Harberts, Zylstra offer comments prior to Nov. 7 District 518 board election
WORTHINGTON -- On Nov. 7, District 518 voters will go to the polls to elect a new member to fill a vacant seat on the Board of Education. Mike T. Harberts, a rural Reading farmer, and Marvin Zylstra, a rural Worthington farmer, are vying for the ...
WORTHINGTON - On Nov. 7, District 518 voters will go to the polls to elect a new member to fill a vacant seat on the Board of Education.
Mike T. Harberts, a rural Reading farmer, and Marvin Zylstra, a rural Worthington farmer, are vying for the one-year term.
The seat became available when former school board member Ann Mills moved at the end of 2016. She had served two years of her four-year term. Per state statute, members of the public had the opportunity to submit a letter of interest to be considered for a one-year interim term. The board appointed Victoria Blanchette. Blanchette’s interim term expires at the end of the year, and the newly elected school board member will take the seat in January.
Editor’s note: After requests for phone interviews to ask the same questions of each candidate, the information below was obtained from a phone interview with Zylstra. A prepared, emailed written statement was received from Harberts.
Marvin Zylstra Why are you seeking the vacant District 518 seat?
“I think I have the experience. In December last year, when it came in the paper that Mills was moving and the seat was open, I submitted a letter of interest to the school board. I was happy to see that nine individuals applied, and I thought I could bring experience to the board. That was my reason for submitting the letter of interest and I think I can be at the table. I’m very open. I don’t really have an agenda that I’m going in. There’s a lot of big decisions that need to be made. The bond referendum is coming up Feb. 13. Wednesday morning, Feb. 14, however that vote goes you need somebody that has strong leadership to be at the table and I think I’m a strong listener, I’m proactive and I will voice my opinions at the table and participate in the discussion. I think I can serve and would be a good candidate to be on the District 518 board.”
What experience and/or perspective do you think you’d bring to the board?
“I have 12 years working with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, I served 14 years as (Nobles) County Commissioner, I’ve worked with budgets and I’ve got a strong interest in youth and am a strong supporter of education. When I was a 4-H leader, I was a teacher, only my classroom was a little different - I was out in the field in the open rather than confined to a classroom, so to speak.
“I’ve been in a lot of leadership groups where we think outside the box, and that’s what’s going on with the school district. When I was commissioner I was on Project Futures. It was a think-tank group where you could just throw out any suggestion and go with it. No idea was beyond the realm. That’s what I want to do with the board. Look at all the possibilities and go with that.”
Considering the board has announced a Feb. 13 bond referendum for a new $68.7 million high school, where do you stand on the decision?
“I respect the decision of the board and support the referendum. They have the facts. I’ve had the opportunity to go through the senior high school, I’ve seen the crowded conditions. You get to a point where you can no longer really feasibly build onto that thing, because the cafeteria area is overcrowded - I think they have about three shifts that go through there now - so in my mind, to best serve the education of our youth, we need to definitely support this bond referendum. I have no crystal ball, I don’t know which way it’s going to go, but I think I provide the leadership going forward, whether it passes or whether it fails, I think I’m the strong candidate to participate and be at the table of the board.”
What action would you have taken if you were on the school board discussing and considering options to address a growing student population?
All along, I’ve always been concerned of the classroom space - that’s where it seems to be the issue. I know when they had the $79 million (bond referendum) some of that was athletic complexes, but the board listened, and I guess I would have been of that same mindset. Now we come in with a $68 million (bond proposal), we’re addressing the issue of classrooms and with that you’ve gotta have the cafeteria and certain amount for physical education and those sorts of things.
“I guess I would have liked to, and (the board) probably still will, get out into the communities and explain the need. Go into Reading, Rushmore, Wilmont, Bigelow and set up meetings just like I did with Extension. Go out to the actual people in their communities, instead of having them come into Worthington. You have to meet them where they’re at, and that’s in their communities and show interest. This is where we stand as a school board, this is a need and this is why we’re presenting it to you, this is the best solution. I’d have done the reconfiguration where the middle school comes to the current high school. That’s where I would be at.”
