Candidate Profiles: Cloquet School BoardCloquet School Board, District No. 94 (3 seats) Duane Buytaert • Gary ‘Hawk’ Huard • Jim Crowley • Brett Wienen
Question 1. How does your past experience, job or education qualify you to serve on the Cloquet School Board?
Question 2. Pick one single priority item that you believe would improve the Cloquet Public Schools in the most meaningful way. What would it be and why?
Question 3. Other than finding greater efficiencies, what areas would you look to trim first if there are unexpected budget deficits?
Question 4. What is your philosophy regarding the district’s reserve funds? Some argue that the fund should be spent to provide the best possible opportunities for students for as long as possible, while others argue the funds should be saved for as long as possible. What is the best policy for the district to follow going forward?
Question 5. Last year’s excess levy referendum failed narrowly. How important do you feel it is for the district to pass a new referendum and what should the district’s priorities be should voters approve it?
I’m a Cloquet graduate and currently work for Carlton County in the Technology Department. I have served two terms on the Cloquet School Board and look forward to a third.
There are no specific qualifications that make up what could be called “the perfect school board candidate” but I feel that my 10 years of work for the Superior School District has given me an insight into the various aspects of running a school district. My own children and their school experiences have helped influence many of my decisions and simply listening to the comments of my friends and neighbors help me be a good school board member.
One very important priority for the Cloquet School District is taking a look at space.
The elementary schools are full and programs that have existed at those sites for years have had to move out. As our student population continues to grow, we need to find space for additional classrooms and offerings. We also need to make sure that our current facilities and labs are keeping up with the technology and other needs of our 21st century learners.
Every year we look for better ways of doing things to help balance the budget. We’ve made a lot cuts over the years to various programs and departments and there is less and less to cut. No one wants to see larger classes or fewer opportunities for our students but as the cost of energy, insurance, and salaries continue to rise the board has to get creative in ways to save money.
For the past several years the District has put together a budget that relies on spending money from the reserve. That deficit spending has helped fund things like all-day kindergarten and the hiring of additional teachers to keep class sizes small. I think it’s important to continue to use those reserves as needed. If the District was to spend the entire reserve in one year and hire a multitude of staff they would be broke the following year and have to cut all those added positions – I’m not sure how that makes sense to anyone.
If the Cloquet community wants their schools to “keep up” with other Districts then the level of money coming in from the community in the form of local taxes needs to also keep up with the rest of the state. The current state average is about $800 while Cloquet schools receive just under $100. There is some current talk at the state level to help equalize this.
I have lived in Cloquet since 1966 working at Potlatch and attending UMD until I was hired by the district to teach P.E. at Washington School. Upon retiring in 2003 I was elected to the School Board. I have attended hundreds of board training hours and even traveled to a national board convention in San Diego on my own dime. My salary for board service is donated to the district for programs or projects that interest me; the art hanging devices at Garfield, musical instruments in the elementary, speakers for programs, Christmas gifts for needy kids, etc. I am totally committed to Cloquet’s kids; volunteering, proctoring tests, judging at inventor’s fair, etc. Being retired and eager to work with kids are great advantages to committed board members.
Not all our students are college bound and we don’t provide the services that many of them need. Our vocational education program has taken many cuts and every year the administration recommends more cuts to the very little we have left. We must return to a fully staffed program of advanced classes on wood work, metal shop, auto mechanics, electronics, drafting, as well as a full complement of business courses.
There are no easy cuts left. If trimming becomes necessary, I would refrain from cutting any personnel that go “eye to eye” with kids. The only other area I feel has room for cuts involves the benefits of administrators but I have not been able to make any progress on that over the past nine years.
This board has kept a good combination of both spending and acting conservatively with your tax monies. Never have we cut the amount recommended by the administration each year. We’ve been lucky to keep a stable student population and have not suffered the decline that has plagued other districts. Our employees have accepted minimal raises and changed health insurance plans to keep us on the right track. We’ve lost programs such as the most respected gifted and talented program in Minnesota, our orchestra, most of our vocational classes, some foreign language, and our classes sizes have risen. But, we did other things like adding the all-day kindergarten which will move toward closing the achievement gap as we monitor it over the next few years.
