Buchholz wins most votes for 834 School Board

The general election voting for the District 834 School Board mirrored the results of September’s primary elections. As she did on Sept. 13, Kathy Buchholz, an Afton resident and mother of two, garnered about a quarter of the votes (25.7 percent) on Nov. 8 to earn one of the three available Stillwater Area School Board seats.
She was followed by incumbents Roland (Bud) Buchman with 18.3 percent and Chairman George Thole earning about 17.5 percent of total votes. The two Stillwater residents reclaimed their seats from the field of six candidates (narrowed in September from 10).
“I’m very happy that all the hard work paid off,” Buchholz said recently during a break from picking up election signs after her victory. “I have the philosophy that, if you work hard on something and you do your homework, it will pay off.”
Finishing out the field of school board candidates were Tom Nacey of Stillwater with 16.9 percent, Mike Redmond of Lake Elmo with 11.7 percent and John Rheinberger of Stillwater with 9.5 percent of the 15,488 total votes.
That number came to only 16 percent of the 36,555 total registered voters in the school district. The minimal turnout was significant to Thole who felt fortunate to be reelected in the face of criticism from various “special interest groups.”
“They had a bull’s-eye on me but, fortunately, I was able to come away unscathed,” Thole said, specifying that Democrats had made a “partisan race” out of the election.
The 834 School Board canvassed the election results during its Nov. 10 meeting (on Jan. 5, the board’s first organizational meeting of the year, Buchholz, Buchman and Thole will be sworn in and the group will elect officers within its ranks). Buchman, who has the longest tenure on the board with his first election coming in 1976, said he was “not too surprised” by the voting results. He added that he was ready to move away from the campaign and focus on issues like funding for the district.
“Things were prosperous when I (first) came on,” Buchman said while preparing for a hunting excursion the day after the election. “They started to change in the early ‘80s. The state has provided some help occasionally, but it’s been down lately.”
Another significant change in board decisions during Buchman’s time in office has been the influx of educational technology. Though the use of laptop education in schools like Lake Elmo’s Oak-Land Junior High has been controversial among some parents and teachers, Buchman believes that age group may be ideal for technology in the classroom.
“(Junior high) students are getting hit with all sorts of developmental things,” he said. “That’s where technology fits a real niche in keeping them engaged. We just have to see how it does on achievement now.”
Thole agreed that the board would need a plan of action for regaining a state levy that threatens to cut as much as 12 percent from the district’s budget, in addition to a few other pressing issues.
“We’ve got to focus on getting a settlement with the teachers on a contract,” he said. “We’ve (also) got to start getting ready to negotiate a new transportation contract.”
Last week was the first for the Stillwater Area School District’s reinstatement of a busing policy that includes transporting students who live within two miles of their schools for free (after temporarily cutting that funding last spring). Buchholz said transportation was one issue she hoped to discuss with state representatives, whom she has already begun to contact for conversations.
“I don’t believe the (transportation) issue is completely taken care of. I think it’ll come up again,” Buchholz said. “I think we need to work with people in the community to come up with creative solutions.”

No regrets
Although Redmond said he was disappointed by the outcome of the election, he endorsed Buchholz, Buchman and Thole as “very good representatives” for the district. In fact, the Mahtomedi High School teacher and coach said his school board campaign was a “breath of fresh air” compared to his two bids for the state House of Representatives.
“That was complete chaos,” said Redmond, who is preparing himself for basketball season at Mahtomedi. “It had dirty politics and nasty things at that level. ... I really thought this group were good people. I enjoyed getting to know them. It didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth.”
Redmond agreed that renewing the district’s levy should be a priority for the School Board this next school year. But he said he is OK with not being a direct part of that process. Mahtomedi’s girls soccer team recently won the state championship under his leadership.
“If I had to pick between that and winning the election, I’d pick the state title,” Redmond said, smiling.
Rheinberger also professed a feeling of satisfaction after the election, despite his last-place finish. The Stillwater attorney said he visited over 6,200 district homes during his campaign.
“You meet a lot of new people. People were very nice,” said Rheinberger, who said he might make a trip overseas soon. “I got to see what fall looked like (while door knocking). Hopefully I’ll pick up new relationships for the future where I wouldn’t have had that opportunity (otherwise).”
Still, Rheinberger echoed Thole in his disappointment at voter turnout. According to the canvassed results, Marine on St. Croix provided the largest percentage of eligible voters with 24.5 while Hugo turned in the lowest amount with only 3.3 percent of the voting population visiting the polls.
“It isn’t like you get a random selection,” Rheinberger said of the 16 percent total turnout. “You don’t get an impartial review like you might with the general population.”
Nacey did not immediately return phone calls following the election.
Buchholz hoped for a larger voting pool in future elections as well, noting “the more people, the better.” But the low turnout did not invalidate the breakneck experience she had in her first campaign.
“There’s lots of different events and people to attend to,” Buchholz said, matching her peers in praising the quality of residents she encountered.
“You learn what it means to run for an office, because you literally run.”

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