As three terms expire, four candidates vie for a spot on the District 518 School Board
Incumbents Lori Dudley and Adam Blume are seeking reelection, while candidates Erin Schutte and LaDean “Butch” Fletcher are also vying for a seat.
EDITORS NOTE: Responses have been edited for spelling. Candidates were given a 150-word limit, and any responses not in adherence were trimmed from the bottom up. Responses were formatted in the order they were received.
WORTHINGTON — Three terms on the ISD 518 Board of Education are set to expire at the end of this year, and four community members have filed to represent constituents starting in the new year. The candidates, which include two incumbents, are gearing up for the Nov. 8 election.
Current school board chairwoman Lori Dudley and board member Adam Blume are both on the ballot. They are joined by Erin Schutte, a small business owner with a Worthington law practice, and LaDean “Butch” Fletcher, a bus driver for the district.
The Globe contacted all candidates with questions about their priorities and plans, should they be elected. Here are their responses.
Why are you seeking office?
Adam Blume: I’ve enjoyed the past 4 years and have learned a lot. I care about the education of all kids and want to make sure we keep doing a good job of that. My kids go to Worthington and feel like I’m a good voice for everyone involved in District 518.
Lori Dudley: Nearing the end of my 20th year as a District 518 School Board member, I contemplated ending my service at this point. But with seats open at the filing deadline, and a continued deep passion for quality public education, I am seeking one last term. The experience I bring to the board is invaluable as I have held every board office, served on numerous and varied committees, and feel confident in the workings of school governance. I understand the procedures and practices necessary to set policy and guide the operations of a district of over 3,300 students and 600 staff. I know board service requires commitment and dedication to devote sufficient time and study to make sound decisions, prioritize meetings and to always have a listening ear.
Erin Schutte: I care deeply about ISD 518, its students, and our community. I am a WHS graduate who grew up on a farm in rural Rushmore, I’m the owner of Kivu Immigration Law PLLC in Worthington, and I am — most importantly — Mom to a future Trojan. I am invested in making sure that our public schools operate responsibly, efficiently and cost-effectively to provide high quality education to our students.
I also seek office because I am uniquely qualified for the job of a school board member: My education and my career have helped me become a good listener, an analytical thinker and a clear communicator. As a local attorney and community advocate, I have established trusted relationships across many populations in Worthington and the surrounding area.
LaDean “Butch” Fletcher: I am interested in the amount of money it takes to run a school along with government involvement. Our tax dollars must be used wisely and stretched as far as possible. I feel we need to hire and keep good education. We must pay a decent wage to keep our teachers and support staff with the district.
How should the school deal with staff shortages?
Adam Blume: In today’s world it’s all about incentives, but how to be fair about it. We have to meet the needs of paying these people a good wage, benefits and the incentive to bring them into the district. The shortage is an ongoing issue and it really comes down to being able to persuade people to work for us.
Lori Dudley: This is a national crisis. We must continue to give teachers and paraprofessionals as many support systems as the budget can allow, while working to make our district culture and building environments the best they can be. We also need to market our strengths to attract quality employees to accept positions and then become connected to our community. Increased state and national school funding would help to cover education mandates, increase salaries, create incentives to attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession, and fund more college options for high-quality, low-cost teacher training programs. Our “Grow Your Own” program is a successful innovative idea, and we need more like it. Continuing to invest in the Department of Teaching and Learning is important to support and retain staff. This ensures our employees have professional growth opportunities, support systems backing them and the tools necessary to teach effectively.
Erin Schutte: Schools nationwide are in a hiring crisis, and schools in rural areas struggle in particular. ISD 518 must focus on both attracting and retaining educators. To attract new educators, I advocate for an “all of the above” approach: 1. Highlight our vibrant community amenities and thriving local businesses that make Worthington a place where professionals and their families want to move. 2. Support ISD 518’s “Grow Our Own” pathway partnership with Minnesota West and SMSU, which offers a pathway for prospective teachers to complete their required training and licensing without needing to leave our community.
Of course, retention is just as important as recruitment. As a school board member, I will be dedicated to ensuring that educators feel respected and valued for their important role in teaching our community’s children.
LaDean “Butch” Fletcher: There are shortages all over with teachers and paras. I feel the school board will have to deal with ways to entice people to want to come to Worthington.
How would you identify and address the needs of a diverse student body?
Adam Blume: I think I’ve learned that our district does a very good job about being fair to all diverse culture. Can’t play favoritism. I don’t feel any culture in our district is treated any different, we know we gotta be fair to everyone and we are. There is also plenty of counseling opportunities the district offers if something or someone has an issue.
