My answers to the candidate questions from the Star Newspaper
Questionnaire (no more than 500 words total)
- Reason for running
I am running for School Board to fix the District’s financial crisis, ensure a safe learning environment, and provide long-term stability. The current school board has been trying their best to cope with a difficult situation, but we have seen worsening results year after year. Albert Einstein quoted as saying, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” The Cambridge Isanti School District is suffering through a financial crisis, leading to an educational decline.
Last year the District cut $4.5 million, and this budget cycle has cut another $3 million. Pre-covid19 decisions caused the budget cuts. The current pandemic only exasperates an already tricky situation. The State of Minnesota faces a $2.4 billion deficit by next July and a further $4.7 billion deficit in the next two years with no federal help on the horizon. The lack of state resources means the financial cliff our District has already plunged off only gets deeper.
The school district spent down its cash reserves in previous years, leading to massive cuts. As stated by the Administration, they have increased spending on average 3% per year while revenue increased by 2%. The School Board chose to increase expenses at a time when it could not afford it. The School Board also did not start repairing this issue when it first arose five years ago. If they had begun controlling spending quicker and addressed the structural deficit and revenue sooner, we would have had a much more stable budget.
2. Whether or not the referendum vote is successful, Cambridge-Isanti has a funding problem. How do you propose to balance funding issues with maintaining a quality education for students?
Unfortunately, this question only looks at how to increase revenue and not explore how that revenue is spent. Balancing a budget is revenue and expenses. The State per-pupil funding formula for decades has underfunded dozens of school districts, including our own. I will work with the many legislators I had worked with when I was Mayor of Isanti to bring better balance to State funding of schools. We were very successful in increasing Local Government Aid and increasing the Minnesota Investment Fund for local governments. This work not only helped Isanti but all communities in Minnesota.
3. In addition, how do you propose the district reduces or eliminates their funding issues?
Our School District needs to work with other local governments and the State to increase commercial & industrial growth to diversify our tax base. The local property taxes already being used to help fund our schools can grow with this strategy. We doubled the number of businesses in the City of Isanti during my time as Mayor, leading to increased revenue and significant tax cuts because the total tax burden was spread over many more industrial and commercial taxpayers.
4. Besides the two previous questions, what else do you consider to be your top priorities for the school board?
We must make the School Board more transparent and responsive to residents, taxpayers, staff, and students. School Districts are no longer a monopoly in education. We have charter schools, homeschooling, private schools, and parochial schools. We need to ensure our schools are the best places for education. It is essential to provide a safe learning environment for our students.