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Forum: County commission, school board candidates answer questions :

Forum: County commission, school board candidates answer questions :

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The La Crescent Area Chamber of Commerce along with La Crescent-Hokah ISD 300 Community Education will host its Candidates Forum at 7 p.m. on Thursday. The event allows residents in the districts for Minnesota state 28 and 28B, Houston County 1, and La Crescent-Hokah school to meet the candidates and ask questions regarding the issues that are being faced in these districts. Due to COVID-19, the event will not be open for viewers to attend in person; instead, it will be live-streamed via ZOOM as well as recorded for individuals to watch the next day. Links for the live event and the recorded events will be available on the chamber’s and school district’s websites and Facebook pages.

Here are candidates for Houston County commissioner District 1:

Dewey Severson

Dewey Severson, a longtime resident of La Crescent, graduated from La Crescent High in 1967. He joined the State Patrol in 1970 and retired from there after 34 years. Severson started Dewey Enterprises in 1979 and continues to run his trucking business today. He’s been a Lions member since 1979, an Eagles Club member until it closed in the 90’s and also an active member of Prince of Peace Church.

In addition to serving on the council and several committees, he has also led youth groups on mission trips for the past 20 years. His family includes wife Kathy, five children, 15 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Scott Yeiter

I am married to my wife Sarah and have three children, Anna, Emily, and Alex and a grandson Zayveon. I live in the house that my grandfather built and six generations have lived under its roof. I have an AA degree in law enforcement and have been a municipal or county employee my entire adult life. Sarah and I also own and run Hill’s Morel Mushroom—Minnesota each spring. I served four years on the La Crescent City Council and continue to serve on the La Crescent Golf Course Committee.


responses, Houston County commissioner District 1: What motivated you

to run for office?

SEVERSON: I like to be of service. Was seeing issues that are of interest to me and felt there was a need for change. I want to respond to and represent the La Crescent businesses.

YEITER: I chose to run for commissioner as I thought it would give me the best opportunity to continue to serve the community as my public safety career nears its end. My experience working for Houston County gives me a perspective other candidates don’t have.

What is the role of county government?

SEVERSON: Properly use the funds of the people and provide necessary services in an efficient manner to have an open eye and ear to the future.

YEITER: Many people don’t realize how much county government influences their lives. From public health, to highway, or tax assessment, Houston County has significant impact on its citizens lives, yet most have never met their county commissioner. There needs to be more involvement by the citizens and more effort made by the county to reach them.

Do you think our county is healthy and successful? If yes, why? If not, what would you do to change it?

SEVERSON: From what I see so far, it sure appears to be healthy. Going forward with Co. Hwy shop and providing services to the different organizations, road development could use some attention.

YEITER: I believe that our county is healthy, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to make our health a priority. From clean air to clean water, access to outdoor activities, including the Mississippi River, make Houston County a great place to live, work, or play.

What personal characteristic best exemplifies your leadership skill?

EVERSON: 34 years with the State Patrol dealing with different people. Eight years on City Council. 20+ years as Township Chairman. two terms on church council. 40+ years Lions Member and a dozen years as Chamber of Commerce board president.

YEITER: I am a committed and determined individual that pursues goals until they are met. I won’t just give you an answer that you want to hear or the popular answer, I will give you an educated answer after careful thought and research if necessary.

If elected, what steps would you take to put our county on firmer financial footing?

SEVERSON: Look at each department with “needs versus wishes.” Listen as each department head presents. Learn from those with experience in the field. Lean towards best results.

YEITER:I would propose an assessment of the new county administrator position to determine if the cost savings envisioned actually materialized. I would also ask the department heads to start at a zero-dollar budget each year to justify expenses rather than just adding a percentage increase to last years budget.

How do you plan to include residents in the decision-making process?

SEVERSON: By all means, it’s their funds I’m dealing with. That’s part of the Listen and Learn.

YEITER: I have been the only candidate to have a presence on social media. I would continue that access by converting my campaign page to a page where citizens can engage with me one-on-one or post questions to be answered to the public. I would also encourage Commissioner meetings continue to be live-streamed.

