Year 2019 will be challenging for the Pelican Rapids School Board.
For starters, the board will convene with three new faces, following the November 2018 election: Brittany Dokken, Greg Larson and Brenda Olson. Anne Peterson, elected two years ago, is a relatively new member–leaving Jon Karger and Mike Forsgren as the “senior” members of the board.
Gone are three members, representing 35 years of experience: Dena Johnson and Charlie Blixt, who narrowly lost their re-election bids. Kathy Ouren, meanwhile, chose not to run again.
As far as our memories, and a superficial look back through the years–this might be the most complete turnover on the Pelican school board in decades.
There’s nothing wrong with bringing in new members to any elected body, of course. By now, the new board is fully aware of the challenges ahead:
• The inevitable switch back to a five-day school week–possibly by the next school year, 2019-2020.
• Another round of painful budget cuts, as the school faces deficit spending and dramatically reduced reserve funds.
• The prospect of a levy referendum, with the always-controversial plea to taxpayers to raise revenue.
• Continued pressure to increase academic performance.
Losing three veteran school board members in one year could create a long “learning curve,” but perhaps some new ideas and visions.
The Press has exchanged emails with outgoing board members Blixt, Johnson and Ouren. We posed a few broad questions to the veteran Pelican school policy makers–looking for insights on both the past, and future, of the Pelican schools.
We’ll be publishing most of their comments in the Press over the next couple weeks. But for starters, we asked them to comment on the importance of experience and knowledge. We also encouraged them to offer advice to incoming board members–who will be meeting for the first time in January.
This week, comments from former board members Charlie Blixt and Kathy Ouren.
At this point in my business career I like to tell people I make up for less energy with the efficiency of experience.
That experience helps you anticipate problems before they happen and use past known techniques for solutions without a trial and error of inexperience. But if not careful it can also short circuit new ideas by relying on old habits.
Yes, there is a heavy learning curve for the new board members. But they also aren’t held back by their past experiences. They also have youth (relatively), energy and enthusiasm. The new board has a nice mix of experience and contrasting backgrounds. If they act as one group instead of playing out personal agendas–they will be fine.
They must always collaborate to make good decisions for the school system. Every board member I worked with always ultimately had the student’s best interests in mind regardless of their personal opinions.
Remember: Board members really have limited power. You have no employees; cannot get things done without the help of at least three other board members; and have direct contact and control over only the superintendent. You don’t run anything and provide only oversite for district operations … but if things go wrong, it’s your responsibility.
I don’t think many people realize how much there is to running a school and to ensuring that all aspects of a high quality educational experience are positive, effective, and forward looking for our students, families, staff, and community. I know I didn’t before being appointed to the school board.
There is alot to learn and to consider when making thoughtful decisions that are always student-focused.
It was very helpful to me to have fellow school board members and administrative leaders who were familiar with the business of the school – finances, negotiations, curriculum, standards, transportationz, facilities, safety, legislation, etc.
They understood the complexities of each aspect of school administration, and they knew the historical decisions that had been made that gave context to the decision at hand.
I would advise new school board members to listen to, and learn from, those who have knowledge of managing a school – superintendent, administrators, staff, veteran school board members. They will provide information that is needed to make well thought-out decisions.
Understand your role as a school board member so that you provide effective leadership in that role. Always share your thoughts and opinions respectfully and support the decision of the board, even though you may not have agreed with it.
Always do your best to make decisions that give the best we have to give to every student in Pelican.
Editor’s note: 2019 will be a pivotal year for Pelican Rapids school board members, faculty-staff, administrators–and families.
The Press invited experienced, outgoing school board members to look both backward and forward for insights.
Comments from those former members; Charlie Blixt, Dena Johnson and Kathy Ouren will be published in this and coming editions of the Pelican Rapids Press.