by Mike Knaak
A longtime board member and two newcomers were elected to the Sartell-St. Stephen school board at a time when the district confronts twin challenges of how to deal with a pandemic and how to ensure educational equity for all its students.
Voters re-elected Jason Nies to his third term with 6,688 votes and chose Matt Moehrle, who received 5,095 votes, and Patricia Meling, who received 4,761 votes, over fourth-place finisher Taryn Gentile, who received 4,338 votes.
All three supported the district’s decision to hire an outside consultant to conduct an equity audit of the district’s schools. The issue arose last summer after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and a renewed interest in systemic racism. During a listening session, students, teachers and community members shared stories of racism, insensitive, hurtful comments about religion and failed attempts to correct the problems.
With Covid-19 cases rising, the board continues to set policy to safely operate schools, balancing the urge to open schools while keeping students and staff safe.
The new members will take their seats in January.
All three newly elected members have children in the district’s schools.
Meling and her husband have four children attending four different schools as well as a 2-year-old at home.
“I’m excited to come together and give the mom perspective,” Meling said. “I want to see our schools continue to flourish and do whatever I can go to make that happen.”
Moehrle says he’s looking forward to serving the community, but he was reluctant to offer details until he actually joins the board. During the campaign he said he also supported the district’s equity audit effort. Moehrle, a lawyer, brings an understanding of civil law and finances to the board. He and his wife have two young children in the school district.
Nies said he “appreciates the community having trust and faith in me for the last eight years and let(ting) me continue for another four years. That means a lot. The community sees the work and wants to continue in that same direction.”
Nies graduated from Sartell High School and St. Cloud State University. He is a senior solutions architect for ePlus Technology. He and his wife have four children – two who are Sartell graduates and two still in school.
Before the pandemic hit, the district completed a multi-year plan that including building a new high school, remodeling two other buildings and reconfiguring grades and schools. Nies said he ran for re-election because “I want to see us through Covid and its financial implications. The equity audit is near and dear to me. I want the district to take full advantage of all the space we’ve created.”
Board members will learn the results and recommendations of the equity audit next spring. Meling said she “knows Sartell and what works and doesn’t work. We will take what they say and make it work for us in our schools.”
All district students will be distance learning starting Monday, Nov. 16, through at least Dec. 4.
“I want for my kids to be in school,” she said. “But it’s all about safety. We need to keep our adults and kids safe and healthy.” But she acknowledged the strain distance learning places on parents, especially those who have to work outside the home. “What can we do as a community to help parents get together?” she asked.
Nies, Moehrle and Meling join Amanda Byrd, Patrick Marushin and Jeremy Snoberger on the board. Current board members Lesa Kramer and Pam Raden did not run for re-election.
When asked to offer advice to his new colleagues, Nies suggested being willing to listen, being open-minded and being willing to learn.
“People come to us all the time with their concerns and issues,” Nies said. “They want to let us know their opinion.”