voter's guide : 2020 voter's guide
December 4, 2020

10/16/2020 12:58:00 PM

The Chisago Lakes School Board has three seats expiring on the ballot and seven candidates have filed.  You will vote for this race if you reside in the #2144 School District. Their questions and responses start on this page. Candidates are listed alphabetically.

North Branch District #138 has three seats open as well, and three incumbents filed.  Voter Guides are created when more than one candidate is running for a seat so North Branch candidates are not in this guide.

Lori Berg

Look ahead to the end of your first term on the school board.  What would you want your major contribution to students, taxpayers or district functions to have been during that time?
By the end of the next term on the school board I would like to have played a role in: Stabilizing and growing from what we have learned during the pandemic, Building a plan to focus on skills such critical thinking, problem solving and communication instead of solely on test scores, and Rebuilding a financial plan that puts the district on course to support programs and keep and retain excellent staff.

The pandemic has caused changes to schedules, curriculum coverage, instructional delivery, testing, transportation, activities, personal interactions, enrollment and more. There are many ongoing decisions to be made to keep our students, staff and community safe while maintaining as much educational integrity as possible. I want to help the district stabilize enrollment, reframe the budget after the financial implications of the virus are fully realized, and consider ways we can improve based on what we have learned. There is an opportunity to look at how we deliver education, schedule courses, personalize instruction, and use testing. I want to help see us through this difficult time and come out stronger on the other end.

Next, in a recent survey of our community, the majority of parents identified that they value skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and communication over standardized test scores. The district was forming working groups to make plans toward this goal when the pandemic began. Out in the workplace, and in colleges and technical schools, students need skills beyond those we are testing. Placing too much value on testing causes anxiety for students and teachers, pushes us to teach to the test, and takes joy from learning and teaching. I want to help reshape our priorities in Chisago Lakes.

Last, the inadequate and inequitable funding of schools, together with the increasing costs of unfunded mandates, have put districts like Chisago Lakes at a financial disadvantage. We are a low property wealth district, and we rely heavily on the basic formula. The dollars we receive per student have not kept up with the costs of running schools. In addition, the promise made by the federal government in the 1970’s to reimburse schools for 40% of special education costs has never been fulfilled. We currently receive 17% funding for these crucial, but largely underfunded programs. As a result, the general fund has decreased steadily over the last several years. We have cut supply budgets, programs and staff, renegotiated contracts, delayed textbook adoptions, and looked closely at the budget for possible savings. The reality is that, just like in our households, expenses for things such as supplies, fuel, milk, food, insurance, and salaries keep increasing. If the state and federal government continue to fund schools at rates that do not cover basic costs, our only options are to cut programming at a deeper level or propose a property tax referendum. Tax levies affect communities differently depending on where they are in Minnesota, and that is inequitable, but they remain as one of the few options we can control locally to raise funds for our schools. We need to continue to pressure our lawmakers for consistent and sustainable funding for public schools. A yearly inflationary increase would be a starting point. At the end of this term, I would like to say that I have helped make progress so our general fund is healthy and we can support our programs and sufficient raises for our staff.

Society knew about Covid-19 by the time candidate filing period opened up, so you were aware school situations in upcoming months would be unusual to say the least. What are your thoughts on local education and its chosen methods to keep educating in a pandemic?
People have asked me why I would run for the school board again with all the chaos that Covid-19 is bringing to school systems. For me, the answer is simple. I care too much about this school district to leave when the going is tough. I want to help us move forward.

The education my two children received in Chisago Lakes, and the relationships they developed in this school community, gave them an invaluable base to move forward with their lives. For students who take advantage of the opportunities, Chisago Lakes offers programming for many different pathways. There are college level courses, trade and industrial education courses, a variety of extracurricular offerings and a real opportunity to be involved due to our student numbers. Of course, it is important for us to keep evaluating our programming, and I do believe there are potential areas for growth. Overall however, Chisago Lakes remains a shining star in public education thanks to the dedicated and passionate staff members that work in this district.