Here are the candidates for La Crescent-Hokah ISD 300 school board:

Christine Alioto

My name is Chrissie Alioto. I was born and raised in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. I attended UW-La Crosse and graduated in 1992 with a degree in physical therapy. I have worked as a physical therapist at MCHS-La Crosse since then. I moved to La Crescent in 1993 because of the small-town appeal and have raised my three sons in our district. Anthony is senior at La Crescent-Hokah High School, Aidan is a 2018 graduate who is studying physics/astrophysics at UM-Twin Cities, and Alex, who graduated from La Crescent-Hokah in 2016 and from UM-Twin Cities in 2019 is working as a site reliability engineer.

I enjoy volunteering. When my children were younger, I was active in the PTO. I also served as a Lego League coach for multiple teams and have been a parent representative/coordinator for LYSA and MYSA soccer teams. For the past 20 years, I have served as the MCHS-Southwest Wisconsin PT and PTA student coordinator. I am a member of the advisory committee for UW-L DPT Program. I am currently serving on the school board as board clerk. I am involved in multiple district committees: oversight, staff development, calendar, building project, teacher and non-certified staff contract negotiations, community education, and ISD 300 Foundation, and I am a representative for the Minnesota Rural Education Association.

April Carlson

I am a proud 1994 graduate of La Crescent-Hokah High School and played volleyball, soccer, basketball, and softball and served on Student Council. I hold an MBA, a BA in Organizational Leadership, and an AA in Graphic Design. I have worked for Mayo Clinic in Rochester since 2011 as its (chief) Privacy Officer and am currently in Information Security (IT) implementing a complex data security program.

I was the Treasurer (and first mom!) of the Kasson-Mantorville Youth Football Board and have coached youth sports for the past 15 years. I also volunteered as a Medicare Fraud Patrol trainer for several years where I traveled to SE MN senior centers and nursing homes to educate seniors of the risks of health care fraud. But most importantly, I am a mom of two boys- a fourth grader (Easton) and a sophomore (Aidan)- and I want their experiences as Lancers to be as rewarding as it was for me.

Gabriel Cody

No bio or response to questionnaire submitted.

Jeffrey Conway

I am a graduate of the University of St Thomas, and received a Master’s degree from University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I have lived in La Crescent for over 30 years and have spent the last 24 years teaching high school social studies, I was the head football coach from 1996-2004, head gymnastics coach, and I also supervised FCA. I am currently coaching football at UWL.

It has been a pleasure to serve this community as a teacher and coach and I would enjoy the opportunity to continue that effort on the school board. Thanks for all the support you have given me.

Christine Meindel-Wagner

I was born, raised and graduated from La Crescent-Hokah Public School District. Let me tell you a little about who I am: I married Dustin Wagner in 2004 and in 2005 we welcomed our first-born daughter. A few years later (2008) we were ready to welcome our second daughter. In 2016, we were very happy to announce the birth of our son. In addition to our busy house, we have two dogs, one cat and two guinea pigs. I enjoy camping, hiking and spending time with my family.

I work as a professional in the Coulee Region, I have 15+ years of experience working with vulnerable populations in both a clinical and community setting. I have a passion for the success of the youth and families of the La Crescent-Hokah Community. I have personal and professional experiences that will make me a great fit as a school board member.

Eric Morken

I was born and raised in Spring Grove, MN. I attended Central College in Pella, IA for Music Education, but did not graduate. I have a small business background growing up in the family business —Spring Grove Bottling Works — making and distributing Spring Grove Pop and distributing Pabst Blue Ribbon and Hamm’s beer in our area. I eventually took an ownership role until we sold the company in 2003. I am currently a partner in a wealth management and financial services practice in Onalaska. I hold my Series 6,7,63 & 65 securities licenses.

My wife and I moved to La Crescent in 2002. We have three kids enrolled in the district. We have never been disappointed in any of our kids’ teachers even though all three kids have different learning styles. We are members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in La Crescent. We are active in Lancer Youth Hockey and La Crescent girls’ soccer. I have volunteered for school band events along with manning the concessions stand for girls’ soccer etc. I have volunteered the last two summers helping to lead youth on our church work camp trip. I marched six years in the Blue Stars drum and bugle corps in La Crosse and am still involved in the alumni association. I assistant coached 11 years of high school football in Spring Grove, MN in the past along with five years of Saturday morning soccer coaching in La Crescent. (Go Sharks)

I have served eight years on the La Crescent-Hokah school board and if re-elected I plan to run for a region 1 director position on the Minnesota School Board Association board of directors to advocate for our district and region.