Lori Dudley: District 518 has approximately 3,350 students with many diverse learning and cultural backgrounds all melded together into one unique student body. I believe in providing every student with the best possible education no matter his/her learning ability, socio-economic status, or ethnicity. We need to ensure our students across the district have the support and programming in place to address all learning needs ranging from Special Education to Gifted and Talented. After-school and enrichment learning options, English Language Learning, K-12 Character Strong Curriculum, mid-level and new to country support (to name a few) along with curricular and co-curriculars activities are all important and need to be as diverse as our learners. The goal is to meet students where they are and give them every opportunity to engage and learn, get involved and to feel connected to their classmates and school.
Erin Schutte: Being a good listener is the first step to identifying and addressing the needs of ISD 518’s diverse student body. Every single one of our students matters, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, status, identity, orientation and ability. It is important for the school board to be accessible and available to students, their parents and guardians, teachers, paras and other school staff members who see students every day. One way I plan to be accessible and available includes spending time inside the school buildings.
LaDean “Butch” Fletcher: Support all students and encourage students to higher education. Get parents involved and put a high priority on that.
How should the district handle classroom conflicts over topics such as race, sex education and censorship?
Adam Blume: There are many guidelines that are put in place by the state (MDE) and following them guidelines and leadership has allowed us to handle this topic to the best of our abilities!
Lori Dudley: To date these topics have not been front burner issues in District 518. Open communication with parents on all issues is key, and we encourage dialog on these topics with school leaders. This ties in with the following question.
Erin Schutte: When any challenging topic arises in our schools, it must always be addressed in the best interest of our students. ISD 518 must stay focused on the needs of our students and not get wrapped up in the latest story on cable news or whatever rumors are trending on social media. At the same time, it is important that the school board takes a proactive, rather than reactionary, approach to foreseeably challenging topics and ensures that teachers and staff have the appropriate guidance. I will have the courage to pursue district policies that will make a positive difference in students’ lives and the wellbeing of the community regardless of political rhetoric.
LaDean “Butch” Fletcher: Have to be fair to all students. Be transparent, open minded, willing to listen and treat fairly.
What is your philosophy on the relationship between parents and the school district?
Adam Blume: Biggest thing is communication and having an open-minded administration and school board for people to work with. Have to be open-minded with parents.
Lori Dudley:The partnerships uniting parents, students and the school district are very important and should be fostered with effective, honest communication among all parties. There are many avenues for parents to be aware and stay connected with their student’s progress and classroom including campus portal, the ISD 518 website, e-mail, and various social media platforms. When parents are invited to students’ conferences or school open houses, we urge them to take advantage of this opportunity to hear firsthand how their student is doing, tour buildings and meet staff to create personal relationships. Parents must do their part to support learning and to be aware of what is going on in their student's lives during and after school, and especially on social media. I believe the Communications Director has improved communication with not only parents but the greater community as we strive to build relationships and create trust in partnership with all stakeholders.
Erin Schutte: I strongly believe that students need nurturing both at home and in school to reach their full potential. Parents/guardians and the school district must be able hold one another accountable for students’ best interests to be met, so it is important to have clear, frequent communication between the school board and parents. While the district has made great progress in reaching out to parents/guardians across language and cultural barriers, I believe we must continue improving communication strategies and find efficiencies wherever possible. Ultimately, transparency builds strong relationships between parents and the school district, which is key to student success.
LaDean “Butch” Fletcher: Having working relationship between school and family for the betterment of their kids.
What future investments would you make for the district?
Adam Blume: Education, Education, Education. I think Covid set our kids back and we still need to keep progressing them forward plus keeping them on track to their future graduation.
Lori Dudley: My on-going vision is to continue doing what is best to educate all students within the budget constraints of school funding. I offer deep thanks to the voters across District 518 for partnering with us in supporting the new Intermediate Building bond, district projects and the existing operating levy. Increased space has now opened possibilities of additional Pre-K programming, and more educational and student service opportunities — if we can find the staff to hire. We must address the issues of poverty, family factors and mental health if we are to close the achievement gap. We must anticipate school board candidacy interest, employee shortages and succession, and the reality of the district operating levy expiring in 2024. Investing in your school system leads to educational excellence for all learners to be successful citizens. I wish to continue the work of maintaining District 518’s high-quality education system.
Erin Schutte: I believe investment in personnel is most important for the future of ISD 518. Teachers, paras, counselors and support staff are on the front lines. Our district needs the capacity to provide quality education to our growing student body, and our educators need to be supported.
We all want what is best for our kids, and it is okay to disagree about the details of how we get there. What’s important is that we all come to the table willing to listen, learn, respect each other’s perspectives, and work toward practical compromises together. In the spirit of collaboration and open dialogue, I will be hosting round table conversations in Worthington, Reading, Wilmont, Bigelow and Rushmore in the coming weeks to learn about what investments you think are important for our district. All are welcome. To see dates and times, visit ErinSchutte.com or follow “Erin Schutte for School Board” on Facebook.
LaDean “Butch” Fletcher: Invest in teaching and support staff salaries and benefits to attract new and additional educational supporters.
Create/implement a board-approved strategic plan covering technology, school security, parent involvement.