Regarding the district plan for COVID 19, I was involved in the district committee that made plans for reopening. The district involved many voices of teachers, administrators, parents and key staff members. Plans were made with many perspectives represented, using guidelines from the Departments of Education and Health, and with county COVID case numbers in mind. The district’s decision allowed for individual beliefs, risk factors and accommodations of parents, students and staff. We offered a distance learning option, which over 600 families in CL chose. We also planned for opening in the hybrid model because case numbers were climbing as the plans were being made, and the hybrid model allowed us to go back more safely and in stages. We did not want families to have to switch plans a couple days before school started, or make changes in learning plans every couple weeks.We are respectful of the fact that daycare and employment are highly impacted by these decisions, and times are tough for families. Most importantly, our plan needed to keep the safety of children, staff and community members as our top priority. People are split in their beliefs and desires regarding the pandemic, but the district did their best to honor individual beliefs and needs, while getting kids back in school in a way that allowed for social distancing and increased safety.

Brenda Carlson
Look ahead to the end of your first term on the school board.  What would you want your major contribution to students, taxpayers or district functions to have been during that time?
When it comes to students my biggest contribution right now is to get the kids back to school in a safe environment.  Physically safe is important, but the mental health of our youth is also becoming a problem.  We as a district need to make sure we are listening and making sure our students get help if they need it and try to do everything we can to keep the schools open in some capacity.  

The biggest thing we can keep working in is equal funding for our schools, which means fixing the State funding formula.  If we keep pushing for this it will take the pressure off our taxpayers because we would not have to rely on them primary for funding when we need it.  

When it comes to district everyone is under a lot of pressure when it comes to dealing with the virus because it is all uncharted territory.  We as a board need to give them all the support we can and help make decisions when need. When covid-19 becomes under control and we can go back to some kind of normal it will be important to stay focused on our strategic plan for the district because that is how we will keep moving our district forward.

Society knew about Covid-19 by the time candidate filing period opened up, so you were aware school situations in upcoming months would be unusual to say the least. What are your thoughts on local education and its chosen methods to keep educating in a pandemic?
I feel the way the school is approaching the pandemic is a good approach, relying on the numbers and starting in hybrid, and giving the families the option on staying distance learning or coming back to the school buildings part time.  I also feel that going hybrid is also giving some protection to our staff.  It will be every changing and we may be moving from hybrid to distance learning and then back to hybrid mor than once.  We just all have to remember to stay the course and we will get through this.

Jeff Lindeman
Look ahead to the end of your first term on the school board.  What would you want your major contribution to students, taxpayers or district functions to have been during that time?
 Being elected and being on the school board is not enough. Serving requires action, it’s a verb. School board members need to serve by actively pursuing the people, whether it be students, parents, coaches, teachers, support staff, custodians, food service, community education, the community, etc. and know how my decisions one way or another will affect them, long before I decide. I want those that I serve to see that I lived by the motto “trust but verify” every decision that I make as a member of the school board. If I don’t - I want the electorate to hold me accountable.

I want all our shareholders to see that I really collaborated, not just said I would. I want them to see that I did my homework and intentional investigation on the topics and the only way to do that is to get into the school and talk to all that are affected by the school boards decision. I would want the taxpayers to see that I was available, teachable, accountable, and humble and that I asked the right questions and received an answer to decisions that administration makes that affect the students, parents, community and the staff that serve them. The past several years, I had an inside view to how the district conducted it’s business, their financial dealings, how they treated their employees, and the manner in which the law firm that the district hired to do its legal work operated. I want the stakeholders to see that I and we as a school board had a plan, created from a vision that included collaboration, real collaboration from all that would be affected by the policy, plan and putting it into action. I would want them to see that I operated and made decisions with integrity, foresight, diligence, built strong relationships, and ultimately that this led to innovative and successful students.
This next 14 months could be the most significant unknown period of time in education that I have experienced as a teacher at the Chisago Lakes Public Schools the past 38 years, many of the last as the teacher’s union president, and if elected to serve one year as a Chisago Lakes School District as a school board member.

