Spring, 2014 | ELECTION WATCH • INTER-COUNTY LEADER
Unity School Board has three vying for two seats
Board president, incumbent face first-time challenger
Greg Marsten | Staff writer
BALSAM LAKE – There are three candidates seeking election to two open seats on the Unity School District Board of Education. Longtime board President Debbie Ince-Peterson is seeking a return, as is incumbent board member Ryan Peterson, who was appointed after the more recent resignation by Joe Tilton. Facing the two incumbents is first-time challenger Jerry Larsen. The two top vote-getters will be seated for full, two-year terms.
Ince-Peterson has served on the Unity School Board of Education for a total of 26 years, and for the past 24 years as board president.
She has been Polk County’s Building and Grounds, Parks and Forestry director for the past 23 years, with an additional decade as a county employee.
“Family is important to me,” she said, noting that she has two grown children and two grandchildren.
Ince-Peterson said she is seeking re-election to the board for several reasons.
“The district is in the middle of several change processes that require a constant and visionary approach,” she said. “I have seen our district’s needs change over time. There are more mandates and higher stakes accountability than ever in Wisconsin education, and I believe it is necessary to continue with the improvements that have had such a positive impact on our school district.”
She said there are several pressing issues facing the district, including the recently instated school district report card process.
“(The report card process) requires our continued attention to our improvement efforts to show our community how we can provide the best education possible,” she said.
She also said the school funding “continues to be a broken system,” and with the Unity district receiving less state aid than ever before. “It’s important to have someone that can communicate with legislators so we can try to solve the problem of fair funding for our schools,” she added.
She also said it was important to address long-term needs to provide adequate facilities for students and the community.
Peterson is a security technician with a local firm, which he said is helpful to his position on the board. He was appointed to fill a board vacancy last year, but has been involved in Unity clubs, groups and issues for many years prior. He has lived in the Balsam Lake area for 35 years, with both he and his wife attending and graduating from Unity Schools, as well.
“Our two children attend Unity and are presently in Unity Middle School,” he said.
Peterson said he is seeking a return to his seat because he cares about the children, staff, community and district itself.
“Education is very important to me and our students at Unity,” he said. “Serving on the board has been very rewarding, and I would appreciate the opportunity to continue.”
He serves on the building/grounds and facility committee, as well as on committees that oversee audits and create the school calendar.
Peterson said the issues he thinks they are facing include ways to improve the declining state aid funding, as well as student and staff security.
“On a positive note, the best issue in the district is the commitment of the students, staff and community members to needs of the the school,” Peterson said. “It’s very important that we continue to give our children the best education possible. Each student at Unity is special in their own way and they deserve nothing but the best when it comes to education. However, it is important to me that we keep a well-balanced budget and keep from having to raise taxes.”
Larsen is a first-time candidate for the Unity School Board, but was born and raised in the area, as his family has owned and operated a major livestock farm between Centuria and Milltown for several generations. He also operates a retail store at their farm.
He is a married father of three children, and his family has a long history of involvement with the Unity School District.
Larsen said he is seeking a seat on the board because he now has the time to serve and give his full attention to a position.
“Some (current board members) have been on the board a long, long time,” he said. “I think it’s time to get some new people involved.”
Larsen concurred that the biggest issue facing the board and the district is continued reductions and uncertainty in state aid and funding formulas.
“We keep getting less and less from the state,” he said. “I think there are ways we can do to improve that, all sorts of things.”
He said one thing the board should give a closer look at adjusting their school-day hours, to affect their number of days in session.
“We could reduce the number of days, saving money on heating and air conditioning, transportation, foods, you name it,” he said.
Larsen also suggested the district pursue more grant writing and suggested they hire a true grant writer to do just that.
“There are lots of grants out there, and I think we could possibly save a lot of money by hiring a specific grant writer, maybe we’d get additional grant money,” he said. “It’s out there if we can apply for it.”