FAIRMONT - Four candidates are vying for three open seats on the Fairmont Area school board, seeking election Nov. 6.
Nicole Green and Rufus Rodriguez are challenging incumbents Dan Brookens and Julie Laue for four-year terms.
Since Dan Brookens took office four years ago, the district has torn down Budd School, built an addition at Fairmont Elementary, torn down Lincoln School, sold the bus garage, changed food service companies, cut the budget from $18.1 million to $15.5 million and coordinated the founding of Ag Academy.
It was a term he hopes will allow the next four years to be focused on test scores, classroom needs and overall academic success.
Brookens ran for the board initially because he supported the idea of consolidating the district down to two campuses, but his experience has taught him aspects of running a district he was not even aware of to start.
"As soon as I got on the board, I knew it was something I wanted to do for a long, long time," he said. "It has been the most educational experience I have ever had."
His continuing desire to serve on the board reflects his desire to see the district continue to grow and succeed despite continued financial pressure.
"Now we have the loose ends tied up - Lincoln School, etc. - hopefully we will be able to concentrate on performance."
With six children enrolled at Fairmont Area Schools, Green gets an insider's view of how things work there.
She is involved in the Parents and Educators Teaming Together (PETT) at the elementary school and the Parent Advisory Board at the high school. In addition, she has been a classroom volunteer for at least one classroom every year for the past 12 years.
But she didn't seriously consider running for school board until she listened to the debate on science curriculum requirements two years ago.
"I thought it could have been handled differently," she said, adding that she did some research on her own and had a plan that she felt should have been heard, but the decisions already had been made.
Specifically, her interests lie in curriculum and policy, and finding creative solutions for students.
"Kids learn at all different levels and ways," she said. "There are other ways to look at things, not everything has to fit in the box."
One way she has put her belief into action is through an innovative program she initiated last spring.
Her daughter, a junior at the time, had to take a study hall because of electives cut to save the district money. But Kylie didn't particularly want to have a study hall. With the help of her mother, a program was piloted to allow responsible students to go to the elementary school to help teachers burdened with large classroom sizes. Seventeen students participated in the program.
Green said her family is originally from Montana, and a large part of their decision to stay in Minnesota is the quality of the schools.
"I think our school board has been really frugal," she said. "We cannot lose sight of that - what makes our community is our schools."
Green believes in being active in the schools is important for a school board member.
"I love it," she said. "I love being in the schools. Going to the board meeting and committee meetings isn't enough. You have to be in the schools."
Julie Laue began working with the school district when her children were in Ceylon's Early Childhood Family Education classes.
She was involved in the transfer of the classes to Fairmont, which was followed closely by district consolidation. She said consolidation with Fairmont was challenging as a parent.
"Ceylon was supposed to be part of Martin County West," she said. "Although the community ultimately decided to work with Fairmont, it was tough as a parent to make that decision."
Now, after 11 years as a school board member, she has grandchildren in the district.
Of all the work the board has completed during her tenure, she is most proud of the Fairmont Elementary addition.
She has served on many committees - staff welfare, operations, policy and curriculum, Community Education and Recreation.
Laue is currently focusing her energy on getting information out about the operating referendum, also on the Nov. 6 ballot.
"The referendum is a big deal" she said. "To have well-rounded kids, we have to have the options."
If the referendum fails, the board will have to deal with many cuts, plus go out again for referendum.
If it does pass, Laue plans to remain focused on maintaining the school with smaller class sizes, fine arts and co-curriculars, while keeping an eye out for ways to keep the budget lean.
"The referendum passing is not a blank check," she said. "We have to responsible."
When Dr. Rufus Rodriguez and his wife, Lynae, visited Fairmont before he took a position as a radiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System-Fairmont in 2004, one of their first stops was the schools.
"It is a very high priority for me, the quality of education," he said. "We have been really pleased with the public schools over the years."
So when a board seat became available, Rodriguez decided to put in his name.
"When the opportunity arose to potentially serve on the school board," he said. "I saw it as not only an opportunity, but a duty as a parent to continue the proud tradition of Fairmont Area Schools."
Rodriguez is interested in the educational process itself, particularly curriculum, having been through many schools himself and seeing three of his five children through college.
"Kids are our future," he said, "and as a community - as parents and non-parents - we have a duty to provide them with educational opportunities."
Rodriguez believes it takes more than basic literacy to produce a well-rounded student.
"I am not just talking about 'reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic'," he said. "Extra-curriculars are part of providing a well-rounded experience for the kids. That is part of the package."
Providing that well-rounded education takes dollars, of course, something Rodriguez believes can be found through financial efficiency.
"You can't provide a good education program without sound finances," he said, noting he personally saw the effects to the budget cuts at the district last year when his daughter's fifth-grade class had more than 30 students.