With all of the educational decisions made for our students and stakeholders, there are a number of additional decisions that must be made that the school board is responsible as the governing body of the Chisago Lakes School District. Along with the added decisions that must be made concerning Covid 19 the district must also address our school’s specific needs such as retaining and attracting quality support staff, teachers, and administrators. We must work to solve budget shortfalls with creative and available means, finding ways to add back programs that were affected by the past financial shortfalls/cuts, and addressing the additional financial concerns going forward. We must carefully prioritize where we want our district to be heading. We must work to improve morale, collaboration, and in some cases trust and I want our shareholders to see that I and we did that. Generally, the school board is responsible for care, management, and control of our 5 wonderful schools and additionally our outstanding community education and community center - I want our parents and taxpayers to see that we did this in an exemplary manner.

I would want those that elected me and all that I serve to have identified that I and we as members of the school board, made those decisions with collaboration, in the best interest and service of our students, parents, community, and the staff that support them. I would want them to identify that we made those decisions with integrity, excellent communication, with sensitive/thoughtful/and respectful feedback. I would want the taxpayers to know by seeing my contributions to the school board that I and we served with passion, a vision, and a plan and that we carried out that plan after a collaborative approach to decision making. I would want the voters to have confidence and to know that they can trust me and the other members of the school board with the general charge of the business of the school district, its facilities and property, and of the interest of the school.”

As in the past 7 months with all of the decisions made, we all need to listen, use the data, and decide what is best for our most precious natural resource - our students.

Society knew about Covid-19 by the time candidate filing period opened up, so you were aware school situations in upcoming months would be unusual to say the least. What are your thoughts on local education and its chosen methods to keep educating in a pandemic?
“On July 30, Governor Tim Walz’s Executive Order implemented ‘Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Yea’. This plan used a localized, data-driven approach that allows school districts to operate in a learning model that is responsive to the prevalence of COVID-19 cases in their community and other factors figured in also. The data driven plan used a formula over a two week period of time that was and is updated constantly monitoring the cases daily. The plan prioritized safe learning for all Minnesota students, including requiring school districts to give families the option to choose distance learning for their student no matter which learning model their school is implementing. This plan, with guidance from the MDH/CDC and the governor’s executive order on July 22 also required face coverings in all K-12 school buildings.

School districts needed to adhere to the health requirements and recommendations in ‘MDH 2020-21 Planning Guidance for School’ and consulted “MDE 2020-21 Planning Guidance for Minnesota Public Schools” as plans for each scenario were developed.”

Ideally, we want the least restrictive and best practice form of an educational experience for our students as well as the safest considering all aspects of what is safe and not hurtful in any area. Therein lies the challenge because they have competing stipulations. There is more to consider than just the Covid 19 virus when considering this as far as safety and the wellbeing of our students. There also are collateral damages to restrictive safety measures without face to face options and I saw this first hand as a teacher teaching from March to the end of the last school year. It was difficult socially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually to be in distance learning for so long. If the numbers stay low we can have a more normal school year with face to face learning and the activities that make school life enhanced. There are a multitude of considerations when deciding as a local what to do for the well being and safety of our students at every age level and every school, making sure to follow the governor’s executive order, the recommendations, and best practices for learning.

Early in the summer the Governor and the MN Deot of Education have the charge to prepare for three options: Distance learning, a Hybrid model and Full Face to Face. These three options are always a possibility and also it then is critical to establish best practices for all three. We could still see these options during this 2020-21 school year. No one knew what the governor would decide and as it turned out created a plan with a formula that would determine which of the three would be used by each school district.

