Name: Chris Gross
Family: wife Angela, director of Food and Nutrition Services, St Cloud VA Health Care System. Daughters Piper, sixth grade SMS; McKenzie, third grade PME; and future Sabres Kaitlyn, nearly 1; and a fourth child due this autumn.
1. Please share relevant background and experiences
Currently my primary job is being a stay-at-home dad to our girls. My professional background is in accounting, serving as a chief financial officer for several hospitals in central Minnesota. For nearly 20 years I have been working with community boards, similar to the Sartell-St Stephen School Board, providing financial advice, facilitating strategic vision and planning, as well as serving as chair and vice chair on several boards. I am active with our schools, serving as treasurer of the Pine Meadow Elementary School PTO; parent advisor for the district’s Technology Committee and the Curriculum Committee. I am also currently serving on the school board as an appointee since June 2012. As previously mentioned, I have several school-aged children so I am vested in the future of this district.
2. What, in your opinion, is the major issue facing the school district? We have several significant issues facing our district. Our enrollment continues to increase, stretching our district’s finances. We first must recognize the single most-important factor in our children receiving an excellent education depends on the teacher. The variable is utilizing the tools available in an individualized manner to the student. So we need to ask ourselves how we will achieve the excellence expected with fewer dollars. While there isn’t a single simple answer, there are several school districts that are realizing significant results by being more effective in delivering education at a significantly lower cost per student than our current cost structure.
3. How would you address that issue, if elected? I would address this issue by having a core group of teachers across the district research and visit the districts that are innovative in their approach and bring back to our district their findings and experiences to determine what and how we could implement these programs. I would ask a three- and five-year plan be developed sowe could clearly set expectations, establish goals, measure results and make necessary changes while allowing for continual community feedback and partnership across the district.
4. If the school district is forced to make cuts, in which areas would you make the cuts?
Prior to proposing any across-the-board cuts, I would ask administration to first identify areas that could be reduced. The second step would be to take a very hard look at the support areas within the district and look for areas where efforts could be consolidated or are unnecessary or even duplicated and thereby could be eliminated. The final step would be to meet with each of the schools and work with each of them to meet any further reduction targets that would be necessary to meet budget gaps. I believe involving people at this level aids in understanding the impact, builds ownership by all and also facilitates in communication with everyone, including the community.
5. What are the top strengths and the most serious weaknesses in the district?
District 748 has two great strengths. First is the quality of the instructors we have. Because of them, our children receive an excellent education. Another great strength we have is the community support for our district. Community support is a cornerstone to our education system.
As mentioned earlier, one challenge we need to address is the continuing increase in enrollment stretching our school finances further. We need a comprehensive plan to address facility concerns, how we are going to meet the individual needs of our students and address changing technology issues. Another weakness we have is we have a board in the past that has micro-managed administration, staff and communications with the community. While I do believe the intent has always been “in the best interest” of the students, clearly the result has been the appearance of being secretive, not listening to the community and using the superintendent, as well as others, as a scapegoat for board actions. We need leadership on the board that understands governance, sets clear vision, holds administration accountable, actively listens, communicates effectively and is accountable to the community.
6. How do you feel about the introduction of advertising in school buildings by companies that give “perks” in exchange for those advertisements?
There is a difference between partnering with a company to provide a benefit to the students versus allowing companies to “purchase” advertising rights. If there is truly a benefit to the students by partnering with a company, then I am more inclined to favor the partnership, provided there are clear agreements as to performance and expectations between the parties. If we are just taking “cash” to fund budget shortfalls, I am not supportive.