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Diercks leading referendum charge

Arlen Diercks was nominated chair of the Red Wing School Board in January. Diercks said he hopes to boost community engagement leading up the district's November referendum vote. Samantha Bengs / RiverTown Multimedia

Little did Arlen Diercks know as he walked the halls of Red Wing Central High as a student in the 1960s-70s, that his Winger pride would be a key tool in trying to shape the future for Red Wing students. Diercks, who has served on the Red Wing School Board since 2015, was elected to serve as board chair for 2018 — his first term as chair.

As the district faces a make-or-break referendum vote in November, Diercks said he feels ready to lead.

"I have this inner pride of my school that's given me the foundation for everything I've done in my life," he said. "The education I got here paved the way."

A November 2017 ballot asked Red Wing taxpayers to replace the current operating levy of $811.64 per student with a levy of $1,235.64 per student. A second question sought an additional $500 per student. Voters denied both questions.

In late December, the School Board declared its intent to hold another operating levy referendum in 2018, before the current levy expires in 2019.

Diercks said he sees the 2018 referendum as a chance to get the district and the community on the same page.

"Had the (2017) referendum passed with a tight margin, we'd have a divided community," Diercks said.

Connecting to the community

As the district continues to work on its referendum message and determine what the 2018 ballot questions will be, Diercks said his main goa will be to enhance community buy-in.

"We have to listen to the public," Diercks said. "They may or may not be right, but we have to listen. We have a strong community. Our biggest question to answer is why does the public not see things the way we think they should," he said.

Pride in the Red Wing community is abundant, Diercks said, but he hopes to tap into it in a different way.

"We have a vested interest in our kids," he said. "But we need it to grow. And beyond athletics."

Ideally, Diercks would like to see Red Wing alumni stories celebrated and shared throughout the community.

"What would Red Wing be like today if none of our alumni stayed in this city, opened businesses, worked in the trades or on a factory floor? These are all success stories contributing to our community."

Diercks is a supporter of expanding the "college readiness" mindset to college, career and life readiness.

"Nationwide, we have realized the importance of focusing on the trades again," he said. Diercks applauded the board and district for their work on expanding programming options for Red Wing students.

As board chair, Diercks said he will keep sights set on two simple concepts.

"We have to connect with the community and we have to be fiscally responsible," he said.

"We (the board) have been working efficiently, and remain open and transparent to the public.

I feel confident that if we listen to what this community has to say, we can do the best thing for our students."