Six candidats vie for Monticello School Board seats

Three Monticello District 882 School Board seats are up for re-election on the Nov. 5 General Election ballot.
Current board members Liz Leitch-Sell and Scott Hill have decided not to seek re-election, leaving Robbie Smith as the only incumbent in the 2013 race.
Five new candidates join Smith on the ballot: Carol McNaughton, Kerry Schmitz, Nicole Soucy, Bill Spartz and Karen Vetsch. Recently, the Monticello Times contacted each candidate for a pre-election profile. Here is a look at the people behind the names on next month’s school board ballot:

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Carol McNaughton

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the school board?
Now that two of McNaughton’s three sons are off to college, the remaining child is a sixth grader at the middle school, she felt it was a good time to get more involved in the school district and to find out firsthand how the district’s financial and educational decisions are driven.
What experiences do you have that makes you a good candidate for a seat on the school board?
McNaughton has been actively involved at Little Mountain Elementary since her oldest son entered school; she has volunteered at least once per week in each of their classes to help students and teachers. After spending so much time in the schools and seeing the wide range of student needs that teachers navigate on a day-to-day basis, McNaughton said she feels it is important to support those teachers and advocate for the kids who need additional help.
If you earn a seat on the school board, what would be your main goals?
McNaughton said her main goal would be to help every student’s story be a successful one, and giving teachers the tools that they need to give students a safe, healthy learning environment.

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Kerry Schmitz

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the school board?
Schmitz has two children at Little Mountain Elementary, as well as family members and friends in the district, and she said she would like to represent the community and help to ensure Monticello’s schools continue to grow and attract great teachers and employees so students can have a great learning environment. She grew up in a family of teachers and said she has been raised to believe that education is very important, and she would like to help make sure every student in Monticello gets the opportunity to succeed.
What experiences do you have that makes you a good candidate for a seat on the school board?
Schmitz works as a financial adviser in Buffalo, which she said has given her experience with management, working on teams and budgeting. She feels these skills will be a useful asset as a member of the school board. As a community member for nine years, Schmitz feels that she has taken the time to listen to others and has gained an understanding of the local school system.
If you earn a seat on the school board, what would be your main goals?
Schmitz said she isn’t coming into her school board candidacy with certain goals; rather, she said as a board member her main goal would be to review all issues that come before her fairly and to work with everyone involved to make the best decisions for students.

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Robbie Smith

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the school board?
When he initially decided to run for a seat on the board four years ago, Smith wanted to play a part in the decision-making that goes on in the school district, to impact the education Monticello students receive and to be involved in the schools’ activities and events. Now that he’s running for a second term, Smith said he’d like to see the work they have done continue. He feels that a lot of learning goes on during a board member’s first term, and said he’d like to continue learning and helping with decision-making. Smith said he has enjoyed his time on the board so far and feels it is an honor to serve.
What experiences do you have that makes you a good candidate for a seat on the school board?
Smith said he has lived in Monticello for 22 years, and during that time he has been on the parks commission, planning and zoning commission and Monticello’s city council in addition to his term on the school board. He feels he can listen to both sides of an issue and weigh those out to make a good decision. Smith said he has gotten to know the staff at many of the schools through being active in his two daughters’ education, both of whom are now in high school. He is also a youth leader and a mission trip leader for youth at his church, so he has been able to get to know students in the district and connect with them.
If you earn a seat on the school board, what would be your main goals?
Next year the transition will be made to state-funded, all-day kindergarten, and Smith said many decisions are on the horizon as the district implements that new program. He also mentioned a levy that will be expiring in a few years, but generally said he did not come on to the board with an agenda or issues he wanted to solve; he just wanted to be a part of the decision-making process for whatever issues arise and to help get the word out about the great things he feels Monticello schools are doing.

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Nicole Soucy

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the school board?
A current board member suggested that Soucy consider running for an open school board seat during her recent involvement with helping to create a school garden at Little Mountain Elementary, and Soucy said she decided to do so because it fits her interests of being active in educational outreach. She is an active member of LME’s parent-teacher organization, and she does hands-on science engagement classes with students of all ages as part of her job as a toxicologist at 3M.
What experiences do you have that makes you a good candidate for a seat on the school board?
Soucy has a Ph.D. in pharmacology and toxicology, and she said her career is heavily focused on working on teams with large groups of people who are all working towards a common objective. Soucy said she has project management experience and that her volunteer efforts all focus on education outreach, including spending two years on the Society of Toxicology’s national K-12 education committee and currently serving on the local chapter of this same organization’s K-12 education committee.
If you earn a seat on the school board, what would be your main goals?
Soucy said she is passionate about making sure the district has good, strong science education. She feels there is a big emphasis on preparing for state testing in schools, and she would like to encourage fun, hands-on learning activities for students to take place throughout the year, not just after testing is complete. Soucy said she thinks Monticello has a good, strong school district, and she currently has a third- and fifth-grade student in the district.

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Bill Spartz

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the school board?
Spartz said he has been following school news for years, and with two long-standing board members leaving at the end of the year he thought he would be a good candidate for one of the open seats. Spartz currently has three high school-age students in the district. He feels Monticello has a strong school district and he’d like to help continue that success as well as help to improve it.
What experiences do you have that makes you a good candidate for a seat on the school board?
Spartz is currently a member of the city’s planning and zoning commission, a position he has held since May 2004. He is also a union business agent for the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has given him experience with contract negotiations. Spartz said he also serves on the board of a joint multi-employer healthcare fund called a Taft-Hartley fund, which he said has given him experience with healthcare, pension and other issues that school board members face when working with district staff.
If you earn a seat on the school board, what would be your main goals?
Spartz said that in the early 2000s the state changed the way it funded schools, making individual districts more reliant on local property taxes. Because of this, he feels it is important for schools to market themselves effectively. Spartz said that schools are part of the community infrastructure, and he’d like to see more community-building events like the recent Homecoming football game.

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Karen Vetsch

Why did you decide to run for a seat on the school board?
Vetsch said she chose to run for a seat on the school board because she has a strong desire to see that Monticello’s education system is offering citizens a top-notch education with responsible spending habits. She and her husband are operating partners, along with her husband’s parents, at the restaurant Russell’s on the Lake in Big Lake, and four of their five children are currently in Monticello’s schools. Vetsch said she loves the Monticello community wants to serve her community as a school board member because education and children are her passions.
What experiences do you have that makes you a good candidate for a seat on the school board?
Vetsch spent 20 years working in early childhood education; 12 of those years she was the director of a large child care center. She said this experience of managing a staff of 30 and serving over 150 children at a time, along with experience with marketing and finances of the family business, gives her a good background for the type of duties school board members face.
If you earn a seat on the school board, what would be your main goals?
As a board member, Vetsch said she’d like to see Monticello schools be well marketed to keep and attract students to the district at a time when there is more school choice than ever.
She feels athletics, the arts and community-building student body functions are important to emphasize as part of the district’s marketing strategy. She is also interested in ensuring faculty has up-to-date technology and would like to see continuing training made available for the district’s special education teachers.
The Monticello Chamber of Industry & Commerce will host a school board candidate forum Monday, Oct. 21, starting at 7 p.m. in the Mississippi Room at the Monticello Community Center.
According to Chamber Board Chair Tara Thurber, the forum is expected to last until 8:30 p.m. Thurber confirmed that five out of the six school board candidates would participate in the forum. She said Bill Spartz would not be able to attend because of previously scheduled business travel.

Freelancer Meghan Gutzwiller covers education and the Monticello School District.

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