Before workshops started prior to labor day, the school district gathered representatives from the groups that serve our students and worked for two days to determine the best method of the three options: distance learning, hybrid, and full face to face. The local school board could then decide which model using the data to determine the type of instruction that would be implemented. The school board along with collaboration of those that serve our students could choose to implement a more restrictive model but not a less restrictive model as part of the governor's executive order based on the formula. It was determined at that time to go with the hybrid model option. Although not ideal but under the circumstances I believe that after long and careful considerations, the hybrid model was the best option for Chisago Lakes for a variety of reasons. #1 - The school would be less apt to switch to a different model in a short time creating a variety of scheduling issues if covid cases increased. As it turned out this would have happened #2 - More continuity and equality with our 5 school buildings and families with more than one child. #3 - A more safe model following CDC/MDH guidelines for spacing and viral loads. #4 - Better accommodations for students and staff as far as options available. #5 - still maintain face to face learning and hands-on/minds-on options while accounting for safety. #6 - although still not ideal to operate the school in a full face to face setting in normal times it is the best option considering the safety and practicality of the other two options and where we find ourselves in the operation of our school in times of Covid 19.

There was a high priority placed on being able to stay face to face as long as possible and the hybrid model provided this and has proven until just recently to be successful even with a few Covid cases in the schools. If the school district shareholders would have decided to go full face to face it had the potential of contracting too many cases too quickly and may have put the district in a full distance learning requirement based on the multi-input formula. The school board has also chosen to continue with the Hybrid Model for the second term which if I was presently on the board I would have also voted in favor of that option.

As I finish this questionnaire, Chisago Lakes HIgh School because of the high number of quarantined students, will be completing the next two weeks with the distance learning method. It is a sad reality as football games and volleyball games and many other activities that were to have taken place needed to be postponed or cancelled. Remember that these decisions go into play when the Covid numbers increase and this is happening all over Minnesota based on the cases in each school district. We are all hopeful that the “informal quarantine/two week reset” will lower the numbers so that students, teachers, support staff, and admin can get back to the hybrid model and the activities that our students want and need. If we want face to face options, we as a community and school district need to do what we can to lower the Covid 19 cases that increase the number that give the MDH the authority to determine which method of instruction we provide as well as the amount of activities that can occur that are so important to the fun and development of our students.

Sieglinde Peterson
Look ahead to the end of your first term on the school board.  What would you want your major contribution to students, taxpayers or district functions to have been during that time?
 My primary goal is to shape a district that helps all of our students achieve academic excellence. This does not happen in a vacuum. It requires the cooperation of teachers, parents, administration and a school board that is accountable to the community and works toward the best outcomes for every child.  We badly need to address the budgetary shortfalls that currently constrain our district. However, we cannot continue to go back to the community time and time again for additional revenue when the budget falls short.  We must be mindful stewards of taxpayer funding This requires creativity and looking for outside sources of revenue such as educational grants and state funding including lobbying for school district equity.  Like any budget, the school district needs to balance its needs with its wants. Core educational program funding must take precedence over other expenditures.

Additionally, I want the board to partner with the community in efforts to expand broadband access across our district.  As a result of Covid-19, we have taken a giant leap forward in integrating remote communication technologies into the classroom. We need to adapt our education delivery model as well as prepare our students for this new way of learning and working. To achieve this, every student in the district must have access to broadband and remote technology from home.

Moreover, I want to ensure the district retains and attracts high quality teachers. As a mother of two students in the district, I know firsthand how absolutely critical they are to our students' educational achievement. We need to support their efforts by making sure that they have the tools, resources and administrative support to be successful. The responsibilities of a school board are manifold. In every decision we make, we need to center the educational needs of our students and be committed to achieving the best outcomes for every child in our district.

Society knew about covid-19 by the time candidate filing period opened up, so you were aware school situations in upcoming months would be unusual to say the least. What are your thoughts on local education and its chosen methods to keep educating in a pandemic?
As a physician, I obviously have a lot to say regarding Covid-19. I am in daily communication with colleagues from around the world. I have studied and read more medical literature in the last six months that I have in the last six years.  If Covid has taught us anything, it has taught us that we need to be creative and flexible. We have crafted PPE and set up virtual methods of communication in record time. We have figured out ways to work with and live with this virus in ways that are astounding both for their improvisation and speed of implementation. In all of this, we have to follow the science. There are clear epidemiologic steps we can take - based on successful examples from around the world - such as cohorting and week on/week off rotations. Studies out of New York during the height of their outbreak showed such strategies successful in preventing outbreaks in daycare centers even though community spread was rampant.  We will no doubt see a series of closures and re-openings as infection numbers fluctuate. The more proactive we can be about mitigating spread within our schools and community, the longer we will be able to successfully keep our schools open safely.  

