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Our View: School Board makes good pick for short term

Talk about a pleasant problem to have.

When the South Washington County School Board sought applicants for an 11-month term on the board, 14 district residents stepped forward.

That was a bit of a surprise given the short stint; it's fair to question whether such a brief tenure is worth the time and work involved to try to get there.

Still, many of those applications came from people who had demonstrated interest, experience and service that could benefit District 833. The applicants included parents, school volunteers, reading and education experts, people attune to the skills valued in today's workforce, past school board candidates and even a former board member. Five were interviewed.

For a number of reasons, the District 833 community will benefit from the board's decision to select Katy McElwee-Stevens to fill the empty seat through the November election. She fills part of a term left open when Leslee Boyd stepped down late last year.

Serving on a school board presents a steep learning curve. While they're not involved in day-to-day school operations, board members must be familiar with what's happening in the classroom in addition to being well-versed in school finances, curriculum trends and a variety of other education issues. It takes time to learn the ropes, and it would be a particularly daunting assignment for someone lacking familiarity with school board operations.

McElwee-Stevens was a wise pick in part because she already served on the board. She was appointed to fill an open seat in 2006. She lost a subsequent school board election, but spent two years learning and serving. She understands the job.

In addition to having previously served, McElwee-Stevens works at Newport Elementary School and long has been involved in school volunteer activities in the district.

Also appealing is how she fills a gap in the board's geographic representation. Prior to Boyd's resignation, the board consisted of five Woodbury residents - Boyd, Marsha Adou, Laurie Johnson, David Kemper and Jim Gelbmann - and Cottage Grove residents Tracy Brunnette and Ron Kath. There were no residents of St. Paul Park and Newport - home to three District 833 schools - on the board. That changes with McElwee-Stevens, a Newport resident.

We're confident McElwee-Stevens will be a valuable contribution to the board in a year when district policymakers will face budget challenges, a pending decision about the acquisition of Crosswinds School and a possible school referendum renewal this fall.

As the School Board was deciding this appointment, board member Jim Gelbmann suggested that in future appointments interviews be given to applicants who've previously run for election to the board.

Those applicants are certainly deserving of consideration, but simply having run for office in the past should not grant someone an automatic interview. Experience, background and familiarity with the district still should be leading qualifications.

On Nov. 5, voters will fill three four-year seats - Adou's, Kemper's and Johnson's - along with the remaining two years of Boyd's term. In addition to others seeking to run, we hope some of those who applied for the recent opening give strong consideration to stepping forward again.