Since announcing your candidacy, you’ve attended the September and October regular school board meetings, is there anything in particular you have gleaned from sitting in on those meetings?
“At this last board meeting they presented the schematics of the gymnastics/ALC school. I was kind of impressed with the design of that. It uses a lot of natural lighting and making an environment where it’s very conducive to learning.
“The financial report that was shared shows the district is financially sound. There’s some debate that they bought the land, did the add-on to the high school and the bus barn, but those things are all paid for. If the bus barn wasn't built, we wouldn’t have a local contractor providing transportation to our students. The finances of the district are solid, and going onto the board, I certainly want to make sure the district stays solid. I’m a farmer, I’m a businessman - that’s part of my experience too - and I’m real conservative, but yet sometimes you have to spend money, because the product we’re putting out is students, and we have to give them the best opportunity to succeed in their education, no matter what level they are. They all have to have the opportunity to succeed.”
Will that insight have any affect on how you will base decisions should you be elected?
“If I’m elected Nov. 7, I’ve got about 40 days to get up and running from when I would take my seat. I would be as active as I can and get as much information I can. I know that it’s a steep learning curve, and I’m prepared to take on that challenge. Come Wednesday morning the 8th, I want to get to the table and get as much information as I can so when I get to the first meeting in January, I’m prepared to contribute and certainly I’ll listen. From that time, almost from January to Feb. 13, is about another 40 days to gear up to get everything in place for that bond referendum, and I hope to contribute there as far as getting out into the communities, educate and let the people know what the needs of the district are.”
If elected to the one-year, non-expiring term, do you anticipate you’d seek re-election?
“I do. One year is going to be strictly a learning curve … I would definitely seek re-election.”
Anything further you’d like District 518 patrons to know?
“I would appreciate their vote and would be their voice. Your vote, your voice for all the constituents of District 518. I don’t have a set agenda, but there’s a lot of debate on the school bond and I certainly want to represent both sides to the best of my ability and go forward.”
Mike Harberts “I’m running for school board of ISD 518 because of my passion to support our school district and my care for the children and employees. My extended family has had a lifetime commitment to the school district and we have been blessed in many ways by it. It’s time for me to give back.
“I’m not blindly seeking this office. I’ve seen over the last couple of years how much commitment of time, energy and study a good school board member needs to offer to properly serve the district and their constituents.
“I won’t pretend to have all the answers as I know there’s much to learn. But the same time I hope to become a voice of reason and balance that can start to tip the board in more productive directions. With some exceptions, I’ve seen a bit too much ‘groupthink’ by the board. I suspect there are other board members who have sound judgment and good ideas but are often hesitant to raise them. Or if they do, they defend them too meekly.
“If elected, I hope to serve as an encouragement to my fellow board members to see them offer their unique perspectives. Such new ideas, managed well, might lead the board in much more productive directions.
“Overall, I believe the administration and the board have managed the operating budgets well, on behalf of the district. Maybe too well. Cash reserves are nice to have but excessive cash reserves might indicate a diminished need for the operating levy. With my financial management experience, I would like to take a more serious look at the budget, seeking to maintain all our necessary programs while at the same time looking for some taxpayer relief.
“I am troubled, though, by a series of large capital expenditures made by the school board in the last few years without voter input. I.e. Bus shed $3 million for real estate and the recent $10+ million ALC/gymnastics facility.
“I have not been an advocate for an expensive new high school and athletic complex. Win or lose this school board seat, I do intend on voting no on the upcoming February proposal. But if elected to the board, I want to be part of an effort to truly address our space and scheduling needs for Worthington ISD, all the while recognizing that the large majority of district stakeholders simply can’t afford the current proposals. I want to help steer the district in a positive, new and affordable direction to meet these needs, one that will help bring our community back together.
“But I can’t do it without your help. Please vote for me, Mike Harberts, for ISD 518 school board on Nov. 7. Thank you.”