News Column

PRIMARY PREVIEW: School board candidates on new leadership, funding

May 30, 2014

By Katherine Grandstrand, American News, Aberdeen, S.D.

May 30--Four men -- including three incumbents -- are running for three open positions Tuesday on the Aberdeen Public Board of Education.

At the same time, Superintendent Gary Harms is preparing for retirement. Assistant Superintendent Becky Guffin will be moving into the position July 1.

"The transition period to a new superintendent in our district has gone very well," board member Duane Alm said. "I also believe those persons that are elected will also impact the transition in a positive and smooth manner as we move forward."

The school board's president, Mike Miller, died in March, leaving his seat open. After the election Tuesday the board plans to appoint a replacement for Miller's seat, Vice President Brad Olson previously told the American News. The board will elect new leaders with the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Follow @kgrandstrandAAN on Twitter.

Kevin Burckhard

Name: Kevin Burckhard, challenger

City of residence: Aberdeen

Age: 42

Education: Lakota High School, Lakota, N.D.; Northern State University, management/finance degree

Employment: Dacotah Bank, 2006-present; Well Fargo Bank, 1995-2006

Activities: United Way Board of Directors and Aberdeen Downtown Association Board

Family: Three children: Paiton (high school), Reece (middle school) and Lauryn (elementary)

Q: Why should voters cast their ballot for you?

A: I am a good listener and a quick learner that will put the interests of the students, constituents and staff first. I have a vested interest in the overall success of the Aberdeen public school system, having kids in all three levels of the school system.

Q: What issue is most important to public education in Aberdeen?

A: Funding issues at the state level so we can continue to offer the many programs that are vitally important to the success of our youth.

Q: How do you feel education is supported at the state level?

A: Funding will always be a concern and is something that we all need to stay on top of so we can continue to offer what we currently have and expand our offerings.

Q: What can you bring to the table that other candidates cannot?

A: The existing board members are very seasoned. With any board, I feel change is good and is positive. I will bring new ideas over time and a fresh perspective to the many things the board makes decisions on.

Q: Are there any changes you would like to bring to the school district?

A: I do not see any immediate changes that need to be made. With the change in administration, I think it is vitally important that the board and administration work closely together to ensure a smooth transition. The only agenda I have is to ensure that all students have a positive and fulfilling experience through their academic and extracurricular activity opportunities in a safe and secure environment.

Robert 'Bob' Nikolas

Name: Robert "Bob" Nikolas, incumbent

City of residence: Aberdeen

Age: 74

Education: Two years junior college in Detroit, four years at Northern State University, bachelor's degree in education and master's equivalent grad work.

Employment: Thirty-one years teaching at Aberdeen public schools, 10 years street commissioner Aberdeen, five years Police and Fire Safety Commissioner Aberdeen and five years director St. Mary's Youth Center in Aberdeen.

Activities: Approximately 10 years on the Aberdeen Public Library Board, approximately 10 years on the Firemen's Pension Board, Aberdeen, district director South Dakota Municipal League.

Family: I have eight brothers and four sisters. I am married with four children, one deceased, all born and raised in Aberdeen.

Q: Why should voters cast their ballot for you?

A: I have extensive educational and work background, all of which brings savvy to board decisions. Teachers are the most important part of a school system and, as a teacher, I know what they need to be successful and effective.

Q: What issue is most important to public education in Aberdeen?

A: As we continue to grow, we have an urgent need for more space, especially in the elementary schools. We can re-configure, re-adjust and even use the hallways, but we cannot hire more teachers if we have no room for them, or for kids. Of course, as space decreases, class size increases, which is most important problem No. 2.

Q: How do you feel education is supported at the state level?

A: Education is poorly supported at the state level, and we have a study to back this up. But, on the state level, decisions are made for political reasons. To do what needs to be done is unpopular. We/they make political decisions, expect educational results from them and blame educators for the poor educational results of the political decisions.

Q: What can you bring to the table that other candidates cannot?

A: Experience tells me that I am the only independent thinker on the board right now. When we all think the same, no one thinks very much. A person I served with on the city commission used to tell me: "Do not check your brain in at the door, and pick up a rubber stamp!"

Q: Are there any changes you would like to bring to the school district?

A: Yes, education could be well served if all schools changed to a four-day school week. This would also mandate that all activities must be held on Friday and/or Saturday. This would increase class attendance, compared with the present system. And teachers and classes are the heart of any educational system. Many school districts have already tried this, without the activity mandate, and found many advantages of the Friday open to other activities. Less could actually be more.

