Three candidates vie for two seats on Huron School Board

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HURON — Two seats are up for grabs in this year’s Huron School Board election, with three candidates filing petitions to seek election.

Tim Van Berkum is seeking re-election to the school board, while Ray Cardona and Brittany Layher are both seeking their first appointment to the board.

Current board member Kristi Glanzer has opted not to seek another term.

The Plainsman extended the same set of questions to each of the candidates and their responses follow. The order of responses was determined by ballot position, with a rotation of answers on ensuing questions.

Plainsman — Introduce yourself to the voters and share your motivation, either for seeking a seat on the Huron School Board, or re-election to the school board.

Ray Cardona — My name is Ray Cardona. My wife Vanessa and I, originally from San Angelo, Texas, have been in the district for 17 plus years and married for almost 24 years. We have five children, three of whom have already graduated from Huron High School and earned degrees at their respective colleges. My two younger children are currently in the 6th and 8th grade. I work for Dakota Provisions as the Refrigeration Manager. I am also the proud Grandpa of Jameson and Grayson (Klanchnik). We are members of Bethesda Church, where we regularly attend, and I have the privilege to serve as a Deacon. I enjoy spending time with family, football, wresting, cooking, and driving my motorcycle.

Brittany Layher — My name is Brittany Layher. My husband Derek and I moved to Huron in 2009. I am a proud mother of five children, four of which are currently enrolled in the Huron School District, with the fifth to soon follow. My motivation for seeking a seat on the Huron School Board is simple. I want to give parents and teachers a voice regarding the decisions affecting our children’s overall development and education. Over the past several years, I have watched administrators and school board members make decisions with little regard for potential impacts to students, teachers and parents. I believe my experience as a wife, mother, volunteer and active community member has helped equip me with the tools needed to strengthen communication and involvement in our school district. In order to be a successful leader, I feel you have to have some skin in the game. Being a member of the Huron School Board is an opportunity to expand relationships and build trust with the people of the school district.

Tim Van Berkum — I was raised in Mitchell and have lived in Huron since the fall of 1993.  I am the General Manager of Manford Music & Vending. My wife Suzie is the administrative assistant to the school district’s Special Education Director. Our daughter, Sarah, is a Family Services Specialist with Child Protection Services in Huron.  Our daughter, Torrey, is a nurse with the HRMC Physicians Clinic.

When I first ran for the school board, it was my hope to have an impact on my kids education. They both received a wonderful education in Huron and are now productive young women. I’m running for re-election with the hope to be part of the team that continues to move our school district forward.  The Huron School District has been a pioneer in ESL and Early Childhood Education and has been held up as an example to other school districts in the state.  I’m very grateful to the public for allowing me to serve for the last 15 years and still love doing this job so I’m hopeful the public will allow me to continue to serve.

Plainsman: Tell us two areas in which you see room for improvement in the school board or in the school system and how would you set about making those improvements.

Layher — I believe there are many areas in which the Huron School District could improve. A general area for improvement for both the School Board and School District as a whole would be in the area of communication and transparency. I believe this has become apparent throughout the current school year. When major incidents occur in our schools, especially incidents dealing with school safety, teachers and parents should be informed.

Teachers are the essential foundation of our children’s education, and should feel safe while teaching our students. With all the avenues of communication utilized by our district, there is no reason parents should have to learn of these incidents through other parent’s social media pages.

A second area of improvement would be a continued focus on our CTE programs. Although I am excited to see interest from our current superintendant in this area, I feel there is much more to be done. Like most other rural South Dakota communities, Huron is in great need of trade professionals. Allowing students to experience these opportunities while in high school could benefit our community in the future, while also preventing unneeded college debt for our students. Establishing partnerships with area businesses and professionals would ensure the success of these programs long term, and give students potential for job placement following graduation.

With increased focus on CTE Programs, we can’t forget about students perusing continued education through a traditional four-year college. Utilizing current relationships established through the Huron Community Campus, I would like to see more dual credit classes offered to those students interested in attending a four year university. This would help ensure the success of every student, no matter their career path

 Van Berkum — First would be recruitment and retention of staff.  Certain positions can be difficult to fill and there is intense competition for these candidates with other districts.  The Huron district has been very competitive with our salaries while still trying to stay within the confines of our budget.  In the past, we’ve tried to put all additional funding into personnel salaries. 