Anthony (Tony) Murilla

I grew up in Mapleton, MN and am a graduate from Maple River High School. I enlisted in the Army where I served three tours, including two in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. I retired from the military in 2019 after 21 years of service. My wife Brandie and I have called La Crescent home since 2007. We have three children, Addie, Colton, and Bryant. I am employed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Our family has a strong belief in giving back to our community. I serve as captain of La Crescent Volunteer Fire Department as well as a volunteer for several organizations that support the youth in our community. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, watching MN Viking Football (Skol), and hunting.

Jill Rodeberg

I am a native of a small farming community in Southwestern Wisconsin and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee. After substitute teaching in the La Crescent district for several years I am currently working as a Learning and Organizational Development professional at Aptiv. Our family moved from Indiana to La Crescent six years ago. My husband Todd and I have two children. Our oldest attends the University of Minnesota and our youngest still attends school in the district. Through various moves throughout our lives, our children have attended private schools, very large public schools and small community districts like La Crescent. Each learning environment has had its benefits and challenges. I try to draw from those experiences to make La Crescent-Hokah school district a great place to get a great education.

Blake Sjoberg

I am from Prairie du Chien, WI. Have had the pleasure to call La Crescent home for the last six years. My beautiful wife (Cassie) was raised in La Crescent and we have two children (Kaleb-12, Dakota-5) that attend the district. I have the absolute honor to be the La Crescent Boys Varsity Basketball Assistant Coach, going into my fourth year, working with some great young men.

This will be my 15th year working at Verve, a Credit Union in La Crosse, where I serve as the Area Operations Manager. Both my wife and I have educators in our family. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up around educators and have seen first-hand the role that school boards can play in the development of a school district.

Greg Stremcha

I graduated from La Crescent-Hokah Public School in 2001. I moved away for a few years but relocated back to La Crescent with my wife and children in 2013. I am a heavy equipment mechanic for Brooks Tractor in West Salem. I have four children, my son Isaiah is a senior at the University of Oklahoma, majoring in Meteorology. My daughter Madison is a freshman at Western Technical. I also have two children that attend ISD 300, McKinley is in sixth grade and Dawson is in second. I have volunteered with La Crescent Lions Club since October 2015 and am a member of Prince of Peace church.

Questionnaire responses for La Crescent-Hokah Independent School District:

What motivated you to run for office?

ALIOTO: I ran four years ago because our district was struggling financially, and I wanted to see this change. Our district is in a much stronger position now, but there is still work in other areas to be done.

CARLSON: As a student at La Crescent, I had some amazing teachers, coaches, and mentors—many of whom are still part of this community. As a parent of students in the district, I want to volunteer my time to find more effective ways to support our teachers, support staff, administrators, and students of all learning abilities- without further increasing taxes for the residents of our community.

CODY: No response received.

CONWAY: I was motivated to run because I had just retired and wanted to continue to help make La Crescent-Hokah schools the best they can be moving forward.

MEINDEL-WAGNER: I am passionate about the success of the youth and families of our community, and this can be achieved by having a strong Public Education system. Difficult decisions and conversations are needed for the success of the La Crescent-Hokah School District. Being a parent and community member, we need a sustainable plan — this includes providing a great education to our children in a fiscally responsible manner.

MORKEN: I was motivated by a few different factors. I didn’t feel heard after attending and participating in a district listening session at the elementary school. After some conversation with a few of my kid’s teachers, I decided to get involved and work to affect positive change by being part of the decision making process and join the school board.

MURILLA: Having three children, an eighth grader, a fourth grader, and a preschooler, my family will be involved with ISD 300 for a long time. Since moving to La Crescent in 2007, I have also heard that our school staff, at times, does not feel completely supported and this saddens me. I have had the opportunity to work with many of our staff members and have experience firsthand the great work that they are doing for the students in our school district.

