2021 ISD 197 School Board Election: Levy

Thanks to Blue Sky Bookkeeping for their support.

There are 10 candidates running for three seats on the ISD 197 school board this year. We’ve asked the candidates a series of questions to see where they stand on the issues. We’ll share one question and the responses at a time leading up to the election on November 2. Be sure to see our ISD 197 voter’s guide for more.

We already asked about COVID-19 precautions and candidates’ top issues, so this week we’re asking about the levy renewal (here’s our rundown on the actual levy renewal).

The district has had multiple referendums in the past decade, including the most recent 2018 bond referendum and the current levy renewal. Have you supported the past levies and referendums and do you support this current levy renewal? Why or why not?

We posed this question to all 10 candidates and received 10 responses. Here are their answers in random order:

Jon Vaupel

(campaign site)

Jon Vaupel works for the Minnesota Department of Education in Early Learning Services and is a former kindergarten teacher. He served on the Mendota Elementary PTA Board, including the Parent Ambassador Network and working on diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

I supported the 2018 bond referendum and I support the current levy renewal. Supporting investments like these is a way of saying that our students (and educators) are our priority. We are lucky enough to live in a fairly well resourced community that understands that when we invest in our students, school, and teachers—we invest in the future of our community, state, and country. The improvements to the physical infrastructure of our district were necessary, and ISD 197 has done an admirable job in working to complete those improvements in a timely manner. When I worked at the Children’s Defense Fund, the adage was “Show us the budget, and we can see your priorities.” I continue to believe this is true, which I will fight for the resources and supports our students need and deserve.

Robert Reese

(campaign site)

Robert Reese works as a physician and surgeon. He has not been involved in the district but has coached youth football and baseball.

Please see my comments above pertaining to ISD-197 funding [see his response to the top issues question]. I do not believe that additional tax dollars should be requested by the District until documented student academic achievement has improved and a Mission Statement is adopted that holds the District accountable for their policies.

John Chandler

(campaign site)

John Chandler works as a nonprofit executive. He was first elected to the school board in 2013 and reelected in 2017. He has volunteered extensively in the district, and he has children at Heritage, Two Rivers, and one recent graduate.

I have supported all past levies and referendums, and support this current levy renewal. By providing more support to our schools, this strengthens our communities and is good for home values. I have been an active volunteer with recent levy and referendum efforts, including the 2018 bond referendum. I plan to volunteer for the current levy renewal effort.

Marcus Hill

(campaign site)

Marcus Hill works as the senior manager of research and analytics at Best Buy. He has two children in the district and one recent graduate. Hill was first appointed to the school board in January.

As you know, voters in our school district overwhelmingly approved a $117 million bond in 2018 for facilities improvements and to continue to provide high-quality education in our community.

The funds have allowed us to improve every school in the district over the past three years and build new athletic facilities.

I supported the 2018 referendum, and I support the current levy renewal. The levy renewal is a funding authorization of previously allocated dollars. We must make occasional investments in our essential resources to continue to provide a high-quality education to our students. 

Our district staff and administration have done an excellent job managing the funds received from the 2018 bond referendum. What they’ve accomplished in a relatively short period is astonishing. Each of the newly renovated schools and facilities has become a point of pride for our community. 

The revamped facilities constitute a significant step in the right direction. But if we are to: 

  • Support existing teachers, staff & administration by providing  critical resources
  • Maintain current class sizes and existing programs
  • Recruit, hire and retain top talent, reflective of our community
  • Implement Social-Emotional Learning
  • Implement the district’s Equity plans
  • Implement the Goals of the District’s Strategic framework

We must support the levy renewal and continue to invest in our student’s futures. We’ve accomplished a great deal in the past three years but have more work to do.

Mark Grondahl

(campaign site)

Mark Grondahl has worked as an entrepreneur, banker, and accountant. He has not previously been involved in the district but did coach youth sports and serve as a Cub Scouts den leader.

Referendums should be voted on only in years of Presidential elections (2012, 2016, 2020, 2024, …) where the most voters cast their vote and make their voice heard. The voice of the people (the most people) should be followed. The 2014 rejection and the 2018 re-vote was embarrassing as the Board forced their wishes on the people. 

In 2014, nearly half of all voters voted in an off-year election. That was an incredible turnout. The vote was 65% against vs 35% for. The voters spoke loudly with a resounding defeat of the stadium. 

The 2018 vote was conveniently not even in November. Only 15% of registered voters voted. In the end only about 10% of the registered voters made the decision for all tax payers. 

The voters spoke (voting No in 2014) but that Board chose not to listen. Any member from that Board that voted for the 2018 bond should not be re-elected. The Board should communicate the why of these needs in a better manner rather than sneak these bonds through the vote in off year elections.

2014 Stadium Question – $4,585,000 – 5,974 Yes (35%) vs 10,706 No (65%); out of 37,293 registered voters (about 44% of all voters voted)

2016 – Presidential Year – no bond election found

2018 – Many improvements including the Stadium – May 8 – $117,000,000 – 3,601 Yes (62%) vs 2,180 No (38%), if 37,293 registered voters (about 15.5% of all voters voted)

2020 – Presidential Year – no bond election found

2021 – Elect 3 Board Members, no bond election found

Timothy Aune

(no campaign site)

Tim Aune worked as an executive for a global financial information services firm. He was involved as a parent and engaged in issues around special education.

Yes, and yes. If you provide the bare minimum of resources, you will obtain the bare minimum of results. I do not view the current environment as one of excess. That said, as a Board member a primary role is to always look for inefficient or antiquated use of taxpayer resource.

Stephanie Auran

(no campaign site)

Stephanie Auran works as a technical recruiter. She has volunteered in the district since her children started pre-school in 2009. She served as a president and vice president of the Home and School Association, chaired the school carnival several times and assisted in fundraisers.

I supported the last referendum. I’m undecided about the current one and have to do more research before I decide.

Sarah Larsen

(campaign site)

Sarah Larsen works for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and served on a team setting up COVID testing and vaccination sites. She has kids at Friendly Hills and Two Rivers, and has volunteered throughout the district with the Strategic Planning Core team, Parent Ambassador Network, PTA, and more.

I have supported all levies and referendums during our 14 years in the district, and I was part of the Vote Yes committees for the 2018 bond referendum and past levies. I am in full support of the current levy renewal to continue funding at current levels. I believe our district has been making much needed improvements and investments, and after careful consideration of the funding of this levy renewal, I am confident my tax dollars will be used to continue moving our district forward.

Morgan Steele

(campaign site)

Morgan Steele works as a French teacher and instructional leader at Richfield High School. She has one child at Somerset and another who will be there in a few years.

I have supported the bonds and levies and believe that investing in our schools and students is the best way to invest in our community. 


Elena Villarreal suspended her campaign in September. Her name will still appear on the ballot, so in the interest of focusing on candidates who are still in the race, we are no longer running her responses.

Vote on November 2

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. The ISD 197 website has details on where and how to vote. Be aware that elections will happen at combined polling places, which are likely not your usual polling location. Voting options also include absentee voting, either by mail or in person, which starts September 17.

We’ll share more candidate responses as we get closer to the 2021 election. You can also see our ISD 197 voter’s guide for more.

Thank you to the candidates for taking the time to respond.

This kind of local election coverage only happens thanks to our generous supporters. Consider joining them with monthly or annual support through Patreon and help keep your community informed.

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