School board candidates provide insightTwo incumbents and one challenger are on the ballot for two seats on the Dickinson Public School Board when district patrons go to the polls on Tuesday, June 10.
By: Alan Reed, The Dickinson Press
DICKINSON - Two incumbents and one challenger are on the ballot for two seats on the Dickinson Public School Board when district patrons go to the polls on Tuesday, June 10.
Board incumbents Kris Fehr and Leslie Ross are joined by newcomer Tom Dietz. The trio responded to five questions to provide insight as to what they see as some of the issues facing the school district.
Why are you running?
Ross – “I’m running because I believe having two children who have gone through the Dickinson Public School system already, and my past four years not only on the school board, but my activities from when my children were in elementary school through high school as part of the Parents Advisory Committee, I believe my job is to work for the betterment of students. Whether academically, socially, I think I bring a lot to the table.
“There is a very high learning curve when you become a member of the school board, I think like any board. I think it takes two years to figure out kind of how things run. I think with these four years behind me and my new position as vice chair of the Roughrider Area Career Tech Ed center, I have a lot to offer for the next four years to students and vocational education. I serve both on the Budget Committee and the Technology Committee and we’ve done some really great things in Dickinson public over the last four years. And I would like an opportunity to continue that.”
Dietz – “We were sort of irritated with the bussing situation with the change in the bussing for the Dickinson School District for the rural bussing. And then what really happened, I think it was maybe February, when they were doing some of these elections around the country, this is when Ohio was coming up. The governor, I want to say from Kansas, and I forgot what her name is, mentioned her dad, who used to be the governor of Ohio back in the 70s, was on the school board on Ohio because he thought that was the most important job he could do. So I’m going heck, if this guy is 85 and wants to be on the school board because he thinks it’s that important, I said maybe somebody else should run.
“I’m the only one who isn’t a teacher in my family. I’ve had to listen to this stuff for almost my whole life. School boards, school districts, running. My dad was a superintendent, my brother was a superintendent just retired. And everybody was a teacher, my grandma was a teacher, came out from Wisconsin in about 1910-11. My great-grandpa was a teacher. He came out and taught in South Dakota in 1890-91. So I’ve had to listen to this my whole life, and the disputes between the school board and running a school district. Just getting things to run and having the board understand what is going on.”
Fehr – “Because I have a stake in the Dickinson Public Schools. My two daughters went all the way through the Dickinson Public Schools and graduated from Dickinson High and are doing very well. My son will be at Hagen this fall and he started in kindergarten as well and going all the way through. So I really have a stake in what happens.
“I do enjoy working with the school district, with the administrators, and I want to do what is best for the students.”
What curriculum issues need to be addressed in the next five years?
Ross – “I think the biggest curriculum issues, there are two most definitely. Our math curriculum and our English curriculum need a lot to be desired at this point. We have an action plan now on how we’re going to change our curriculum from elementary through high school. We have some disconnects there.
“We’re also working with DSU in terms of the P-16 initiative and looking at how all of that will work together to bring about some major academic achievement changes in the area of math. And once we shore up math, we’re hoping we’ll incorporate the same philosophies with English because they go hand and hand, language arts and math. You have to have a strong background in language arts to be able to do the word problems and those sorts of things in math.”
Dietz – “I don’t see that the kids seem that motivated. Personally, I’d like to find a way that the kids in school could be motivated. I hear it all the time, if people talk about it, the lack of motivation in the children in school. I don’t know if you can count grade school where you’re looking for that, but especially in high school.
“A lot of kids just sort of drift through, and there is no real target or no goal established. I don’t know if we want to call it an outcome. Do they want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an Indian chief, an engineer, a scientist, pick a direction. But you can always change. But some of them just want to fulfill the requirements and graduate and then try to figure out what they want to do and some of them don’t even do that.”
Fehr – “Overall, I think we need to look at again, our math curriculum and we are addressing that with the new math series that’s been adopted and the teachers have been going to lots of training on that, so I’m very pleased with that and they are making some changes at Dickinson High School as well. So I think definitely math is one huge area.
“We probably also need to look at technology as that is ever changing in the world, and continuing with our goals, to make adequate yearly progress in all of those core curriculum areas. And making sure we are reaching all students, the ones who are below proficiency or the ones who need the extra help, the ones who seem to be doing just fine. And then you have the achievers, the higher achievers, the ones who need more and we need to be sure we’re serving them. So we need to be serving all students with a challenging curriculum that prepares them for the world and our global economy.”
What facility issues need to be addressed in the next five years?
Ross – “Obviously we are very concerned with the demographic of our catchment area. Our immediate facility needs of course is we’re trying to locate some of the services we have into a newer and more modern facility. That is Southwest Community High School and the Adult Learning Center, trying to incorporate those into one facility in the future. We have been in the process for the last six months of really looking hard at facilities in the Dickinson area for that.
“Also, we are, at this point, housing the Roughrider Career Tech Ed office space for the 10 districts that are part of that program. There is always going to be a need and space for that. I think down the road, technology is developing exponentially and not lineally. We’ll have to work on facilities to maybe add on another ITV lab. We’re going to do more with distance education, not only within Dickinson public, but also through the Roughrider Career Tech Ed.”
Dietz – “What are we going to do with the buildings, especially the high school. That building has always bothered me ever since it was built. I never liked the design when it was built. At that time I was going to school in architecture when they built this building and it always bothered me. The layout of the building now thinking back on it, just from walking around the building, how dark it is. The layout is hard to find. Once you get used to it you can figure it out. Initially, to find your way around that beehive is kind of hard.
“They brought it up at that planning meeting that we need to replace carpet...I’m going well, if were going to do carpet, and (board President Dean) Rummel had talked about it, do we need to think about doing something different with the building, changing the building to something that might be more open. Personally, a more library centered facility to me. A university only exists because of its library.”
