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Dennis De Nio
Dennis De Nio

11 vie for three seats on Frazee school board

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501

Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

In the highest numbers of challengers in quite some time, the Frazee-Vergas School Board will have 11 candidates for three seats.

Incumbent Dana Laine will see challengers Carey Alger, Corey Baker, Jason Bauer, Julie Slevin, Keith Janu, Steve Jepson, Brenda Como, Karen Riggle, Dennis De Nio and Todd Sisson.

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In the order they were interviewed:

Dennis De Nio

Age: 36

Family: married with three children in school

Occupation: business owner of Apex Effect and Septic Saver

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: More specifically, the lack of good communication, lack of good information, really. I voted for the referendum, I was for the school. I knew there were plenty of cuts, everybody has been seeing cuts everywhere.

So I was worried about our kids, I was worried about our community. What happened was, I started hearing different things and it really wasn't easy to get the facts. To be honest, I still don't know if I have all the facts.

So really, I'm asking to be voted on the school board because I want to get to the truth ... That's really why I'm getting involved -- my frustration with rumors.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: I don't know that. I'm hoping so, and I'm hoping that once I get involved I'll be able to see that yes, things are being done properly. Obviously, if things look to be wasteful, I'll be making recommendations, as well as listening to the community what they feel is wasteful as well, because what I feel is wasteful and what someone else feels is wasteful could be different.

So obviously I believe we need to be listening to the taxpayers, listening to the parents, and find out what their opinions are. The school is like a business: it's not simple. I know that not everybody is always going to be happy. Especially if someone's only worry is taxes being raised, well, they may have a slightly different outlook than someone more worried about their kid's education. So everybody has a different view.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: There are actually quite a few topics ... do we have runaway spending? I don't know. If we do, how do we trim, how do we organize, and how do we adjust? If everything is being well allocated and nothing is being done foolishly, then we, as a community, need to communicate better with taxpayers.

It's easier to just get information and to get all the information so they can see the whole story for themselves so everyone can make their own judgment, not based on rumors, not based on mailbox talk.

Which is why one of the reasons why I'm getting involved is because when I talk to my own neighbors, we're all asking, 'well, have you heard this? 'well, what about that?' None of us seem to be 100 percent informed. That's kind of scary.

Corey Baker

Age: 47

Family: married, five children

Occupation: sales and marketing

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: I don't think it did. The reason I'm running is just the concern in the community for the community and the students. Having three children in the school also prompted me and my wife to think about it.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: I believe so, yes.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: I think if they just keep going the way they are, listening to the community, not taking a one-sided look at everything. There are all the different groups that want this or that, and bring them together and do what's best for the community, the students, everybody. In my opinion, it's more than just for the school. It's the community programs, extra curricular education is just as important as the school is.

Dana Laine

Age: 48

Family: married, seven children

Occupation: family manages turkey farm, former dairy farmers

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for re-election on the school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: I suppose it was a part of it, but not a big part in deciding to run again. Well, it kind of is. I've been on the board for five years, and for all five of those years we've worked to either get the referendum or secure the referendum once we got it.

So, I've been a part of all the planning processes for budget cuts and all those rather distasteful tasks over the last four years, and once the referendum passed, then we shifted our mode into planning ahead. So yes, in that sense, the referendum did prompt me to run again, because I wanted to be able to help plan and make those dollars last as long as they can.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: Oh yeah. I definitely feel that way. When we ran the referendum two years ago when we had the two separate questions -- one for the all day, every day kindergarten and one for technology -- those two goals didn't change. The proof is in the pudding. We're going to have that showcase here to show everybody where those dollars are being spent. Every bit of it is being spent on what we said it was going to be -- buildings, technology, curriculum and all day, every day kindergarten.

That's proven to be a success, so I'm very excited about that. It's nice to see because there was the pros and cons on that level, too. It might not be (the best option) for some people, but for a whole lot of other people, it was.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: There's always goals, and the main goal is always student achievement. Now that the referendum has passed and we're able to update a lot of the things we said we were going to update, we can start measuring what those updates have done. That always takes a little time. And then continue to update the curriculum because we were so far behind on that.

And then advocate at a state level for the funding we need so we can be done with the referendum in five years. There's a lot of schools going out and asking to continue, or asking for more on top of, and we certainly don't want to do that.

Brenda Como

Age: 41

Family: married with three children, two are grown and one in eighth grade, and one granddaughter

Occupation: works part-time for a microbiologist, is a Mary Kay consultant and a homemaker

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: It was partly to do with me running. Some of the other reasons were the way the school board handles the issues in our district right now that I didn't care for. I had thought about it for the last few years, and then when all this other stuff came up, it was just something that prompted me to run.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: I think there could be other areas. I think it's almost like a blank check to them, and kind of running a little wild on some of the stuff that I've heard. I do have to say have not seen the full budget. I've seen part of a budget, so I'm not sure exactly where all the money is going, but I know some of it, I think they could have spent it a little more wisely.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: As a district, we need to get a business manager back in the district. With the superintendent being the business manger, it's kind of a cross of powers. The superintendent goes to the board and asks for the money, but yet he's the one in charge of it, so that, to me, just doesn't jive.