Brian Sharp

Name: Brian Sharp, incumbent

City of residence: Bath

Age: 41

Education: Graduated from Aberdeen Central in 1991. Bachelor's degree in animal science, dairy production and dairy manufacturing from South Dakota State University in 1996.

Employment: Self-employed on family farm east of Aberdeen since 1996.

Activities: Nine-year member of Aberdeen school board, six-year member of Brown County Fair board, past delegate of South Dakota Wheat Growers, member and leadership board Richland Church, CERT team leader, Municipal Band member.

Family: Wife, Gretchen, sons, Daniel and Travis, both in Aberdeen public schools.

Q: Why should voters cast their ballot for you?

A: As a committed current member of the school board, I bring a balanced, responsible and common-sense voice for the education of our most valuable asset, our children.

Q: What issue is most important to public education in Aberdeen?

A: Class size is always an issue in a growing district; it is both a concern and an encouragement to see so many children educated every day in the Aberdeen public schools.

Q: How do you feel education is supported at the state level?

A: The state is realizing that educating our children needs to be more of a priority moving forward.

Q: What can you bring to the table that other candidates cannot?

A: As the only member of the board who is an agricultural land owner and also the only member with children in our public school, I bring a unique voice and perspective to the school board.

Q: Are there any changes you would like to bring to the school district?

A: I'm looking forward to being involved in expanding and enhancing the career and technical education opportunities available for our students at the high school.

Scott Wirth

Name: Scott Wirth, incumbent

City of residence: Aberdeen

Age: (not given)

Education: Britton High School, Drake University, also have my senior professional in human resources certification.

Employment: Aspire Inc. for 17-plus years, currently the director of human resources

Activities: I have been a member of the school board for the past 12 years, have been involved in PTA at the local, state and national level for 10-plus years.

Family: One son, Dayton, who graduated from Central in 2013.

Q: Why should voters cast their ballot for you?

A: I have been an active leader on the school board for the past 12 years. I have dedicated my time to ensuring the education that Aberdeen students receive is of the best quality. During my time on the board, I have taken the time to stay current on public education topics by attending many state and national school board conferences. I have led the local school board as president for two years and as lead negotiator for several years, as well as other various committees. I would like to serve another three-year term as I enjoy giving back to the community in this way and because I believe we have many exciting changes in the near future that need to be addressed. I believe, as an experienced member of the board, I can help lead the district as we embark under the leadership of a new (yet familiar) superintendent.

Q: What issue is most important to public education in Aberdeen?

A: Balancing the growing number of students with the space we have available, incorporating more hands-on technology into the daily learning of our students and the construction and implementation of our new career and technical academy in the next year.

Q: How do you feel education is supported at the state level?

A: I do believe that the state of South Dakota should provide consistent and reasonable funding to K-12 education, as education of our young people will directly affect workforce development and other areas that are current challenges for our state. K-12 education should not be the last item the legislature appropriates funding for each session.

Q: What can you bring to the table that other candidates cannot?

A: I believe that I have proven my dedication of the past 12 years. I believe I represent the demographics in the community well, and I don't have any "agenda" for wanting to remain on the board. I am willing to dedicate the time needed to be an effective and knowledgeable board member. I have an excellent employer that allows for flexibility in my work as needed to be able to represent the community well and fulfill the duties of an elected board member.

Q: Are there any changes you would like to bring to the school district?

A: I would like to see a few more work sessions for the board, administration and other employees when we bring larger, districtwide issues before us. In the past, the board would have listening sessions at each school and employee group one time per year, and I would like to see those (or some of) these sessions reinstated. I believe that was a very good way for the board to stay a little more closely connected to the employees in our district.

PRIMARY POLITICS

The American News takes a look at what you need to know to make a difference in the voting booth June 3.

Monday: Democratic primary, District 3 Senate seat.

Tuesday: Five Republicans vie for District 23 House.

Wednesday: Republican U.S. Senate race.

Thursday: Three Democrats on District 1 House primary ballot.

Saturday: Area sheriff races.

Sunday: Few can topple an incumbent governor; polling stations.

Read all of our primary election preview stories with this story in our special package at AberdeenNews.com.

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(c)2014 the American News (Aberdeen, S.D.)

Visit the American News (Aberdeen, S.D.) at www.aberdeennews.com

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Source: Aberdeen American News (SD)


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