Read this week’s profile on Rick Steen, the fifth of nine Q&A features on Board members of the Fargo Public Schools. Each Board member was asked to comment on several things, including their service, the challenges facing the District, and who they see as the District’s next leader.
Board member since: 2002
Family/Children: Wife Laurie, daughter Jenna, and son Alex
Occupation: CPA, Partner with Eide Bailly LLP
What were the reasons you ran for a Board position?
The first time I ran for the Board was in 2001. The District was looking at some new configurations for the K-12 delivery model and boundary adjustments, so a number of families from our neighborhood became involved in discussions with and presentations to the Fargo School Board. Following a successful grassroots effort to persuade the Board to look at things a little differently from their original proposal, I was encouraged to run for the Board. I also felt the Board had become a bit disconnected with where the District was heading and felt I had something to offer. I was not successful my first attempt, but after encouragement from a number of people, I ran again and was elected to the Board in 2002.
What is something you’ve learned through your service to the District that you didn’t know before becoming a Board member?
I found that there was significantly more to being on the Fargo School Board and running a school district than I had imagined. I had a number of personally significant items that I wanted to have addressed when I started on the Board. I soon discovered that these issues were relatively minor and small in number when compared to the myriad of challenges that the District was required to address on an ongoing basis. I also learned that in order to accomplish change, it was going to take the entire Board and Administration working as team with the public stakeholders to make real change happen. I have also come to realize that the Fargo School District’s academic curriculum and extracurricular activities are second to none in the region, and this has been recognized at the national level.
What do you see as big challenges for the District going forward? Challenges for K-12 education in North Dakota?
Funding will always be a challenge for school districts in North Dakota. The mill levy cap could have an impact on education funding in the Fargo School District. I previously mentioned the rich curriculum that the Fargo School District offers. This is only made possible by a significant investment by the taxpayers of the District. Under current legislation, revenue generated through local property taxes would be “capped” for the 2014-15 school year at the 2013-14 level. So basically, the District would be limited in new dollars based on what the District could collect from state, federal, and other sources. This cap would essentially require a cutback in existing programs and could negatively affect the student-to-teacher ratio. The proposal under “Measure 2” could have even more drastic financial implications for the Fargo School District and districts throughout the state. The Fargo School District is also responsible for the education of a significant number of new Americans and other students with limited proficiency in the English language. While a very important part of educating the children of our community, it is a challenge with so many languages spoken in our community.
Something you’re proud of as a representative of the Fargo Public Schools:
There are many aspects of the Fargo Public Schools that I am proud of. First and foremost, the students, as a whole, are top notch students and citizens. Who can forget the positive impact our students had in this community with fighting floods and other great projects such as “Fill the Dome?” Our teachers are top-notch as well. The students from Fargo Schools consistently are above average, statewide and nationally, in standardized test scores. This is only made possible through the ongoing commitment of our educators for our students to succeed.
What qualities will you look for in the District’s next superintendent?
The School Board has laid out a list of top 10 or 11 qualities that we would like to see in our superintendent. These qualities and qualifications include: inspires trust; integrity; strong communicator; excellent leadership and people skills; committed to a “student-first” approach in making decisions; knowledge and experience in sound fiscal and operational management practices; must have or be qualified to obtain a superintendent certification in ND; and must possess a doctorate degree in an educational field or have significant progress toward completion.