School board candidates make final pitch
The Fairfield Community School District has three of seven board seats expiring next week and one incumbent, Jennifer Anderson, filed to run for re-election and is the only candidate named on the ballot.
However, since the deadline, five residents have elected to advertise as write-in candidates to serve four-year terms on the school board: Joe Carr, Kate Van Pelt, Steve Burgmeier, John Oleson and Gerald Manley.
So now there is a contest of six people for three seats.
School board elections are Tuesday, with polling sites in Jefferson County open noon to 8 p.m.
The following candidates provided information to The Ledger:
• Anderson is finishing up a four-year term. She had previously served two terms on the Fairfield School Board, from 1993-1999, or six years, for a total of 10 years as a school board director.
She lives in the rural Lockridge area of Jefferson County. Her two children recently graduated from the Fairfield school district.
“I believe in public schools and I want to do all I can to make Fairfield Community School District the best it can be,” Anderson said. “Our kids — present and future — deserve this. Our community needs to have a strong school system to maintain its presence and to enable it to grow in the future.
“All of us in the surrounding area have a vested interest in Fairfield staying a viable community to support our lifestyles, our businesses and overall health of Southeast Iowa,” she said. “Past generations contributed to developing the district to what it is today. Our current community needs to continue to build on this foundation.”
Anderson and her husband Nelson own and operate a grain and livestock farm. She also has her own computer consulting business.
Anderson is concerned about maintaining the school district’s financial stability.
“Financial stability is the biggest issue,” she said. “Another huge issue is delivering our outstanding curriculum so that all students achieve the highest skill level they possibly can. Finding the balance between these two main issues is the key to success for the district. That, and also being able to fund all the current needs the district has.”
Anderson, elected by peers as president of the board the past few years, was asked about achievements in the district during her tenure.
“Achieving a positive unspent budget authority after being in the red for two consecutive years is a top achievement,” she said. “Passing the high school general obligation bond for remodeling was also quite an accomplishment.
“We’ve been able to maintain the level of quality employees the district has from bottom to top through tough economic times,” Anderson said. “Being able to continue to financially support professional development for teachers, which further develops curriculum, is big. And having the honor to recognize all the many outstanding accomplishments of the district’s students at board meetings is a highlight.
“Thanks for electing me four years ago,” said Anderson. “I would appreciate your vote in this election as well.”
• Burgmeier, a rural resident, farms in Lockridge, raising beef cattle and is one of five partners in a hog production facility. He said he hadn’t planned to run for school board.
“But since there are positions open, I decided to become a write-in candidate,” he said. “I’m a good, well-rounded person, knowledgeable about various subjects.”
Burgmeier said he has some ideas about what he’d like to accomplish or see happen in the Fairfield school district.
“I’ll wait and see if it can be accomplished,” he said.
“I’m interested in helping those students on the borderline of special education or at-risk,” he said. “I want to see all students allowed to reach their full potential.”
Burgmeier said the district has a good nucleus of school board members.
• Van Pelt moved to Fairfield from Des Moines three years ago, so her husband Todd could take a job at Cambridge Investment Research Inc. She has worked in the financial industry as well, at Wells Fargo Financial in Des Moines.
She is originally from Cedar Rapids, earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Northern Iowa and stays home with her two young children. Van Pelt’s daughter, Caroline, began kindergarten this year and her son, Cormac, 3, attends preschool.
“I’ve been active on the Fairfield Beautification Commission,” said Van Pelt. “Now, with my daughter starting school, I have more time to be involved in the community.
“I was approached to run as a write-in candidate for the school board,” she said. “I’m interested in seeing students get a good education.”
• Oleson is the general manager at TrafFix Devices Inc. in Fairfield.
“I came to Fairfield five years ago to work at TrafFix Devices,” he said. “I’ve been in the plastics business for 25 years. Since coming here, we’ve grown from 17 employees to 43, nearly tripling the workforce and creating new jobs.”
He retired after 20 years in the U.S. Air Force before working in the plastics industry.
Originally from Texas, Oleson said most of his family and all of his wife’s family is in Iowa.
“My son is a principal in Newton, my daughter is a principal in Des Moines, and my late father-in-law worked in education,” he said.
“I had thought about running for school board in previous years, but it was pretty busy at work as the company grew.”
He became motivated when there were more positions available than candidates.
“I am practiced and skilled in fiscal responsibility,” said Oleson. “I’m familiar with analyzing financial statements. I believe different sets of eyes need to review financial statements and projects.
“I have no intention of running the school district,” he said, laughing. “But I can provide good guidance on the financial side of things.”
Oleson serves on the board of directors for Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce and the board of Fairfield Iowa Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Before moving to Fairfield, he served on the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce board and was chairman of the Iowa State University Extension & Outreach in Poweshiek County.
• Manley, a former city council member, said he decided to run for a school board seat when not enough candidates filed.
“I decided late that I was interested,” he said. “It’s good to have competition.
“I’m enjoying retirement and I believe everyone who has the time and inclination should serve their community. I have extra time and extra energy.”
Manley serves on the board of Area 15 Regional Housing Agency and is retired from a marketing career.
“Everyone has ideas and it’s good to keep the school board fresh,” said Manley. “Funding and finances are always an issue. I hear a lot about improving education and what’s best for kids needs to be done. There’s nothing more important than providing a good education.
“I’m a graduate of Fairfield schools, as are my two kids and grandkids,” he said. “I have no particular axe to grind about the school district. I’m looking forward to Tuesday’s elections and if I win, I’m looking forward to serving.”
• Carr, a retired Fairfield elementary principal, could not be reached for this article.