We’ve also re-instituted retirement bonuses for long serving staff memebers and we’ve also been giving bonuses to staff members for every 5 years of service.  We’ve strived to make the Huron School District a place people want to come to and work in.

Second would be expanding our CTE offerings.  With the changing world, there is a huge need of filling technical jobs.  Not every student is college bound and it’s our hope that this would give those students interested in future tech jobs an opportunity to take more courses at the high school level.  There is grant funding available at the state level that we are hopeful we can tap into.  We’ve been studying this issue over the last couple of years.  Unfortunately, the cost analysis of the initial proposal were too high.  We’re currently planning an addition at the high school that would help to provide more CTE offerings.  

Cardona — The school district is working hard to grow the Career & Technical Education program, which I am strongly in favor of.

A parent mentioned that the district is short on teachers that can teach the advanced Math and Science courses and feels too much focus is on CTE. I cannot speak to shortage firsthand, but if there is a shortage, I will identify why we have the shortage and work with board members to create strategies for recruiting, retention, and training.

Secondly, several parents have mentioned that students are out of control. They lack respect for the teachers and rules. I encourage parents to address these issues with their children at home. If needed, they get support from counseling centers and churches. To the District I say, be firm but fair! To quote Frederick Douglas – “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” All policy or discussion on this topic that would come before me will get my full attention.
 
Plainsman: A large construction project is on the horizon with an addition and/or remodel of the Huron High School.  What steps should be taken at this time to ensure that the building will be able to accommodate students and staff into the future? Do you have any specific ideas that you feel should be incorporated into this project?

Van Berkum — The school district conducted a facilities and enrollment projection study last year.  It did show that our high school is nearing full capacity.  We were also looking at options for CTE expansion.  The initial proposal for construction would have required the passage of a school bond.  The board did not feel there was a public appetite for passage of a bond at this time.  Our administrative team has brought forth a proposal to put an addition on the northwest part of the high school using capital outlay certificates.  This means that there would be no additional tax burden on the public to finance this project.    This project began on March 11th with the approval with Putez Construction for Construction Manager at Risk Services and getting a proposal from the architect to develop a floor plan.  It is our hope thia will accommodate our growing population and allow us to offer CTE expanded programs.  It will also allow us to repurpose some existing space in the high school.

Cardona — The board has already done several construction projects and has learned a great deal through the process. Construction Manager at Risk services will be sought and needs assessments have been conducted for the future project. If it has not already been done, I would recommend the design be presented to the staff that will be utilizing the building for input. No one will be better equipped to offer insight than the individuals using the current facility every day.

Layher — With increased class sizes and increased CTE opportunities, comes a need for increased space. As a parent in the district, I support any addition or remodel required to accommodate the future growth, however, as a taxpayer, I want to ensure the project is done responsibly. Proper planning for future class sizes and program offerings now can help eliminate the need for similar expansion in the future. I feel transparency throughout this process will be imperative to receive community support. Taxpayers deserve to be heard and informed why and how their money is being spent.

Plainsman: Explain to the voters what they could expect from you, should you be successful in the upcoming election?

Cardona — I will be considerate with your issues, have the courage to present them, and work hard for resolutions. Thank you for your support!

Layher — If successful, I will be a voice of reason and common sense. I am a person who his not afraid to ask questions, or go against the group. If elected to the school board, I will look at each issue from the viewpoint of those affected by my decision.

If I do not feel informed in an area, I will research the topic, or seek out area professionals until I feel comfortable making a decision. Most importantly, I promise to listen to the thoughts of others and do what is best for our students and teachers. Thank you for your support on April 9.

Van Berkum — It’s been a privilege and honor to serve the patrons of the Huron School District over the past 15 years.  I’ve been able to serve 3 years as vice president and 5 years as president. 

We have a wonderful professional staff and a cohesive board that works well together.  I would love the opportunity to continue being an advocate and a leader for our district.  I’ve never been a micro manager.  I believe that when you put the best professional people in administrative positions and allow them to do their jobs then wonderful things happen.