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School District 196 voters guide: Art Coulson

Art Coulson

Why do you want to be a member of the District 196 School Board?

I want to continue my work on the board and my service to the people of our district. The six years I have spent on the school board have been both challenging and extraordinarily rewarding.

What skills would you bring to the school board to help the district?

Communication skills, cross-cultural awareness, an open mind, a desire to serve, devotion to this community and its young people, and the ability to think and act strategically.

I have worked collaboratively with the community, administration, staff and my fellow board members to tackle a number of financial challenges, adjusting our budget by 10 percent over the past three years while keeping the cuts, as much as possible, out of the classroom.

All four candidates have said that they support the levy that will be on the ballot Nov. 5. Why do you think it is necessary?

The levy will allow us to avoid further cuts next year and mitigate the budget adjustments we expect to make in 2015. Our board and administration have been frugal and effective stewards of the taxpayers’ money. We have focused on teaching and learning, using data to inform our teaching and to ensure that all students are learning. We continue to educate some of the highest performing students in the nation while being mindful of the taxpayers’ ability to pay for our programs.

We have been as open and transparent as we can be with the public. We have asked the administration to draft a list of cuts that will occur if the referendum fails, not to scare residents, but to be as forthright as we can about the impacts if our revenue is not increased. We are asking for an additional $10 million of levy authority per year; if we went to the state cap, we would get an additional $16 million per year, but our community survey showed us that a levy that goes to the limit was unlikely to pass. So, while the need is greater, we compromised and settled on the $10 million amount that we thought our community would support. That means, even if the levy passes, we are likely to see additional budget adjustments in 2015 and beyond.

Where do District 196 schools excel? Where do you think they can improve?

Our district has among the highest academic outcomes in the metro area while keeping administrative costs and property taxes comparatively low. Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan is a destination district — new residents and businesses choose our district because of its high-quality schools and its well-educated workforce. We strive to live up to our motto: to educate all students to their full potential.

An area where we need to continue to improve is our racially predictable achievement gap. This vexing issue is not unique to our district. We have aggressively attacked the problem in every building and in every classroom using data and formative assessments that track how each student is learning and where there might be gaps. We also created magnet schools at three of our elementary schools, in part to address pockets of racial isolation and to provide a challenging curriculum in STEM, the arts and in international studies/foreign language. We have started to see some progress in closing the achievement gap, but there is still a long way to go. We need to continue this work by ensuring that our workforce looks like the community it serves and by building cultural competence across our district so that all children learn at a high level. It is important to raise the achievement of all students while closing the achievement gap.