5 vie for 4 seats on Mounds View Public School Board

Bridget Kranz

staff writer

 

Five candidates are running for four seats on the Mounds View Public School Board.

The candidates who will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot are Heidi Danielson, Jim DeMay, Jonathan Weinhagen, Sandra Westerman and Derek Whitcomb.

Danielson, Weinhagen and Westerman are all current board members, with Danielson having been appointed earlier this summer to fill a vacancy left by Amy Jones, who resigned in order to focus her efforts on mental health advocacy. 

Weinhagen and Westerman also started their board careers by being appointed to fill vacant seats, Weinhagen in 2014 and Westerman in 2011. 

Board member Bob Helgeson, whose term is ending in January, has chosen not to run. He could not be reached for comment. 

All five candidates have children in Mounds View schools, and all have been involved with the school system to varying degrees in the past. 

With the district in the midst of a multiyear expansion designed to accommodate its growing student population, construction was on the front of all their minds when choosing to run. An increased focus on student mental health was also a top priority among candidates, as was a proposed levy increase on the ballot this fall, which is aimed at keeping class sizes small.

 

From appointment to election

Although Danielson was contemplating a run for the board before Jones’ seat came up for appointment in June, she said her time in the role so far has cemented her desire.

“The more I’ve gotten involved in the district, the more respect I have for the staff and administrators. That’s what made me want to be even more involved,” said Danielson, a New Brighton resident and nonprofit administrator. 

While her main priority in coming onto the board was to learn, Danielson is especially eager to work on issues of mental health and closing the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers. 

“I want to make sure that we’re continuing to look at what we provide to each student that enters our building,” she said. “Not just what’s best for the whole, but what will work for each individual.”

Prior to her appointment, Danielson served on the district-wide task force that looked at existing school facilities and population projections. Her work helped draft the $165 million bond referendum that passed in 2017 to fund current facility expansions. 

After serving on the task force, Danielson headed up Neighbors United, a group of parents and volunteers from within the district that advocated in support of the building bond. 

 

Career transitions

DeMay was also active in Neighbors United. He and Danielson also both served as trustees for the Mounds View Schools Education Foundation.

DeMay, a North Oaks resident, has been involved in the Mounds View Irondale Youth Hockey Association and Mounds View Boys Soccer Booster Club.

“I think some of the challenges facing the district are mostly positive. We’re facing increasing enrollment. I think the community and the board dealt with that really well,” said DeMay. “It’s always a challenge to keep dollars focused on classrooms; I think Mounds View has a good ratio.”

He added that one of his priorities would be workforce preparation. “We really need to embrace the changing workforce out there. There’s a lot of demand for jobs and trades.”

Another priority would be evaluating the district’s fee system. “The bus fee and some of the fees for extracurricular activities really should be looked at and brought to a level that’s far more affordable for families,” he said.

DeMay currently works in public affairs for Pfizer, and said that as an alumnus of the district, he made the choice to move back so that his children could attend Mounds View schools.

 

Focus on outreach

Weinhagen, who lives in Shoreview, has four sons currently enrolled in the district. As school board chair, he said he is excited to continue advancing initiatives the group has already begun. 

With a proposed levy increase on the ballot this fall and the 2017 bond referendum funding current building expansions, Weinhagen noted that he wanted the district to be “responsible stewards of its resources.”

“[We want to] make sure that we target those investments. We’re not the flashiest school district around, but we’re doing really good work across the community,” he said. 

Other priorities for Weinhagen include student mental health and responding to a diversified community with creative outreach strategies. As an example, he said he hopes to continue a current initiative of hosting food-centric family events in the evenings. 

“What we’ve found is tremendous participation across our system at all grade levels,” he said of the program. “It’s bringing out people that we hadn’t seen before, hadn’t had a chance to hear from before.”

Like all his fellow candidates, Weinhagen also mentioned a desire to continue to try and close the achievement gap. “[I want to] make sure we continue to be an institution that is serving students of all backgrounds from all across our community.”

In his day job, Weinhagen works as president and CEO of the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. 

 

Security and stability

Westerman lives in Shoreview and works in government relations for a biopharmaceutical company. Prior to her current job, she spent almost eight years working in the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, an experience she said gives her a unique insight into school security. 

Westerman said she has helped advocate for certain safety measures with the new expansions happening across the district. She also noted a desire to continue to work on improving mental health initiatives for students. “That’s a priority for me and our school board,” she said, echoing Danielson and Weinhagen. 

Like many of the other candidates, Westerman spent time on the education foundation prior to being appointed to the board. She also served on the PTA at Turtle Lake Elementary and campaigned for one of the previous levy renewals. 

“Stability in funding is always a challenge for local schools. We don’t know what kind of funding we’re going to be getting from the Legislature,” said Westerman. “We’re reliant on and appreciative of community support. Thirteen percent of our budget comes from locally approved funding, and renewals are up again this fall.”

 

Minding the gap

Whitcomb, a project manager with Egan Contractors, moved to the area in 2016 and currently lives in Mounds View and serves on the PTA at Sunnyside Elementary. He also participated on the design committee for Sunnyside’s 2020 remodel and expansion.

Although he’s a relatively new transplant, he said he relies on his wife — a district alum — for an insider’s perspective. 

He also noted that he believes his experience living outside the district could help him bring a fresh view to the board. He said his main priority would be closing the achievement gap, across the district and within each school. 

“We want to identify the greatest things that we do at each school, and then be able to implement those in the other schools as well,” explained Whitcomb. 

“I think this is really a crucial time in terms of how our students are going to be affected by the amount of construction, and what it’s going to take to finish the construction for each of our schools in a timely manner and within the budget that we have,” he added. 

Whitcomb said he believes his construction background could help him quickly respond to changes and troubleshoot hiccups along the way, as Mounds View pushes through another two years of work at school buildings across the district. 

 

–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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