RODEBERG: When I ran four years ago, we were facing different challenges than we are today. We are now in the midst of a major rebuild and a pandemic. We have made good progress in many areas but there is much more to do. I don’t want some of the good work we are doing to get dropped midstream, so I am committed to finishing what has been started.

SJOBERG: Motivation to run for school board is to inspire change. Inspiring change by empowering others, challenging the status quo, and bonding relationships between community and school.

STREMCHA: I saw room for improvement and was willing to put in the time and effort to make changes.

What is your vision for education in this community?

ALIOTO: Since the district includes the schools, as well as community education, I would like to see quality and affordable educational offerings, in the most effective ways, for all children, adults, and families.

CARLSON: We are in the middle of a pandemic, and now is the perfect time to change the way we’ve always done things. Not all students learn the same, and not all parents/guardians are able to effectively manage distance learning challenges. Access to available (free) technology resources and leveraging (free) community programs to help students with their social/mental health challenges would allow teachers to focus on the curriculum and ongoing professional development to better meet all students’ learning needs.

CODY: No response received.

CONWAY: My vision for the district is that we strive for excellence in everything we do. We should look for ways to be better in every facet of our district, and excellence should be the standard.

MEINDEL-WAGNER: I will work with the superintendent and board members to reach a common goal — an educational system that will prepare all students for the ever-changing world.

MORKEN: My vision for education in La Crescent consists of providing the most educational and co-curricular opportunities possible with our limited budget. Beyond good test scores I want our kids developing critical thinking and life skills in order to think for themselves and give them tools for success after high school.

MURILLA: I want to see La Crescent-Hokah as an educational leader in our tri-state area. I feel this can be accomplished. I also know that we have residents in our community that are worried about how our property taxes are going through the roof in recent years. Finding an affordable and effective solution for improving our schools is at the top of my list.

RODEBERG: To build community within the school itself by engaging not only the child but the parent in the education process—from PreK to graduation day. Providing a positive learning environment that supports the child’s academic and emotional needs all while being fiscally responsible to our community.

SJOBERG: To set every student up for success by offering experiences that will help shape them to become tremendous stewards of communities.

STREMCHA: Teachers are invested in the students and the community. And the community is invested in the school.

Describes the Superintendent’s role?

ALIOTO: The superintendent oversees and manages the day-to-day operations within the district. He maintains open lines of communication and works with the school board to implement the district’s strategic plan to better the district.

CODY: No response received.

CONWAY: I think the role of a superintendent is to facilitate this desire to be our best. A great superintendent is one who helps students, faculty, and administrators pursue excellence.

MEINDEL-WAGNER: The superintendent is responsible for the management of their school in addition to the administration of all school board policies and will report all findings and information to the elected school board members. ISD 300 Superintendent is to create a positive school and staff climate where all employees and students feel supported and heard; promoting professional growth and maximizing skills.

MORKEN: The superintendent leads the district based on policy developed by past and present school board members. The superintendent is directly accountable to the school board. A mutually agreed-upon evaluation tool should be employed on a regular basis to aid in superintendent review. It is Important for all parties to accept and give feedback.

MURILLA: Our superintendent is an administrative leader to our school district who is directly accountable to the school board. The superintendent evaluates our principals and works with the school board to set policy and implements/enforces the policies in our school district.

RODEBERG: The superintendent is responsible for the management of the school and the administration of the school board policies. The superintendent sets the tone and has direct impact on the culture of the district.

SJOBERG: To be an agent of growth. Helping the district grow by empowerment of others, challenging the status quo and embracing change.

STREMCHA: The superintendent’s role is to implement the board’s policies and give recommendations to the board. They are in charge of leading and managing the school district.

Can you name three areas you would look to cut expenses?

ALIOTO: I would look to control expenses by pursuing more cost saving measures like solar credit opportunities, by looking for alternate ways to fund projects like grants, and pursuing educational offerings and programs that keep students and revenue dollars in our district.