We are heading into a winter that will be like no other.  We need to provide clear and timely communication about learning model changes.  We need to push for state funding of broadband and technological support so that all of our at home learners have access to teachers and school work.  We need to continue to find creative ways to deliver services such as educational and nutritional support to at risk students.  Covid-19 will be with us not just for this school year but likely also the next. It is reshaping the face of education. We need to develop a sustainable, long-term plan of flexible education methods.  By preparing for and embracing these changes we can set our students up for academic and lifelong success. 

Caleb Stilp
Look ahead to the end of your first term on the school board.  What would you want your major contribution to students, taxpayers or district functions to have been during that time?
My main objective is to give back to our wonderful staff and students everything that has been taken from them by the current board and administration. It is no secret that our district faces a large deficit, and in order to curve this our current board decided to cut things like middle school extracurricular activities and many teachers and staffing jobs. Meanwhile, all current principals and top administration gets paid around if not well over 100K a year. I say if we need to make cuts we start there, instead of cutting crucial programs and staff which ensure our students’ success. That is why if elected, I will make sure that students and staff are once again our top priority instead of just the few administration on top. I am also very passionate about creating and maintaining strong STEM and technical classes at our schools. In fact, I myself am a former alumni of Chisago Lakes high school. And it was in their very own shop classes where I learned my love for hands on work which led me to my current career today as an electrician. Many of these well-paying hands on technical jobs seemed to be overlooked today which is why I plan on working closely with teachers. Together we can develop programs and classes that encourage our students to pursue these STEM and technical related fields. In addition to developing these programs, I also want to encourage the girls and young women in our district into pursuing these careers as well. That way everyone will feel welcome and can all take part in building our future. Lastly, I wish to establish an open line of communication with all residents of our district. I have shared just a few of what my goals and visions are for this district, but I’m sure all of you have some wonderful ideas as well. I would encourage everyone in the district to reach out to me, my door will always be open to listen to anyone who wants their voice heard. After all, if elected my job will be to serve all of you!

Society knew about Covid-19 by the time candidate filing period opened up, so you were aware school situations in upcoming months would be unusual to say the least. What are your thoughts on local education and its chosen methods to keep educating in a pandemic?
I think this hybrid model was a good way to start off the academic school year. However, I think our methods should continue to adapt so we can be sure that the right choices are being made for all staff, students, and parents in our district. COVID has taken more than just a physical toll on everyone. As we adapted to this era of social distancing many students found their mental health struggling as well because the many activities and opportunities to spend time with friends shifted to an online platform. I believe all efforts should be made so that we can safely return our students back to school full time. With that being said, I believe this should only happen once we have all the proper precautions and equipment to assure the safety of all students and staff. Reopening our schools is a multi-step process and is something that should be done with the health of everyone in consideration. I also think we need to take time to listen to any parents or staff concerns. As I believe everyone’s voice should be heard and taken into account before we proceed. In addition to all of this, I am also in favor keeping an online program open for those students who may be high risk or who don’t feel safe returning to school. 

Adam Wojcik
Look ahead to the end of your first term on the school board.  What would you want your major contribution to students, taxpayers or district functions to have been during that time?
Major contribution to students: to have all students back to in-person school full time safely and continue to work towards getting back to normal times of school.  This includes socializing with friends, learning without the fear of getting sick, being able to participate in all sports they chose with parents and fans at games cheering them on.  These daily interactions and experiences for students are crucial to their education, social health, mental health and physical health.

