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Paynesville Press - Oct. 27, 2010

Paynesville School Board
Dave Johnson

David Johnson, 44, is running for a second term on the school board, first being elected in 2005. A 1984 PHS grad, he earned his bachelor's degree from Gustavus Adolphus College and his juris doctor from Hamline University School of Law. He works as an attorney at Amundson & Johnson, P.A., in Paynesville. He and his wife Dee have three children: Ella (a sixth grader), Eric (a fourth grader), and Luke (a fourth grader).

Why are you running for school board? I am interested in serving on the school board because I like to have personal involvement in my own kid's education as well as the other kids in the district. I want to see Paynesville schools be as strong as possible.

Describe your experiences with kids and explain how these will help you make decisions on the board? I get involved in some difficult family situations through my work as an attorney and see first hand obstacles that many children must overcome. I also am quite involved with kids through coaching hockey and baseball. I believe that my experiences with children and my experiences in general shape the decisions that I make as a board member. I see the importance of a strong school structure for all kids and my decisions are made with this foundation.

What accomplishments would you point to as reasons for your re-election? I have been a board member for five years. During this period, the school has been financially stable, and program cuts have not been required as they have elsewhere. I think efforts to keep high school students at Paynesville High School in our programs rather than losing them to other post secondary options have been successful and have helped the school financially. Technology has improved greatly in the last five years. I believe that Paynesville schools are well above average when considering technological capabilities. I also believe that we have been very successful in our staffing as we have added numerous outstanding individuals to our staff.

The district has not made Adequate Yearly Progress in three years (and in four of the past seven years). How should the district improve its curriculum and test scores? The district is following the Districts in Need of Improvement (DINI) Plan as required for schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress. We are currently in the second year of this plan. Results from the first year are positive as test scores improved, although not to the point where Adequate Yearly Progress was achieved in every category.

The district will obviously continue to follow that plan to pursue AYP. I don't believe that all of our resources and curriculum focus should be on achieving AYP as we run the risk of neglecting traditional teaching lessons. The goals for curriculum should focus not only on AYP, but also on other academic achievements which are more difficult to define.

What measures should the board take to deal with declining enrollment? Declining enrollment has the largest impact on the budget. We must continue to forecast the financial picture for the future with scenarios involving declining enrollment. Although it is not anticipated that declining enrollment will continue, such scenarios suggest that current budgeting decisions need to be somewhat conservative. The board must continue to make all budgeting decisions while considering the possibility of lower future enrollments.

How important are strong extracurricular programs to our school district? What should the board be doing to encourage and enhance these programs? I believe that extracurricular activities are extremely important as they combine with academics to shape the students and prepare the kids for the future. The board recently supported a corporate sponsorship program which will provide a direct financial benefit to extracurriculars. The board supported a change to ordering Bulldog clothing which will benefit extracurriculars. These programs need to continue.

The board also needs to provide a framework where parental and community support are stressed. Recently, David Hartmann spoke to a group of athletes and parents about the true benefit of extracurriculars and the need for support from players, coaches, and fans. Such support is what makes the extracurricular programs succeed, and the board needs to continue to communicate either directlyor through excellent speakers such as David Hartmann about the importance of supporting the programs.

Paynesville also has an outstanding Community Education program. The board needs to fully support this as there is a direct relationship between Community Education and extracurricular activities.

For the past four years, the district has exceeded its goal for a general fund balance (more than $1 million). What should the district maintain as a healthy fund balance? The board has a goal of maintaining a fund balance of six to eight percent of our yearly expenditures. This would put the fund balance more in the $500,000 to $700,000 range. I would be more concerned about having too high a fund balance if we were undergoing program cuts.

It's tricky to budget accurately. Our superintendent forecasts conservatively and the final numbers have been much more favorable than the budgeted numbers. That is why the fund balance has grown even though we have passed deficit budgets.

The question becomes, should we be adding teachers, programs, etc. to get the fund balance in the targeted range? With state funding issues and the possibility of losing our current operating levy, it's a tough question to answer.

As district funds allow, where do you see funding needs in the school district? I don't believe that there are great funding needs in any of our current programs because programs that have been underfunded in the past have been cut altogether. The programs that we are currently running are efficient and effective. While it would be nice to provide all the programs with additional funding, it is not realistic at this point.

If district funds would allow for more generous spending, I would like to see additional programming rather than boosting our current programming. This would be both within the curriculum and for extracurricular activities, as well as continuing to improve our technology.

The school board approved a $16.5-million renovation and repair project in August that includes a $14 million tax increase. Why did you vote for this project and tax increase? I voted for this project and the associated tax increase because it is necessary to improve our buildings.

However since the vote has taken place there has been significant public reaction, particularly to the size of the project. I am hopeful that the board will take another look at this project and ensure that the final improvements are entirely necessary. We will attempt to limit the tax burden on the district residents and businesses.

A proposal to raise the district's operating levy was rejected by voters in November 2009. Do you support asking voters to increase this tax in November 2011? Why or why not? I do support asking voters to pass a levy referendum in the fall of 2011. Our school would not likely be able to offer an effective core curriculum without a voter-sponsored tax levy. The current state funding scheme requires that a local levy is passed. There simply is not adequate funding. The current operating levy expires in 2013. If we lose this funding and are unable to pass a new levy, the district will suffer severe financial consequences. There was a bill proposed last spring in the Minnesota Legislature which would have allowed existing operating levies to continue after expiration without voter approval. This measure did not pass, so Paynesville School District will be in a position where it is absolutely necessary to get voter approval.

What is the proper role of of the school board in making personnel decisions? I feel that it is not the duty of board members to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the school. I believe the entire board should be directly involved only in hiring the superintendent and the principals. In addition, I feel that it would be beneficial for individual board members to sit in on hiring committees for other administrative positions.

For all other hires, the board approves the personnel decisions but must rely on the hiring committees in doing so.

How much weight should board members give committee recommendations? It depends on the situation and the purpose of the committee. I believe that in most cases it is absolutely necessary to rely on the recommendations of the committee. However, I have learned from the recent Johnson Controls project that in weightier matters, the board members have a duty to become independently involved and informed.

Should school board meetings be televised on the local Channel 8? I would not have a problem with televising board meetings. I think it would be an opportunity for the school board to become more transparent and for the public to become more informed.

How should the school board - and the school district - encourage and maintain community support for the Paynesville Area Public Schools? We need to get the public more involved. I mean this in two ways. I think we have learned from the Johnson Controls project that it is absolutely necessary to provide the public with information on certain matters which significantly impact the district and its taxpayers. In this way, the district is providing information to the public, and in turn the district would hope for community support.

The other way to encourage and maintain public support is for the public to take pride and ownership in its schools. If we achieve excellence in academics, the arts, and athletics, the public will take pride and ownership. I believe that such pride and ownership would automatically result in public support. The job is ours to provide for excellence, but we need your support to do so.

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