It was helpful to have voters reapprove our current levy. Many do not realize that was for only $98 a student. Cloquet is in the lower 20% of levy amounts. The average in Minnesota is $800 or eight times what we get per student. But, before we rush into asking for more money from our taxpayers, we must wait and see what the legislature has in store for us.
I was elected to the Cloquet School Board in 2004 and then appointed chair in 2007 and have served since. I was employed as a custodian for the district for 33 years and worked in every functioning school. I was born and raised in Cloquet and have been a life-long resident. My three children are graduates of the district. I also have six grandchildren, two of whom have graduated and four are still enrolled in Cloquet schools.
My priority for continued improvement would be that of low student/teacher ratios. This has been a priority in the primary grades and I would like to see this implemented in all grade levels. There is evidence to show that students are most successful when the ratio of students to teacher is low. My priority has been to make all students successful members of society. Lower class sizes can meet the needs of all students more effectively. In addition, we need to find better ways to support the talents of all of our students. I feel an evaluation of the vocational education program is another priority. The reality is not all of our students are college bound. We need to educate all of our students to fulfill their strengths, talents and individual needs.
I feel strongly that we need to assess from the top down. Rather than cutting programs in their entirety, let’s evaluate them in cost saving measures within them. For too long it has been the practice to place emphasis on certain activities and disregard others. I feel we need a complete evaluation/assessment of each department and develop a comprehensive plan on how each department could save money. This would include evaluating administration, food services, clerical, custodial, athletics, student organizations, etc. We need to work together as a district and realize all activities which benefit our students are equal and plan accordingly.
A plan needs to be developed where this fund is utilized to its fullest potential. The plan needs to meet these two points somewhere in the middle. I strongly believe we need a reserve fund. Do I feel that we need to keep the current amount in there? No. I feel this is worth debate. I also feel strongly that these funds should be used on such things such as vocational education, lowering or complete elimination of student fund raising and maintaining education and extra-curricular activities in all of the schools.
At this point I will not support an excess levy referendum. I will not support a levy until I am certain that we can express to all of the taxpayers of this district that we have extensively researched every department, every position and every dollar that has been spent. I feel there are issues of overtime abuse, special contracts and dollars spent outside of the district that need to be evaluated first before asking taxpayers to pay more. I feel there are many issues that need to be brought to the public’s attention before we can ask them to pay for more. Our job is to educate kids and not foot the bill for some special interest. That is my position and I feel strong regarding it. If the referendum were to pass, I feel strong about using the money for vocational education, and smaller class sizes throughout the whole district.
I would be a voice for Cloquet’s families with children in school. I am a Cloquet graduate, reside in Cloquet, and work at Sappi. I would like to see Cloquet students have the educational and extra-curricular opportunities I had as a student in Cloquet. I do not have family attending or employed by the school district so I can look openly and objectively at issues and make a decision that is best for all students and the district.
My top priority would be to offer more educational opportunities for kids by keeping class sizes small and class offerings large. The schools need to prepare students for whatever path they choose after school. The college-in-the schools program helps prepare students for college but we need vocational classes to help prepare students for vocational school or the
My top priority would be keeping teachers in the classroom. All other areas would be fair game when looking for ways to reduce spending. Also, when positions are vacated, they should be evaluated to determine if the position is needed or if it can be reduced or combined with other positions.
The best option would be to use reserve funds to take a balanced approach when looking at cuts. For example, if the district needs to cut $200,000 from the budget, take $100,000 from the reserve fund and cut $100,000. This would help soften the initial blow that cuts create.
It would be nice to increase the existing referendum (currently at approx. $100/student) some. The state average is considerably more than Cloquet’s (over $900/student). Additional money would allow the Cloquet schools to refrain from yearly budget cuts, maintain smaller class sizes and add back the 10 student contact days that were recently eliminated from the calendar.