CARLSON: I think we can all agree that more money does not equate to a better education. I have an MBA and effectively manage a multi-million dollar annual budget in my professional role at Mayo Clinic. With that said, I could not name three specific areas without better understanding of the existing budget and expenses. Generally speaking, I do not support cutting sports or other extra-curricular activities because playing sports and being part of Student Council helped give me the confidence and leadership skills to be the person I am today. Learning is about more than reading and math.

CODY: No response received.

CONWAY: I think this question is a biased one. The assumption that we are wasting money in this district is erroneous. Economists will tell you there is no free lunch and if we expect our kids, teachers, and administrators to be their best we as a community must give them the tools to be successful.

MEINDEL-WAGNER: This is a tough question that more information is needed, and the answer will be difficult to hear once a final plan has been created. Creating a lean school takes collaboration from board Members, superintendent, principal(s), faculty and employees of the district. We must cover the needs of students and staff however the School Board along with the superintendent can look at creative funding options. There is no one solution but a collection of suggestions and recommendations that will help balance a budget.

MORKEN: Labor is the highest cost to the district. Part of being a board member is making tough decisions on what programs or positions may need to be cut for budgetary reasons. While tempting to run the school as a business, there is a human side to the numbers you cannot escape. We are always on the lookout for savings where possible. School finance and budgets need well more than 50 words to discuss.

MURILLA: I don’t feel that I have enough knowledge of the district budget to speak about this subject. As a school board member, understanding the budget will be a top priority of mine. Fiscal responsibility to the citizens of our district should be a priority to all board members. I do not want to cut athletics but I also feel that we, as parents, need to make it a priority to support the booster club, boards, and activity-specific clubs to understand what is happening with special programs and athletics.

RODEBERG: We are always looking for ways to remove waste and be more effective. Everything from energy efficiency to labor costs to curriculum delivery methods —- it’s all on the table for review. There is always room for improvement and I believe we can and we are identifying ways to better utilize our resources.

SJOBERG: I would hesitate to cut any expenses without having a complete understanding of each items value to the overall growth of the student.

STREMCHA: I would like to look at areas where resources can be conserved or give the district a “bigger bang for their buck”. Some of those areas may include operational maintenance, capital expenditures, and student transportation.

What do you think is the biggest problem our school district is facing?

ALIOTO: Mental health issues have been and continue to be a challenge, especially with the current pandemic and the way the delivery of education has evolved.

CARLSON: Even before the pandemic, our students were struggling with mental health, behavioral issues, learning disabilities, bullying, and lack of support at home. Our community has experienced devastating teen suicides. Students can only learn if they feel safe and supported. Teachers and support staff need additional support from their administrators and our community through bringing in (free) programs from local law enforcement agencies and local colleges.

CODY: No response received.

CONWAY: The obvious answer is we have to find a way to deliver quality education in the middle of a pandemic. We need to support teachers in finding more creative ways to deliver instruction in ways that help every student find success. The other problem I have seen is that we have to find a way as a community to come together in support of our schools. Too often we have been our own worst enemy with divisiveness and attacks rather helping where we can.

MEINDEL-WAGNER: Staff and student satisfaction, decrease enrollment year after year, being stuck in ‘old ways’ and not embracing change and new ideas.

MORKEN: The biggest problem this district has right now in my opinion is providing and maintaining a quality educational experience in the middle of the current COVID-19 environment. Plus we are asking teachers to be prepared to teach in person, hybrid and fully online while we are in the middle of our high school and elementary school construction projects. Supporting our staff and students in as many ways as possible is the most import thing we can do

MURILLA: I attended the August School Board meeting and witnessed an utter lack of concern by certain school board members towards issues that were identified by our school’s staff. I was deeply saddened by what I saw and heard. Our staff is the heartbeat of our schools. It is very concerning to me that we don’t support our staff and show them that our district has their best interests in mind.

RODEBERG: Managing a major school building project during a pandemic is a big one and has put an extreme amount of stress on all levels of our staff. Supporting each other and finding what is working rather than what isn’t is a part we can all play to improve our district.

SJOBERG: I think it all comes down to “culture.” The district’s culture doesn’t provide empowerment and doesn’t embrace challenging the status quo.

STREMCHA: There are kids leaving the school district and attending other schools because their needs are not being met within our district.


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