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2016 Voters Guide: Aitkin School Board

Aitkin School Board (Elect three)

John Chute

Age: 58.

Employment: Owner/operator diversified agribusiness including beef, gardens and excavating.

Public office experience: Current—Aitkin school board; agriculture organizations—Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association Legislative Chair, County Farm Bureau board, Minnesota Farm Bureau Tax Task Force, and Strategic Planning Committees.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "To provide a broad and balanced educational opportunity at a price the taxpayers and voters (that I work for) can afford. Academics are a priority over extracurricular. To be part of changing the administrative and board leadership. As my record shows, I favor maintenance and realistic updates over new construction."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "Leadership needs a positive 'can do,' 'willing to look at options' in educational and management structure as seen in various places, broadening our variety of offerings and enhancing others, some through technology and collaborating with neighbors and others through distance learning options. Thus allowing students to explore career options before specializing after high school. Done right there could be a savings, all in an efficient and economically sound way. I am independent and think outside the box for better ways to do things."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I do more homework on issues than most, not an automatic head nodder to the spin of the moment. Because of business, work and organizations I belong to, I travel more than most; state, national and international. Having a keen interest in schools, I find time to visit them and check out things that they do—goods and bads—from boards, administration, buildings, parking and ball fields. I am a broad based, 'good for the whole,' 'where there is a will, there is a way,' not pushing a personal agenda candidate."

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Dennis Hasskamp

Age: 59.

Employment: I own and operate Hasskamp Bros. Well Drilling.

Public office experience: "Currently chairman of the school board and have held that and other offices during my 20 years as a school board member."

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "I would like to continue serving Aitkin ISD 1 by keeping the district financially sound while providing all of our students with the best education possible. I have no specific agenda, as there are many different issues that our board will face in the future."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "The same way I have for the past 20 years as a school board member. By listening to all sides of the argument and making an informed decision based on facts."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "My experience as a board member makes me different from the other candidates. Knowing the history behind past decisions will enable me to make more informed decisions based on all of the facts, and not just those presented by administration. I have two grandchildren attending Aitkin Public Schools, and their future education is of the greatest importance to me."

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Renee Kostick

Age: 46.

Employment: University of Minnesota Extension.

Public office experience: None.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "I would like to explore options to upgrading our schools to ensure that they provide a safe and engaging environment for learning and allow us to continue to keep class sizes manageable. Upgrades to our schools are necessary and there are many options to explore."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "I believe we need to research many other school districts and how they have managed upgrades or construction options within their districts. I believe we need to get out in the communities to seek input from all in the district. Leg work to bring the issues to the public and gain insight from others in the community is key. I believe we need to hold round table discussions out in the district and not expect citizens to come to us to get information."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "Most importantly I have two children aged 10 and 9 who are in Rippleside Elementary and I believe they deserve a quality education as do all children in our district. I have lived in the Aitkin community for 22 years and have worked for the University of Minnesota Extension locally for 22 years. I work with the 4-H Youth Development Program which provides hands on learning for youth to develop life skills through mastery of a variety of skills. My educational background is in education with a focus on youth."

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Todd Kukowski

Age: 47.

Employment: Bay Lake Marine, owner.

Public Office: None.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "It is time to put our students first. With so much of the recent focus on the school bond referendum, we have forgotten what we are here for which is to provide a well-rounded, quality educational experience for all our students."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "Tap into our best assets: teachers, coaches and volunteers. As a school board, we need to listen to them as well as the parents and the public. We need to spend the money we have now wisely, knowing that spending a little money now may save a lot of money later. Replacing teachers and buildings are expensive; I think we need to invest time and money into both. I will push for more support for the coaches and volunteers. Both of these have overwhelming pride and passion for what they do."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I have the unique background of being a conservative business person, who has to watch every dime spent. I had the privilege of working with the youth at First Lutheran for five years as a confirmation small group leader. I have been on numerous boards and committees for business and youth, including: North Central Marine Association, Marine manufacture advisory boards, Cub Scout Pack 52, Aitkin Football Association. My strongest asset is my family. With a wife who has taught and coached, as well as three children in the district, I understand the needs pivotal to our school system."

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Ginny A. Lee

Age: 61.

