VanLoenen is new Hudson school board leaderBarb VanLoenen said she didn’t seek to become the new Hudson Board of Education president but she is ready to step up.
By: Meg Heaton, Hudson Star-Observer
Barb VanLoenen said she didn’t seek to become the new Hudson Board of Education president but she is ready to step up.
VanLoenen has been a member of the school board since 2008 when she was elected to fill out the final year of another board member’s term. She was re-elected in 2009 and has served as chairman of the Program and Development committee and a member of the finance committee.
She is employed as a vice president of finance for Twin Cities Public Television and formerly held a similar post with Best Buy Company.
Van Loenen replaces Dan Tjornehoj as president, a position he held since 2005. He has been a school board member for 15 years and did accept the role of clerk in the recent officer election.
VanLoenen said she sees the primary role of the school board president as three-fold. First, the president serves as a focal point for the community. “If people want to talk to someone on the board or voice an opinion, the board president is often the first choice, although all board members are happy to talk with parents and residents.”
The second responsibility is to lead and facilitate board meetings, both open and closed sessions, and move the board forward to make decisions. “Our board meetings are unique in that they are open and it is important to be sure that all voices, that of members and the public, are heard.”
The third role of the president is to be the board’s most visible member by attending as many school functions as possible. With her full-time job in St. Paul this will be a challenge but she is committed to attending as many as she can.
VanLoenen pointed out that beyond the tasks mentioned above, the president has only one vote on the board and does not wield any additional influence over decisions made by the school board. She said the objectives of the school board have been laid out in the district’s long-range plan, HSD 2025 and that the challenge will be to maintain the district’s level of performance and move it to the next level during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
That said, VanLoenen said she is cognizant of questions raised by the board’s recent decision to give the superintendent an 11.8 percent increase over the next two years and a 4.8 percent increase to district administrators in 2010-11. She supported both raises at an April 21 meeting prior to becoming board president.
When asked about why she did so, VanLoenen did not want respond during the interview but sent this prepared statement:
“Following up on my comments that the role of the board is to set strategy, provide oversight and make decisions where necessary, I would add the role of the board is to ensure we have the right staff to lead the district in the execution of the strategy as well as managing the complexity of a school district. Part of ensuring we have the right staff is to select individuals with the right skill sets and to pay them appropriately. I believe most people would agree that Hudson is a well above average school district. I believe we excel in student performance, exceptional curriculum and extracurricular opportunities. These are possible when we have highly talented individuals in the classroom and leading the district. I understand the community’s concern about the timing of the increase but I believe that moving the administrative team to a salary level that is closer to the average pay for people in those jobs was the right decision.”
Earlier this year, the school board voted to cut driver’s education from the curriculum, citing the cost savings as one of the reasons for the decision. When asked about that decision, in light of the raises (which will add about $50,000 to the payroll budget next year), VanLoenen said her vote to cut driver’s education was more about how it “aligned with our HSD 2025 goals.”
VanLoenen also supported a $2 million addition to the Hudson Middle School that is slated to be completed by January 2011. Some questions have been raised about the board’s decision not to bid the project but to award the contract for the job to Hoffman of Appleton, the design and contracting firm that built River Crest Elementary.
VanLoenen said she supports that decision for several reasons. “We need the space at the middle school as quickly as possible. We had a very good experience with Hoffman on River Crest. They brought that project in under budget and on time. We know their work and they know us. It was the best decision for the district.”
When asked about giving more area businesses a shot at the job, VanLoenen said Hoffman will act as the project manager and will likely use local sub-contractors as they did for River Crest.
VanLoenen said the business of running a school district hasn’t changed but conducting that business is more challenging in the past because of the recession.
“What is particularly unique in Hudson is that we have had the luxury of adequate state funding and strong growth in student enrollment. We are still seeing growth but not at the pace we’ve had in the past.”
She said the board must deal with uncertainty as a result. “We don’t know what’s ahead. Last year we received $1 million in stimulus funding. We don’t get that this year so we need to find a million in savings somewhere through re-allocation or something else.”
VanLoenen said that students are at the heart of what the school board does. “We are all very attentive to the very best outcomes for our students and we try to make our decisions mindful of how they impact the families and taxpayers of the district. We don’t always make everyone happy but they are always considered in our decision-making process.”
As for what is ahead, the school board has more salary issues to face. It is likely that non-administrative staff salaries and a new teacher contract will be on the agenda at the June 8 board meeting. The new president said she is also looking forward to working with the district’s administrators on a long range solution to the secondary-space problem.