Editors’ Note: Due to the number of candidates for the upcoming election school board election, Pen City Current will be running platform stories looking at two candidates at a time.
BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The future of education, from teachers to facilities, is the driving force behind the candidacies of district residents Renee Ehlers and Gunther Anderson.
Both turned in paperwork to seek one of three open positions on the Fort Madison Community School District board at the Sept. 12 election. Current president Timm Lamb will not be seeking re-election and board members Tim Wondra’s and Gayla Young’s terms are both expiring.
Ehlers said the run is something she’s been thinking about for some time.
”I’ve been contemplating this for the last year or so. During that time, I’ve also been on the Lincoln Parent Teacher group and there’s a need there. They (teachers) need a rep they can talk to and share opinions with.”
Ehlers was also the chairwoman of the KIDS Committee, the group tasked with trying to get the referendum passed to construct a new elementary school and she said for the past year she’s been promoting growth in the district.
“It’s a huge loss with Timm leaving. I can’t fill his shoes, but we need to continue to talk progress and growth and moving forward,” she said.
Ehlers has two children in the district and her husband, Mike, is a teacher at Fort Madison High School.
Ehlers said she realizes that could be problematic, but she said her ambitions are to help the district and its teachers and would approach her work on the board with objectivity.
“Obviously there is a conflict there,” she said. “I think I can make decisions where I wouldn’t consider our situation, but the situations of the teachers and the district as a whole,” she said. “I have a lot of friends and colleagues I’ve worked with over the years and I would take all that into consideration.”
Ehlers currently works with the Department of Human Services in income maintenance and says she sees first hand the struggles of the kids in the district.
“For some kids, the school is their safe place. Lee County has one of the highest unemployment rates and one of the highest rates of child abuse in the state. For me, that’s one of the reasons I want to stay involved.
She also said the district needs to be looking at the future of quality teachers available to the district. She said according a learning institute study, between 2009 and 2014 the number of students enrolled in collegiate prep teaching programs has reduced by 35% from 691,000 to 451,000.
“We have to be able to attract and retain good teachers. We need to look at non-traditional programs where maybe we can attract or entice local students to come back and teach here or a program where we can utilize local people to help fill positions.”
One of the other six candidates, Gunther Anderson, has said he, too, had been considering a run for office during the last regular election. However, the twice failed school bond referendum and recent changes to Chapter 20 collective bargaining agreements convinced him to seek a spot.
“I was there when negotiations began last time to lend my support to the teachers and now one of the things that has been done is take language that is no longer negotiable from contract into a handbook,” Anderson said. “A handbook can be changed at any time and I’d like to be there to be involved in any changes that are made.”
He said the new bargaining laws make it difficult for the staff to stay motivated.
“Once I started running, I wanted to make sure I was steeped in the knowledge of the school board. I read the mission statement and it’s difficult for me to see teachers being motivated when they are living paycheck to paycheck. We need to make sure we have a staff that has jobs they want to go to everyday.”
Anderson and his wife have three children in the district, two in the middle school this year and one at Lincoln Elementary. He said the district needs a new elementary school because he doesn’t feel sending kids home due to excessive heat or teaching them in those environments is the best for the students or the teachers.
“Because I’ve got three kids in school, I have a vested interest in keeping things taken care of on that end. There’s been a couple decisions the community has made lately that I’m concerned with and I want to get my foot in the door.”
As the Recording Secretary for the UFCW Local 617 at Pinnacle Foods, Anderson said he brings a different mindset as a potential board member.
“I’m not saying that no one else has these qualities and just speaking for myself, I’ve long been of fan of being right, not just thinking I’m right,” he said. “If I get information that’s different from what I think is right, I’m not the type of person to stick my head in the sand. I would listen to both sides of the discussion to make sure I understand both sides of it.”
Holding an executive position with the union at Pinnacle, Anderson said he creates spreadsheets and makes it a priority to make sure all union members are aware of any changes in wages and benefits during negotiations and he would be willing to do that with board issues as well.
“I wanted to make sure our union had all the information they needed so I created tables to help them understand the changes that were coming with regard to their wages, health insurance, etc. That’s something I’m experienced with and would not only be willing to do that with the help of the board, but also would be insistent that it be done,” he said.