Employment: Currently self-employed with a program of therapeutic and able-bodied horse riding lessons; program coordinator for a group home in Aitkin; formerly editor of a local newspaper; publisher of a magazine focusing on waterfront owners in Minnesota; publisher of a magazine and white paper journal for a national environmental nonprofit; and accountant for an insurance brokerage firm.

Public office experience: "None. Although I know Robert's Rule of Order, I believe that common sense is more important to bring to the table. I've been thinking about running for school board for several years, but my husband was transportation supervisor for ISD#1, so I deemed it inappropriate. He has now retired."

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "I would like to bring disparate, often dissenting opinions together for the betterment of the district and the advancement of education in Aitkin School District. District taxpayers have made themselves clear regarding new facilities; the existing facilities need thoughtful, cost-effective maintenance. District employees have stated a need for bolstered morale."

Specifically how would you accomplish your goals? "One of my philosophies is, 'If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.' I would like to be part of the solution to today's problems, and in planning for the future. I will encourage anyone with concerns or recommendations regarding the function of our school to make those thoughts known, and be part of the solution as well. Everyone's opinions are valuable; the school district affects each and every citizen of this district. I will work to make decisions that reflect the opinions of all district taxpayers, and all people directly connected to the school system."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I have, and continue to be, involved with many students through The Learning Stable, a program of lessons and boarding opportunities for horse enthusiasts in the Aitkin area. I communicate well with students and parents. My business background provides a foundation for solid financial decisions. I understand there is a limit to available dollars; those dollars need to be spent efficiently and effectively. I am not a single-issue candidate; I see many areas that need melding together. I would like to apply myself to being part of the solution to current and future district challenges."

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Anthony R. Miller

Did not respond.

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Steve Moreland

Age: 48.

Employment: Aitkin County Sheriff's Office dispatcher.

Public office experience: None.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "My main objective is to make the school system as safe and secure as we can with the funds available while being fiscally responsible."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "I know some of the current board members and have kept myself informed on how hard it has been to move forward in regard to facilities. I have seen the results of the last two referendums and see what the voters believe should be done. My desire is to find a financially responsible way to solve these problems reflecting the will of the people's vote."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I have been involved with the Long range task force and also have two 8-year-old boys in the Aitkin School system. I will be affected financially and personally by the board's decisions which mean I have a stake in the decisions made. We as a community will need to work together to solve our facilities issues and I believe I can work with anyone to get the most out of the funds provided. In short, I care about the Aitkin School district."

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Terry Nies

Age: 51.

Employment: Beet farmer.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "If I get elected I would like to focus on academics more and athletics less. Also we need to really focus on maintaining our buildings. We need to live within a budget. We also need a long-term plan."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "We need to take a good look at our buildings and determine by prioritizing which is most important and when to fix or remodel. I believe that maybe the school board should be more hands on instead of just getting information from other sources."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I think that since I and my two kids (one just this spring) have graduated from Aitkin schools I have a pretty good feel for the school and it's faculty. As a farmer I have to live within a budget, sometimes with income only once a year. As a person being self employed I need to be self disciplined. As a candidate I just claim to be a common citizen with common sense. Also I would try change the way our schools are being run."

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Brian Orlowski

Age: 43.

Employment: Bear Creek Real Estate/Bear Creek Builders, broker, owner.

Public office experience: Four years ISD No. 1 school board. Serving one year as chair.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "Use our tax dollars wisely while ensuring our children have a safe school, with great teachers, modern technology, and classrooms that promote learning. I would also like to see a strategic plan put in place and create more public trust with the school board."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "School board is not a one person show, it is a group of seven people with different personalities, so I would work with my board members to understand the importance of a strategic plan in order to accomplish our goals. My decisions would involve talking to the public to know where they stand, since I represent them, not me. I will help stay within budget and use our tax dollars wisely when voting. I will work with the board to create more transparency with the public by using social media and other sources to keep the public in the loop."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I'm very familiar with the district budget and fiscal position, daily operations, staff, equipment, busses, and facilities. As a former board member I participated in many Minnesota education seminars, served on technology, facilities, and personnel committees. I have a three-phase certification in leadership development through the Minnesota School Board Association and have developed relationships with people in education outside of our district. My experience as a business owner, previous time invested in education, and commitment to our children make me the best candidate for the job. If you don't believe me just ask someone who has worked with me."