Coming from the financial background, it's like no, those two can't cross like that. They need to be separated. And one other thing I would like to look at is that the school could do more online information to the parents -- try to go more paperless.

The pack of papers you get at the beginning of the year is so much, and I know there are some families that don't have Internet access, and yes, those you'd still have to send the packet, but we could cut back on paper use, and go more Internet. I think it would be a good thing for our district.

Julie Slevin

Age: 34

Family: married with three daughters

Occupation: CEO of household

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: I don't know that the referendum itself was what prompted it. It was the way it was spent. It's just the way our school is being run mostly. They are spending like we are a bigger school than Detroit Lakes or Perham; we don't have the money.

They keep thinking the taxpayers are going to bail them out, and a lot of taxpayers can't bail anybody out right now. They can't even bail themselves out.

So, I think the biggest reason I wanted to run was to show how the school can tighten the belt. And it doesn't seem like being on the outside you can get any word in to the school board right now.

That's another issue we need to address; they need to be accessible to the public and to answer the public. Right now you can fill out a form and make an appointment, show up at the meeting and ask your question, but they don't answer you.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: No, I don't. I think there are technologies out there that could get the same results as our SMART boards for a lot less money, and most of the equipment we already had, like overhead projectors.

There's equipment out there you can get to plug into your computer, set it on an overhead projector and whatever is on your computer shows up on the wall. That unit cost $6,000 back when I was in college in '94. I can't imagine what it costs today, but I'm pretty sure it's not $40,000 or whatever it is these SMART boards cost.

That's a lot of money we don't have. And to put them in the elementary rooms and let kids draw mustaches on the family pictures. I think that was a waste. Yes, I understand the elementary school teachers wanted to have some new toys, too, but not at that expense.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: I think their accessibility to the public, their accountability to the public.

I think there is a real problem with trust throughout the whole community, whether it is public trusting the school, the school trusting the public, or the teachers trusting the superintendent, the superintendent trusting the school board.

There's a whole big issue where we need to sit down and work it out, somehow. The more the school board makes themselves inaccessible to the public, the more people don't trust them, because they've already been lied to. It's been proven they've been lied to.

And now they're not going to trust the school board. You can't have a closed meeting and expect the public to believe that you have to do it for legal reasons. The only way to get that trust back is to open the meetings up and talk to the people and try to get them to trust you again.

Carey Alger

Age: 34

Family: married with three sons, ages 2-8

Occupation: Owns Vergas 1 Stop with his brother

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: No, it didn't, actually. What prompted me to run was we need to bring stability back to the district as far as everyone getting along, jelling together, working for the same goal.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: Yeah. I'm happy with where they are spending them and how they are. There again, the problem is the people are not educated as to how they are being spent and where they're going and what the district is actually paying out of their portion. Everything gets delegated. There are funds for everything the district does, so they only pay a portion. People are taking the whole amount and assuming that everything is coming out of the district's pocket, and it's not true.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: The biggest topic I think the board as a whole needs to address is they need to inform the public ...when they do a big project, as when they got new computers, they need to make the public aware why they are doing it first, and then where all the money is coming from, so people understand and they're not misinformed. I think that will take a lot of the gossip and fighting going on between everyone out of the game.

Keith Janu

Age: 42

Family: married with a son and a daughter, both in school

Occupation: administrator/owner of an adult foster care home in rural Frazee, honorably discharged veteran

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: No, I want to quote part of the yellow paper that was paid for by 30 'no' voters (that now lead the petition movement) and circulated in your Becker County Record. "Another election should not be allowed until that time limit has expired." The time limit on the ballot I voted 'yes' on stated the referendum was for five years. It should stand. This group should follow their own advice.

I am running for school board to protect the educational quality of the Frazee-Vergas district. I feel it is important to protect our community's investment in our school. I know what it takes to give a child the best education possible from ECFE to graduation.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: I feel the referendum money is being spent wisely. New curriculum was deferred for too long; new science books for K-12 were the board's first priority. I feel the districts scores on the MCA II's will reflect this expense.

Phase 1 of the boiler/ventilation project was essential.

Technology updating was a must. New computers and SMART boards will enhance and improve the education of our children. I personally want my children to have an education that prepares them for life beyond graduation in a technology-driven society.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: Yes, there are topics that need addressing. Communication between voters and the board, spending next year's referendum dollars on the most critical areas, both of our schools need roof repair, vehicles for our district, and the track needs resurfacing.

