Maple school board -- Gail SaariAnswers transcribed from interview with Gail Saari.
Name: Gail M. Saari
Family: Married with four children
Education: 1972 Northwestern High School graduate; cosmetology license
Occupation: Managing cosmetologist.
Town/village of residence: Maple
Civic and government involvement: Maple School Board member for 12 years; active in church council at Peace Lutheran Church; member of the Suomi Conference board; former PTO member and Girl Scout leader; Sunday school teacher; on the CESA board of control.
Why are you seeking the seat?
Because of the trying times we have now. I think my experience, my longevity on the board will help to make some good decisions for our children and our school district. It takes a while before you know how things operate. I think the time I’ve served so far has been beneficial for its continuity.
These are difficult times and I think the face of education is changing. Public schools educate all kids; we have to try and teach to all students.
How can the district weather the coming budget crunch? What cuts do you feel can be made to keep costs down? Do you forsee taxes increasing to maintain the quality of education?
Unfortunately we had to give a letter to all our teaching staff, a “pink slip.” Since the letter, if they have intentions of coming back they could sign them. All but one has. We have quite a few retirees, but we’re still not sure how many will retire. We have extended the date by which a retirement decision must be reached due to the uncertain status of the budget.
Technology will play a big role – paperless and in some cases bookless classes. Projections onto a white board, use of smart boards can lead to that. Some new teachers are bringing in new ideas.
As for cuts, there have been suggestions of going down to four days of school per week. I don’t know that that’s the best way to do it. I’m more in favor of more school. I am also not in favor of Gov. Walker’s proposal to cut the number of face-to-face school days in the state.
The costs of fuel, electricity, all these things, are rising. We’ll keep it to a minimum, but prices are going up. Health care is a big cost. We could look at higher deductibles and copays. If we could spread it out over a larger group, it would lower the cost. We’ve talked about combining with other school districts but it’s really hard when you have retirees on the same insurance. Being able to have two different plans would also help.
Do you have a plan to absorb students from the South Shore School District, if it dissolves? How big a financial strain would that put on the district in regards to busing costs? Is there enough room in the schools to absorb them? How would those issues be addressed?
The state is the only one who can close a district, and electors would also have to vote on that. If it did, some students may go to Ashland or other districts based on their boundaries. Through open school enrollment, we have gotten some of the children from South Shore School District. It’s a waiting game again. The fact that South Shore is still there shows how much people in that district value their children’s education.
What other big challenges are facing the district?
Keeping the subjects we’re teaching right now without having too large of class sizes (over 30). It has been shown that large class numbers are not condusive to learning. Especially when students have different skill levels and learning styles. That’s why it’s important to have aides to help students who need it.
How would you deal with them?
Right now I know we have a lot of para-educators. That number may have to drop based on available funds. Everything seems to go back to the dollars. But if you compare the cost to incarcerate someone versus what it costs to educate them, it costs three times more to incarcerate them.
What strengths do you bring to the job; what sets you apart as a candidate?
I care about my region because I grew up here and I love kids. I really think the best thing that ever happened to our school is the new Patricia Luostari Theatre for the Performing Arts. It’s a chance to see kids shine.
My experience on the board. I served as a director, was board treasurer, am now clerk and I forsee going higher in the future. I like challenges. I like to work with our staff to see what we can do to solve problems in transportation, funding, curriculum, and buildings; get everyone to the table.
The board makes the decisions. But if we do something wrong, have enough guts to say so.
We want our kids to be continual learners; the board should be the same. I learn something from every one of the seminars I’ve gone to and I challenge the rest of the board members to do the same. To learn from other districts, both good and bad. I’ve gone to every single education convention since I was elected to the board.
Is there anything else you feel is important for voters to know about you or your qualifications?
Part of being a board member is keeping up with the state legislature and being an advocate for our area and our kids. I challenge all board members to do so.