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Christensen: Maintain quality in the face of declining enrollment

  • Editor's note: This interview is part of a series of School Board candidate Q&As. Find the other candidates here.

Mike ChristensenMike Christensen

Age: 57

Address: 29883 Lakeview Ave.

Occupation: E-Recycling supervisor

Education: Economics degree from Eastern Illinois University

Family: Married to Kay, children Max and Alex

Civic involvement: Kiwanis, School Board director, promoter of Red Wing as a great place to live and grow

What is the biggest issue facing Red Wing Public Schools right now? How should the district address it?

The biggest challenge facing Red Wing Public Schools is maintaining high quality programming in the face of a persistent decline in enrollment, which results in less revenue for running the district.

With the help of Red Wing voters and the Legislature, we are well set up for keeping our buildings and grounds in great shape.

The issue now is addressing the needs of our students to offer them all an education that promotes curiosity and encourages learning both in school and out. We will be looking into our programming and asking for public input as we prepare for an operating referendum in the fall of 2017.

What are the strengths of the school district? How can we build upon it?

Our district has an exceptionally strong administrative staff in addition to dedicated teachers and support staff in our schools.

We have laid out policies and procedures that give consistency to how and why things are done. We now have handbooks that outline expectations for staff and students so that there is less potential for uncertainty and disagreements.

We can build on this structure by consistently reviewing and renewing this composition of ideas as needed. In this way, we remind ourselves of what remains important in education and uncover what may have once worked but has now lost its effectiveness.

What skills or abilities would you bring to the board? How have you prepared yourself to understand school operations and budgeting?

What I bring to the board is an abiding curiosity as to why we do what we do and an eagerness to understand how our actions impact learning in the schools and the fabric of our district.

I also want to promote and reinforce the positive aspects of living in a tight knit community while generously sharing these assets with people who are new to town.

I have been involved in the School Board for the last seven years and have a solid understanding of operations and budgeting. I stay abreast of new developments in education through professional development and subscribing to and reading Education Week, which has helped me understand the horizons of education and the fairly esoteric language of the profession. I have enjoyed my time on the Board and think I contribute by offering a distinct outlook and an ability to look beyond current issues to a dynamic and prosperous future

Describe your approach to resolving a disagreement with another board member over an item on the agenda.

I listen to fellow board members intently, looking to understand where their ideas are coming from and ways in which their perceptions are similar or divergent from my own. Nobody here is lacking in concern for offering the best education we possibly can for our students. If someone offers an idea looking back rather than forward, I try to comment without being disagreeable. As the public face of our district, we need to be respectful and responsible citizens.

What should the district do with the vacant Jefferson School?

Jefferson School should be sold off to someone who can develop the property in a responsible manner. The district cannot, and should not, hold onto (and keep off the property tax rolls) vacant buildings. It is tempting to try to hold on to the property in the hopes of getting back to neighborhood schools, but given current and foreseeable revenues, without considerable investment by the state, neighborhood schools will remain a fond memory of a country that understood sacrifice and invested heavily in its future. Even if Red Wing were to get enough support to pass a referendum to build or reopen some neighborhood schools, the ongoing operational costs would be unsustainable in the current environment.