There’s a school board election this fall for West St. Paul’s ISD 197. The filing period is July 30 to Aug. 13 and four school board seats will be on the ballot. We talk with Maureen Ramirez, who currently serves as vice chair of the board, to learn more about ISD 197 and running for school board.
“My favorite part of serving is the ability to give back and be of service to the students, staff, and families in our district.”Maureen Ramirez
Running for School Board
The district is hosting a candidate information session on Aug. 7 at 5 p.m. for anyone interested in running. School board is a four-year term and in order to run you need to be an eligible voter, a resident of the district, and at least age 21 upon assuming office (oh, and no sex offenders). You’ll also need to pay a $2 filing fee or a petition with at least 500 signatures from eligible voters (I’d like to see someone go for the signatures and save $2).
Recent school board elections have seen some extremes in the number of candidates:
- In 2017, three incumbents ran unopposed for three open seats.
- In 2015, nine candidates—including three of the four incumbents—ran for four open seats (the three incumbents and one newcomer ultimately won).
Current board members whose terms are up this year include:
- Brenda Corbett (first elected in 2011)
- Joanne Mansur, board chair (2011)
- Byron Schwab, board treasurer (2011)
- Terry Stamman (2015)
So far Mansur and Schwab have confirmed plans to run again (I received no response from Corbett and Stamman). At this point, it looks like all four incumbents will be running again.
“We work collectively together as a board. It’s more of a team sport than an individual one.”Maureen Ramirez
Talking With Maureen Ramirez
Appointed to a one-year term in early 2017 and elected to a full, four-year term in the fall of 2017, Ramirez is not on the ballot this year.
By day, Ramirez is the development director at Propel Nonprofits and has previously served on the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Ramirez lives in West St. Paul—in a house her grandmother used to live in—with her husband, two kids, and a dog named Harley.
Fun fact: The Bush Foundation awarded Ramirez a Bush Fellowship in 2014 to develop leadership skills and work to change public institutions from within.
What’s involved in serving on the school board?
School board members go to meetings, make decisions, and have the legal responsibility to govern the school district. That means that we hire the superintendent; we approve a budget; and we set the vision and strategy for the district. We work collectively together as a board. It’s more of a team sport than an individual one. We have regularly scheduled public meetings (the first and third Mondays of the month, please join us! Or watch on TV), and we also do a lot of visiting and attending events in and around the schools.
School board members receive a $4,500 stipend for their service. It’s a standard practice for districts to provide a stipend for their members.
In addition to the school board meetings, we also visit schools, attend events, serve on committees, and participate in activities and outreach for the school district. We march in the Homecoming Parade, cheer on our teams and clubs, and participate in lots of ways.
What’s your favorite part of serving on the school board? What’s the worst part of serving?
My favorite part of serving is the ability to give back and be of service to the students, staff, and families in our district. I get to learn about the people who participate in our students’ lives, both in the classroom, on the bus, in the cafeteria, and behind the scenes. There are a lot of dedicated, hard-working people who come to work every day with a commitment to our students.
The difficult part of serving on the school board is the competing needs of our students and communities. We haven’t closed the achievement gap, and we still have students and families who might feel disconnected or like their needs aren’t being met. That’s a reality in a system with multiple schools and many factors to consider. It’s hard to make tough choices about priorities and spending, but it’s the responsible thing to do. We’re looking out for the entire district and balancing needs with our resources and goals.
That’s another way of saying that we have limited resources and we can’t say “yes” to everything. Like everything else, we have to make tough decisions that have real consequences for our students.
What challenges is the school district facing right now?
Our challenges as a district are pretty similar to the challenges that all our schools face: meeting the needs of all our students, and that includes narrowing the achievement gap. We’re making progress with our graduation rates. In 2017, 81% of our Latinx students graduated from high school, a rate that is 14% higher than the state average. Our strategic framework lists our goals, including the goal of measurable growth and continued progress for all students.
The good news for our district is that we have stable and well-managed finances. In 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, School District 197 received a School Finance Award from the Minnesota Department of Education. We’re also helped by the recent legislative session that passed a funding bill that includes specific funding for special education.
How can residents be more involved in supporting our schools?
Our district calendar of events is the best way to know what’s happening in our buildings. You can come and see a play, watch a game, or volunteer. The summer is a little quieter than the school year, especially this year with some of our buildings under construction. When school starts up again the district Facebook page and district weekly email are good ways to stay up-to-date on news and events.
If you ever have questions, you can reach out to the staff in the schools, in the district office, and school board members.
You could also share a positive story or a note on social media. And don’t forget about sharing your experience with local legislators and elected officials. Tell them what’s working in our schools, and help us celebrate our success.
Why should someone consider running for school board?
It’s a great way to get involved in the community. It’s a great way to participate in decisions that make a difference in the lives of our students and their families. It’s a great way to support education and educators. If you have kids in the schools, that’s a great fit, but you don’t have to be a parent to get involved or to care about our educational outcomes.
A candidate information session will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 7, beginning at 5 p.m. at the district office. This is a great time to learn more about the school district in general, the responsibilities of a school board member, and get any of your questions answered prior to submitting your affidavit.
The district has published a packet with more information about the school board’s roles and responsibilities and the election process.
What are you most looking forward to for the school district in the coming years?
I’m looking forward to a football game on campus at Sibley High School in the fall! My kiddo attends Heritage Middle School and I’m excited for the renovations that will take place there next year. The construction projects around the district are a result of our community support and they are an investment in our future. The new ways that we will meet student learning needs through our renovated buildings are really exciting! You can get updates on the construction projects on our district site.
Thanks to Maureen Ramirez for sharing her insights. The school board election will be on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.