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Joe Ryan

Age: 55.

Employment: Business/sales consultant.

Public office experience: None.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "I do not bring a personal agenda to this position. If elected, my focus will be on providing thoughtful and effective decisions and stewardship for the Aitkin School District. I want our children to receive the best education and experience possible so they are prepared to be lifelong learners."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "First, I am prepared to listen to the stakeholders in our district. Our administrators and teaching professionals are involved daily in the lives of students. Parents want the best possible educational outcomes for their children and the role they play is critical. Business owners and our community members also have a vested interest in seeing Aitkin's educational programs succeed. I will welcome input and understand the importance of building consensus to solve problems. Secondly, I will formulate my decisions with the interests of improving education for our students and being fiscally responsible for our stakeholders when making decisions for Aitkin."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I graduated from Aitkin high School in 1979 and received a B.A. degree from St. John's University in 1983. For 23 years I operated a growing sales business in central and northern Minnesota, Ryan Recognition Inc. /Jostens. I spent six years as a regional sales manager for Jostens Inc., overseeing 28 independent reps in six states. My experience was in the education market. In business, being able to listen to the concerns and needs of customers, enabled me to provide valuable services and solutions. My decisions will be thoughtful and considerate of their impact today and for future generations."

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William Schmidt

Age: 69.

Employment: Retired physician.

Public office experience: Served several years on Aitkin County Forest Advisory Committee.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "Prioritize repairs on the school that need to be done. Then we should pay for them with the $6 million we have in the bank already and use local contractors. My prescription for the school board is to spend wisely, not spend foolishly."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "I would like a scheduled maintenance program, so we can get a good organized handle on the repairs that are ongoing, so we can fix them before they break. Fiscal responsibility is what I'm preaching."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I was in business all of my life, self-employed or running another company and always managed to make a profit. By carefully spending and managing a business, I've demonstrated I'm capable of financial astuteness by careful expenditures and not wasting money."

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Brian Smith

Age: 46.

Employment: Self-employed (Lightning Motorsports Aitkin).

Public office experience: None.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "If elected I would hold the administration accountable for what happens in the schools. I would focus on the students and not a new building. I would focus on providing a safe environment for students from bullying from their peers and staff."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "I will attempt to get the other board members to see that they're being deceived and manipulated by the administration and the dictatorship needs to come to an end. Because first and foremost a school board is suppose to look out for the students. Education and safety of the students is not a line item on the school board's agenda—it's the only item. The school board should not continue to protect the administration but hold them accountable and require more transparency."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I will listen to all suggestions before making a decision. As a board member I will do my due diligence to find out the truth before voting. I have been to all but one board meeting since November 2015. High academic standards, transparency and accountability will secure a world-class education, not a new school. When a school is a bully to the students, teachers and parents and the superintendent is not being held accountable, we need a change. A vote for me, will help secure that change."

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Tammy Wickstrom

Age: 47.

Employment: Grantee specialist.

Public office experience: Clerk of Logan Township for 10 years.

What do you want to accomplish if elected? "The school board and administration needs to work to build consensus and community across the school district. I want to bring more transparency to the financial expenditures, school board meetings, maintenance issues and district goals. I also want to make the schools more welcoming and inclusive for all families."

Specifically, how would you accomplish your goals? "School board members and the administration need to state their positions up front. Discussion regarding agenda items should be heard at meetings. School strengths and needs should be public. Maintenance issues should be addressed in a timely manner. I also want to make sure that the voices of all community members are heard. The schools should be open and friendly for the community. As a school board member I will tell you my position on items. You and I may disagree, but I will listen and state my position in return."

What abilities or qualifications separate you from your competition? Why are you the best candidate for the job? "I have a master's degree in family life education. I am an Aitkin graduate and have three children currently attending. I was the director of early education for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe for over 11 years. In that role I oversaw three educational sites, wrote grants, managed budgets, worked with school boards and parent policy council, and had over 90 staff under my direction. I recently took a job with ICF to provide training and technical assistance to tribal Head Start across the country. I have extensive experience and training in the field of education."