Major contribution to taxpayers: to work towards a balanced budget that also includes all the extra steps of sanitizing, spacing students in smaller class sizes, and having extra school bus routes.  The hope is a year from now we can safely be getting back to normal and not have all the extra steps of sanitizing multiple times a day to ensure safety.  Getting back to a normal schedule will help take strain off the teachers, custodial staff, volunteers, and parents because they can spend less time cleaning and focus more time planning the next lesson including having more time to help students.

Major contribution to the district: to have more time focused on the future needs, budgets, students, and expanded classes, in place of being proactive / reactive to the ever changing conditions of Covid-19.  Currently the district is spending a lot of time monitoring the numbers of Covid-19 with evolving efforts towards developing a plan to stay ahead of potential learning scenarios.  This takes a lot of resources and money that currently was not budgeted for and is unknown if it will be reimbursed by the state.  My hope is that a year from now the entire school district can get back to a sense of normal for all.  Safety is important to all and takes extra time and resources to plan effectively.

Society knew about covid-19 by the time candidate filing period opened up, so you were aware school situations in upcoming months would be unusual to say the least. What are your thoughts on local education and its chosen methods to keep educating in a pandemic?
Keeping everyone’s interests in mind, the school is trying to balance on a very fine line of keeping students in school as well as maintain everyone’s safety.  Prior to school starting, the district sent out many surveys to gauge the perspectives and feelings of the Chisago Lakes community.  On the other end of the spectrum, the district is also required to follow the state guidelines.  With that being said, I feel very strongly about doing everything possible to keep our students in school full time so they can have the full in-person school experience. I feel the current hybrid learning model will be effective only temporarily and eventually the district will need to get back to a sense of normalcy.  Everyone is very concerned with safety and every situation has to be looked at and accommodated differently.  This takes tremendous coordination by all.  I understand the staff is very concerned about safety as they should be; however, I would like to explore situations where we can maintain safety of all and still have school full time.  We need to continuously keep making efforts to keep all students in school especially younger children.  It may not be possible to keep all students in school full time, but if we can keep as many younger kids in school full time, it would be most beneficial for their learning.  Younger children rely heavily on a consistent and constant schedule filled with structure and interaction.  The district will need to continue to balance what is best for students, staff, parents, and the community all while keeping state guidelines in mind.  Currently I feel they are doing the best they can in regards to the current circumstances. 

Tony Zais
Look ahead to the end of your first term on the school board.  What would you want your major contribution to students, taxpayers or district functions to have been during that time?
The start of my term would be to get through the Covid crisis without compromising the student’s learning.  Ultimately, keep students/staff and employees safe and healthy and to come up with a plan to bring the district together where students can all be back in school.

I would like to change the way the state computes the amount they pay per pupil and make it equitable for districts of any size.   This would eliminate the need for a tax levy or referendum for the Chisago Lakes School District.  I want to work to learn the models now used and communicate to all the best way to make that change. The state mandates districts offer certain programs, yet they do not allocate the proper funding to the district for said programs.  The smaller districts seem to take a back seat in most funding when compared to industrial areas and larger cities. I would continue to strive to make change in this system to benefit generations to come.

Society knew about Covid-19 by the time candidate filing period opened up, so you were aware school situations in upcoming months would be unusual to say the least. What are your thoughts on local education and its chosen methods to keep educating in a pandemic?
The state government has set a policy that have most districts in a tough spot.  The virus numbers in our county dictate whether school is taught in-person, hybrid or distance learning.   Although I agree that the goal is to keep students, teachers and staff safe, consistency in teaching models would be my choice.  Parents, teachers, students and staff are struggling to adjust to our current situation.  I would like to see consistency, so parents, students and staff can settle into a routine that will help put students in the most favorable learning environment.  It is hard to plan as families, teachers and students when your learning setting can potentially change every 2 weeks.  The school board and administration are doing their best to provide the best learning situation possible while keeping everyone safe.   I would like it to be consistent, with the end goal of in-person classrooms.

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