Fehr – “We have been looking at and working toward what to do with the programs that are housed in the Adult Education/Partners and Parenting. That is a nonaccessible building. The building needs some repairs and we have been trying to address that to make sure that is accessible to all students of whatever age and parents who need to access the services and want to go to classes there. The other issue with that would be the possibility of moving the alternative high school to another location so we wouldn’t be paying rent, although it is doing fine where it is right now.
“As far as facilities, we always have to keep up with repairs and improvements that are required by ADA and the fire marshal and those things. I think the school district is doing a good job with that. But it’s just keeping on top of that and I have to credit the district office for keeping on top of all the repairs and the improvements that need to be made.”
What concerns do you have about student enrollments?
Ross – “My concerns with student enrollment is much the same throughout the state, providing the same quality of education, providing the same access to resources as every other school district, with declining enrollment. We’re at a loss to stop declining enrollment. That is something that is out of our control.
“However, future planning on enrollment is equally hard because the limiting factors are also out of our control. We’re seeing some increase in our kindergarten. It looks like with our early enrollment that we’re going to have to offer 10 sections of kindergarten. Of course with that, we’re limited with classrooms for that because we want to keep class size small in kindergarten through third grade. Unfortunately those classrooms have to follow the students. Even though we have declining enrollment, it seems like an oxymoron that we’re lacking of space and were decreasing in enrollment. If we could pick and choose what students we are gaining in which grades that would be great. But that doesn’t seem to be working.”
Dietz – “What would make a difference - a better economy. If we had a better economic environment in Dickinson where we could attract and retain people in their reproductive years. And that would involve money. So we have jobs that would pay maybe more than the living wage. That is nothing that you can do at the school level. That would be more like the city council or the county commission or the state itself. We do have a little problem with open enrollment I suppose, but I don’t know how bad that is. Just on the fringes of the district with South Heart and Richardton-Taylor. But I don’t think it’s anything to really worry about.”
Fehr – “It’s interesting to look at the enrollment projections where we’re seeing the possibility of a large number of students in the lower elementaries coming in and the smaller number of students in the junior high/high school area. We need to be flexible and everyone needs to understand we may need to make changes. They’ve made some changes with the smaller class sizes. We just don’t have the amount of students needed for the number of classes or teachers, so there is an adjustment there. But as we look down the road we see this possible bubble again coming through, which is very good news for our district.
“As we also see though with our lower enrollment, a concern to me is the loss in foundation aid, the per pupil payment. We have to be able to adjust to those fluctuations. I think we’re going to see those fluctuations because we don’t know exactly what our economy is going to do. What will be the impact of the oil activity or the potential industries that are coming to the area?
“So we need to be flexible within the framework of providing a quality education and making sure everything is there. We may need to add classes; we may need to take out a section here and there; which can be frustrating for people, but we still have to keep looking at what is fiscally responsible and what is best for students. It’s going to be a balancing act I think.”
What concerns do you have about school finances and budgeting?
Ross – “School finance and budgeting is near and dear to my heart. It’s finally at a point now where with the equity issue out of the way in terms of the commission that was held and the equity based financing we are receiving, that is one piece of the puzzle. Now we have to work on adequacy, and with that also will come funding.
“With this new increase in equity payments, still we have the disadvantage that we’re locked when it comes to property taxes because we raise one, it comes off the top and the bottom of the other two. That is a concern for me because I don’t think our population who sends students to Dickinson public actually really, truly understand that. It’s a very hard sell when we’re talking property tax relief and we’re really concerned with the bottom line and adequately using their funding for the betterment of students and making sure that those dollars are spent wisely on increasing student achievement and academic performance.”
Dietz – “Right now I don’t know enough. I haven’t looked at the real numbers, so I don’t know. I think we’re in a pretty good condition here relatively. I don’t know exactly what is happening across the state in other districts. I mean, some are in better shape than we are and some are probably worse.
“We talked about it at the planning meeting, that there wasn’t much we can do with that mill levy. What they did in that reduction of about 5 mills is about all they can do because of the state requirements that we hold that base of about 185 mills. Otherwise, we get punished.
“So there wasn’t much flexibility in adjusting the mill levy at all. I’ve done, not at the school level, but I’ve done this kind of stuff as the city auditor out in Medora 20 years ago, 25 years ago.”
Fehr – “It seems to me that decisions are easier to make when you don’t have money to play with. As now we are seeing how things are possibly going to change on the state level with the initiated measures and the governor’s initiative, we really right now can make only minimal changes to our budget because we need to be responsible and make sure that we have the money to run the school district.
“Depending on what happens in the November election and with the governor’s initiative and those other issues, we may need to make adjustments in the coming school year to our budget. That is always an issue that you wrestle with. You have declining enrollment, and then you have less foundation aid. You have more students, and then you need to spend money on adding classrooms and teachers. So it’s always a balancing act.
“Now that we see we are getting money into the district, we are able to pick up maintenance that has been deferred for several years and spruce up our buildings and do things we have needed to do and do things that are needed for the students.
“When you have the money of course, it’s always who needs it? Then you get to your second or third tier of what would be nice to have. And then it’s a prioritizing situation.
“I’m very interested in what happens in the November election so that the school district can move forward. We’ve already reduced those 5-plus mills from retiring the bond from the Dickinson high addition. But I don’t think we dare do anything else until we see what happens. I’m pretty conservative when it comes to finances because I always want to make sure we’re going to have enough.
“I’m just anticipating in the coming year we’re going to have to revise the budget. We need to approve the budget and send it in to the state before that election. Once we see what the wishes of the people are in the election, then we can go ahead and make the adjustments to the school district budget.”