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Farrar: Build on current strengths

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

Janie FarrarJanie Farrar

Age: 37

Address: 2663 Ridge View Court

Occupation: Homemaker & community volunteer

Education: BA, political science & public relations from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Family: Husband Dave, 4 children: Nathan, 14, Andrew, 12, Luke, 9, Elizabeth, 6

Civic involvement: Red Wing Public Schools Foundation Board current member; YMCA Board current member; 2011-12 leader of annual Support Campaign; 2012 Blandin Community Leadership Program participant; 2014 Red Wing Schools Facilities Task Force; member of Cornerstone Community Church; Elementary PAC (past chair), United Way volunteer, referendum volunteer, chartered Red Wing MOPS group.

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

Our declining student enrollment in Red Wing schools continues to be a huge issue. With incoming kindergarten classes nearly 20 students less than graduating senior classes, our revenue decreases by at least $180,000 per year right away. Budget planning becomes very difficult.

We will address this issue with the upcoming planning of our operating referendum. The operating tax levy, or referendum, is based on a per student/pupil calculation, and the current levy expires in Spring of 2019.

The School Board and staff are currently beginning a yearlong strategic planning process to maintain a high level of academic excellence for our students, while maintaining a reasonable tax levy on our residents.

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

The strengths of our school district are centered on a community that is passionate about education, staff that care, and students who are working hard to achieve. The passage of our bond referendum last April was a huge step to appropriately maintained district facilities in Red Wing.

The district will build upon these through the next year as we, along with the community, plan for the future of Red Wing Schools in arts enrichments, outdoor education, class size and career preparedness. We will utilize the same efforts and procedures that we did for the bond referendum, as we engage the community in this process. The scope and vision for Red Wing education will be shaped.

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

My last four years on the school board have been challenging, yet inspiring. I have learned a lot and continue to be focused on academic excellence in Red Wing. I am a person that enjoys listening to different perspectives, and I ask the tough questions. I am committed to community engagement and regularly meet with community members and staff to discuss the direction of our district.

As board chair the last two years, I helped lead a successful bond referendum passage. With a background in communications, I really used my skills to help the district be able to demonstrate our needs and communicate the facts about the vote. The last four years have provided first-hand experience in human resources, negotiations, state and federal financing of public education and the day-to-day operations of each school. I am very proud of how the district handled our budget reconciliation in the winter of 2015, and all of us on the board learned many details of budgeting. I have received the Leadership Development Certificate, completing Minnesota School Boards Association Phase I-III training, and have attended the last four years of the annual MSBA state conference. I continue to strive to ask the right questions and find common sense solutions for Red Wing Public Schools.

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

With seven very different directors on the school board, disagreements can often happen. In my opinion, this is very healthy for our district and our conversations, as it reflects our community. As chair, I have been committed to making sure each person has time to share their opinions. Each board member must vote their conscience. Personally, I am very accustomed to having people around me with different opinions, and I enjoy the exchange. Disagreements need to be respectful, and listening is essential as I need to try to understand where the other board member is coming from and where or why their focus may be different than my own.

What should the district do with the vacant Jefferson School?

When I served on the Facilities Task Force in 2014, we were provided with a thorough maintenance plan and tour of Jefferson School. What a beautiful building! However, to be usable as a school in the future, it would need millions of dollars in improvements to meet state code requirements. The board approved steps to appropriately maintain the building as it was vacated. Many of us realize that the last thing Red Wing needs is another empty building. The re-purposing of Central High School might be a model for Jefferson. We need to explore National Registry status and continue to work with the City of Red Wing on how this building and land could be used to help with workforce housing that is suitable for families and how it connects with the City’s Strategic Plan.