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Paynesville Press - January 7, 2003

Dosdall, Flanders retire from school board

By Michael Jacobson

When the Paynesville Area School Board meets next week, its first meeting in 2004, for the first time in nearly two decades neither Maurice Dosdall nor Pat Flanders will be members of the board.

The two former board members - neither of whom ran for re-election last fall - have retired with a total of 31 years of experience on the school board. (Replacing them on the board will be former board member Lowell Haagenson and former administrator Bonnie Strobbe; incumbent Gretchen O'Fallon also was re-elected to another four-year term on the board.)

Dosdall was first elected to the board in May 1986 and served three terms (nine years) until 1995. Then, after a year's absence, he was elected again to the board in 1996 and served through 2003, a total of 16 and a half years on the school board.

Flanders was elected to the board in May 1989, took office in July 1989, and served until December 2003, a total of 14 and a half years. He also served as chairman of the board for the past five years, since February 1998.

Dosdall said he was interested in serving on the school board since his wife took a teaching job here in 1948. In the 1960s, he was member of the advisory building committee for the new high school, built in 1969. Then in the 1980s, he ran for the board and was elected.

Dosdall felt serving on the school board was a good way to do his civic duty, especially since it was something where he had interest. Schools, according to Dosdall, are the "government agency that's closest to the people." Either you have your own kids in school or you know someone who does, he said.

Flanders' goals, when he joined the board in 1989, were: to solve the general fund crisis (which was done sooner than expected due to the district's first levy referendum in 1989 and due to growing enrollment in the early 1990s); to build a new middle school (a needed project since the old middle school was close to being condemned but several attempts in the 1980s had been defeated at the polls) which was done in the early 1990s; and to heal the split on the board, which frequently voted 4-3 when he joined.

Flanders is also proud of the auditorium/fitness center project, one of his later goals. These needed facilities had failed at the polls before, but by including sports and the fine arts in one project it finally passed.

His biggest surprise in serving on the school board was the time it required. He expected serving on the school board to consist of two meetings per month, but with committee meetings, informal discussions with staff, and with extra meetings for special projects (negotiating teams, building committees, etc.) he estimates that he had at least a half dozen meetings per month.

So, over 14 and a half years, he attended over 1,000 meetings, more than three times the number he expected. "It's a lot more time-intensive than I would have ever imagined," he said. "You think you're going to go to two meetings per month. That's just the start."

Dosdall agreed that serving on the school board is more time consuming than most people realize, with board meetings, committee meetings, and negotiating teams.

Flanders said he will miss interaction with school staff and will miss invigorating debates, which he thinks are fun and healthy and lead to better decisions, on the board.

He was pleased that at his last meeting in December, the board discussed algebra and whether to give high school credits for taking it in eighth grade at length. Both sides had the best interest of students at heart, and no clear cut answers emerged about which way was the best to do this.

Flanders was pleased that the board reached a compromise on the issue, and even then it was not unanimous, which is fine with him because he thinks it's OK to vote no. On contentious issues, there should be some no votes, he said.

It is good to have a seven-person board, especially with diverse members, said Dosdall. That's the purpose of a board, since one person can't think of all sides of every issue. A range of ideas is important, said Dosdall.

Dosdall said Flanders was a good chairman, obviously well prepared for meetings, and always ready to participate in board discussions. "He's always got something to say," said Dosdall.

Dosdall characterized himself as more reserved, as someone who likes to listen to debate, make decisions as a board member, and let administrators operate the schools based on board directives. "I like to listen to the rest of them and then express my opinion. I learn from other people," he said, having learned that style from former board member Larry Fleck.

Both Dosdall and Flanders agreed that Paynesville has an excellent school system. "I really think we have excellent staff overall," said Flanders. "We have quality programs here."

"We're still running a good program on the basics," added Dosdall. "Overall, I think the district has a good school, and it's run as efficiently as we can. We're doing everything we can with the money we get."

Flanders' greatest frustrations in serving on the school board were changes in state requirements. He views the current curriculum changes, for instance, as more politicized than ever before.

Personally, he said he would be less tolerant and less patient in complying to new requirements than the teaching staff, which he said displays extreme professionalism in working hard to meet these changing requirements.

Another frustration for him was having to pass another levy - first rejected in November 2000 and then approved in April 2001 - after the state rolled their existing levy into general funding. That was particularly unpopular because the district had just passed the auditorium/fitness center project the year before, then was shocked when the state rolled their existing levy into the general formula, forcing the district to pass another levy, said Flanders.

School boards, like cities and counties, should be able to raise their levy without voter approval, he said, since the trend now is for any funding increases to come as raises to the levy.

School districts - whose funding is controlled by enrollment and state spending - will always face lean funding cycles and have ups and downs when it comes to their general funds, said Flanders. The school district was in a lean cycle when he came on the board and is in another lean cycle as he leaves.

While the funding pendulum swings quickly, boards usually try to hang in there, he said, and avoid making cuts in programs until absolutely necessary, even though earlier cuts make balancing the finances easier.

Big issues that the school board will continue to face, Dosdall predicted, would be: meeting state and federal standards, especially curriculum requirements, and covering the costs for these unfunded mandates; keeping an eye on finances; and continuing to have competitive course offerings in an era of greater competition between schools.

Both Dosdall and Flanders feel that it was time for someone new to serve on the school board, though that doesn't make retiring easy.

"I've been doing it for so long," said Flanders. "It becomes part of your life."

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