Archived Story

Austin school board gets new blood

Published 11:16am Wednesday, November 7, 2012

One thing’s for sure: Austin Public Schools has a lot of new blood on its board.

While incumbent Dick Lees secured his sixth term on the Austin Public Schools Board, newcomers Don Leathers and Mary Jane Kestner will join him. That means a majority of board members with a year’s experience or less come January. Board Members Angie Goetz and Greg Larson are completing their first year on the board.

Lees believes having three board members with experience — Kathy Green, Don Fox and himself — will be a benefit while incoming and first-term board members offer their perspectives on board policy.

“It takes a while to know what’s really going on,” he said. “And with our 23 committees, then you have to attend state conventions, state meetings, things like this, to try to keep up, just to keep up with things.”

Kestner wasn’t sure at first if she would win a seat, but after her strong showing in the school board primary this August — Kestner came in second behind Lees in the primary but garnered the most votes Tuesday — she felt she had a strong chance to become a board member.

“I feel very excited to be working with the people I’ve met to be on the school board, and I’m just looking forward to being useful,” she said.

Don Leathers was pleased to see the results as well.

“It was nice to see those numbers,” he said.

In addition, Leathers said he’s looking forward to working together with his fellow board members and district staff to set the district on a good path for the next few years.

It’s that willingness to collaborate which new school board members need, according to Austin Superintendent David Krenz.

“The biggest thing is the ability to collaborate and work with their fellow board members, and then secondly the willingness and openness to work with the administrative team in implementing policies they’re going to lay out,” Krenz said. “Listening to the impact that a certain policy would have in operations would be critical, and also their willingness to voice any concerns, honestly, with the administration.”

Krenz believes board members begin to feel comfortable in office within about six to 10 months, but it takes quite a bit of time and training to get up to speed on local, state and national education policy. Board members have to go through training with the Minnesota School Board Association at the beginning of their term, as well as review local policies on a monthly basis. In addition, board members learn about education policy at state education conventions.

A school board is different from other governing boards, in that school board members don’t run day-to-day operations for a school district but rather set the guidelines for district staff. To that end, collaboration and listening will be each new board member’s best assets. After all, as Krenz said, many new board members decide to serve on a school board for two big reasons:

“To make sure we’re offering the right courses for the kids, and that the buildings are safe and secure for the kids when they come to school,” he said.

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