Bloomington Board of Education election profiles

Voters in the Bloomington School District will select four candidates to serve on the school board. Seven candidates are running. The candidates are incumbent Lyle Abeln, Tom Bennett, incumbent Arlene Bush, incumbent Tim Culver, Ricardo Oliva, Jim Sorum and Dawn Steigauf. The election is Nov. 5.

Board members serve four-year terms, and are elected at-large. Board members receive $600 per month.


Lyle Abeln

Lyle Abeln
Lyle Abeln

Address: 10930 Thomas Ave. S.

Age: 68

Family: Wife, Maxine; 3 children and 8 grandchildren

Education: B.S. and M.A. from St. Cloud State University, K-12 principal’s and superintendent’s licensure from Saint Mary’s University

Occupation: Field specialist for the Graduate School of Education at Saint Mary’s University; assistant professor of education

Years lived in city: 42

Community involvement: Bloomington School Board, school district’s Citizen’s Financial Advisory Committee, Born Again Jocks, Creekside Senior Citizen Club, Bloomington Horseshoe Club

Contact information:


Q. Why are you seeking election to the Bloomington Board of Education?

My knowledge of educational issues and my experience in the Minnesota House of Representatives will bring a new dimension to the board discussions.

I hold the type of training and experience the board needs to move the district forward in responding to student learning needs and community expectations for excellence in our schools. The board will benefit from my ability to listen, consider alternatives, maintain fiscal accountability and represent the interests of the community at large.

My priorities are to make sure our buildings are safe and secure. I want to work to diversify our staff to align with the changing demographics of our community. Assuring that our early childhood learners are ready for kindergarten is also a priority. I could address each of these priorities by working with administration to form study groups or task forces to reach out to the community to seek input from key stakeholders to develop recommendations for board consideration. The process of being inclusive and collaborative is vital.


Q. Do you support the technology and safety referendum being proposed?

Yes, I support the referendum. We must make sure that our buildings are up to date relative to security issues. Safety and security provisions for our students should not be compromised due to lack of funding.

State-of-the-art technology will enhance learning for students and will provide our staff with strategies to meet the demands of all students. There is a need to prepare our students with up-to-date technology skills, to know how to leverage technology as a learning tool and assure our students are competitive in the market place upon graduation.


Q. Does the school district sufficiently address the needs of its students?

Our district does a great job meeting the needs of students but we can always do better in our efforts to achieve academic excellence.

The diversity of the student body encompasses all dimensions, including special needs, English language learners, early childhood learners, high achieving learners, etc. All students can learn.

Specific funding for items such as early childhood education and ESL learners are provided in state statutes based on legislative formulas or the number of students qualifying for services and cannot be used for other purposes. I will consider the needs of special programs but would do so in relation to other priorities identified in the budget.


Tom Bennett

Tom Bennett
Tom Bennett

Address: 8209 Abbott Ave.

Age: 39

Family: Wife, Danielle; 2 children

Education: M.A. degree in special education, B.S degree in special education and elementary education

Occupation: Special education teacher, currently stay-at-home father

Years lived in city: 9

Community involvement: Early Childhood Family Center Parent Advisory Council, Washburn PTA, Bloomington Babysitting Co-Op

Contact information:


Q. Why are you seeking election to the Bloomington Board of Education?

I am seeking election because I feel that my experiences as a special education teacher, early childhood education advocate and stay-at-home father will bring unique qualities and perspectives to the school board.

Furthermore, I feel it is imperative that parents of young children have a voice in the future and direction of our schools, and with two children entering the school system, I can be that voice.

I feel the top three priorities in the coming year are:

1. Increasing family engagement. We all know that kids do better when their parents take an active role in their learning. We have seen a sharp decline in family engagement in recent years. We must develop a plan to reach out to all families in our community, welcome them into our schools and impress upon them the importance of family engagement.