Jason Bauer

Age: 37

Family: married with three daughters: 6, 14, 16

Occupation: self-employed, manager at Frazee VFW

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: You could say, yeah. I voted for the referendum, and I just wanted to make sure I thought the money was going to be spent right. That's why I ran. I have two kids in the school here and I would like to see them graduate from here, cause I graduated from here.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: I don't know. Some people say yes, some people say no. Some people say this, some people say that. It's tough to say until you get in there yourself and decide. So, I don't want to tell you from right here.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: I think they have to get to the point to where they are operating without referendums. At least in the real near future. Whether than means increasing enrollment, finding more state aid, or this or that. People in this community are going to be tapped out after this last one (referendum). You've seen that already. That's not a well they're going to go to anytime soon. They have to operate on the fat from now on.

Todd Sisson

Age: 51

Family: married with two daughters

Occupation: food production management

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: The short answer is no. The reason I opted to run was No. 1, I do have kids in the Frazee-Vergas School system. I'd like to be an active part of their education.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: Without the details of exactly how dollars are spent within the school district, I feel comfortable the district is spending their money well.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: Communication is a big issue in Frazee-Vergas. I would very much like to advocate for increased communications between the school district and the general public to be able to help facilitate increased communication in whatever way I can.

Karen Riggle

Age: 48

Family: married with two grown daughters and two grown sons, four grandchildren

Occupation: Dairy Herd Improvement Association supervisor

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: Yeah, the referendum prompted me to run. I've looked at the financial statements and everything at the school, the budget and all that, and everything was fine financially.

There was no reason to be saying things like we'd have to consolidate with other schools and that they were going to have to shut down the sports. Stuff like that is scare tactics.

To me, there should be trust with the public with the schools. We need to have that back. They need to be more open. The public needs to have more accessibility. I realize you can go to the school and ask for one of their audit papers and get that, but it needs to be printed and sent out to the constituents in that district.

Also, the board needs to be more open and accessible for the public to ask questions, come in with ideas.

I don't think ideas the board has should just be confined to the board members. They should be bringing in ideas from all over on different things that are going on in the school district, and we need to be able to get answers for people who have questions.

And make sure they get it, so there isn't talk behind closed doors and these conspiracy theories.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: I don't know where everything is going right now. The audit that was done was done right after the referendum passed so I'm not clear on where things are going right now.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: I know we have increased food costs and increased fuel heating costs. I think that's going to be something in the future. Gas prices are down where they were right now or close to it, but I don't believe unless they start drilling and stuff that they'll stay down. I think it's going to go right back up.

That puts everybody in jeopardy. You've got people living on fixed incomes in the country, elderly and young people, they're not only trying to get a decent education for their kids, but the first concern is putting a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs and food in their stomachs and heating the furnace.

The common everyday person doesn't get a cost of living raise every year, but I don't know if they just don't think about the regular person not getting that cost of living raise or what. There get an $800 tax increase on their property, they're on Social Security, where does that money come from?

Steve Jepson

Age: 35

Family: married with three children

Occupation: Minnesota State Patrol law enforcement

Q: Did the referendum prompt you to run for school board? If so, why, if not, what was your reason for running?

A: The petition to revoke the referendum is what prompted me to run for school board. I believe strongly that the referendum needs to stay in place to adequately fund the school. I feel the school board needs to regain the confidence of the school district's taxpayers.

My goal as a potential school board member is to work diligently towards dispelling rumors and misinformation by making a purposeful effort of keeping the public informed of what is happening as it is happening.

Q: Do you feel the district is spending the funds from the referendum the best way possible?

A: The referendum generated the necessary funds to keep class sizes down, a factor that greatly influences student achievement (which should be our No. 1 goal). The operating levy also allowed the district to purchase updated textbooks that were greatly needed. Additional monies enabled the district to maintain our school facilities.

Lastly, some previously cut programs were reinstated, which greatly enhances opportunities for students in our district, keeping our school competitive with others in the area. These positive influences of the monies spent can be seen in the stability of our enrollment numbers this year.

Q: Are there any other topics you think the board needs to address in the near future?

A: The school board needs to continue working towards providing a quality education to all students within the means of a conservative budget. This is its biggest challenge.

In addition, the school board needs to make a concerted effort to be open and communicative, highlighting the great achievements of our school and its students, and working with the community to deal with current issues facing our district.

The school board must also join with other area schools and communities to address the state's formula for funding education. The state continually increases academic achievement standards, as well as increasing mandates, but lowers its fiscal responsibility to the local school district. This "do more with less" response is ultimately hurting our children.

(Profiles on the Vergas City Council and mayor candidates will run in next week's Becker County Record.)

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