2. Increase enrollment of our ECFE programs. We are seeing an increase of young children in Bloomington, yet enrollment of our ECFE programs are declining. I have met many parents of young children over the past few months and many of them are not even aware of our programs. As a board member I would want to see more outreach to our young families to inform them of our affordable, if not free, ECFE programs in Bloomington so that all our kids will be ready to learn when they enter kindergarten.

3. Diversify our staff without lowering our high standards. As a board member I will push the administration to carry out the plan to diversify our educators and administrators.


Q. Do you support the technology and safety referendum being proposed?

Yes. I support the referendum because it will help make our schools safer from external threats while modernizing our buildings.

It will also prepare our students to be more competitive in the technologically advancing world.

However, if the referendum passes it will only be the first step in making our schools safer. The next step needs to be addressing internal threats that come from students that suffer from mental illness. We must determine if we have enough school psychologists, social workers and trained staff to effectively meet the needs of our students.


Q. Does the school district sufficiently address the needs of its students?

BPS has been doing a great job, but there is always more work to do. I would like to see the district address the growing demand for a STEM school and an immersion program here in Bloomington.


Arlene Bush

Arlene Bush
Arlene Bush

Address: 8788 Walton Oaks Drive

Age: 82

Family: Husband Jack, deceased; 6 daughters

Education: Education and business administration studies at University of Minnesota, 3 years

Occupation: Retired

Years lived in city: 56

Community involvement: Minnesota School Board Association board member and president, chair of MSBA Insurance Trust; Bloomington Chamber of Commerce ambassador, past board member

Contact information: 952-941-1519


Q. Why are you seeking election to the Bloomington Board of Education?

I have been surprised at how many people have urged me to run again. I want to use my experience and knowledge to continue to work the best for all our students.

One thing I always say, “I never say this is the way we’ve always done it.” It’s important to look at ways to improve, as we have many more needy students now, students who don’t speak English or need extra education.

It’s important to make the best use of our money. We’ve had good leadership. We have wonderful staff people. We need to continue to work toward the best possible use of our money, which has certainly been limited.

We have to have funding and use it the best for all students. We need to look at all of the issues in determining the best use of our funds in providing the best education for every student.

I don’t have certain things I’m out for. I look to do the best for every student and support all our employees, while working well with them.

I have the time, and I give a lot of it, to be able to go to activities, go to the schools, and fun things, too. If I can continue to help our community and school district, I would certainly like to do that.


Q. Do you support the technology and safety referendum being proposed?

I support it because we need it badly, although I don’t like that we have to have referendum levies.

For safety, it’s shocking that we have to do it. Things have changed. We have to make sure our students are secure.

We’re actually changing the technology referendum we have. We’ll have four to five years left without a new referendum. But we really feel there’s a need to increase it, so we’re trying to change that.

We’ve had good support from our community and hope they can continue to support it.


Q. Does the school district sufficiently address the needs of its students?

I think we are well ahead of many districts in going into these areas. We just had two national executives come and visit Bloomington schools to look at our programs. We’ve been doing a good job and want to continue.


Tim Culver

Tim Culver
Tim Culver

Address: 9866 Edgewood Road

Age: 64

Family: Wife Sue; 3 daughters

Education: Macalester College, B.A. English with teaching license

Occupation: Admissions representative for national career college

Years lived in city: 33

Community involvement: Bloomington Board of Education Chairman, member since 1995; board member, Bloomington Community Foundation (founding chair) and Association of Metropolitan School Districts; former chairman and board member, South Hennepin Human Services Council; member, Bloomington Breakfast Optimists Club and Normandale Hylands United Methodist Church

Contact information: [email protected]


Q. Why are you seeking election to the Bloomington Board of Education?

It’s important that school board members are well prepared to examine and improve district programs and policies. I’m running for re-election to contribute my experience in the community and my perspective as a professional educator and nonprofit manager to the decisions of the Bloomington board.

My priority as chair has been improving board performance as it oversees district policies, procedures and finances. Members need to be up-to-date on what teachers are trying to accomplish and how they are doing it. They should ask questions, and know what questions to ask. They should critically evaluate current programs and be open to improvements.

It’s important that the school district improve communication between teachers and parents, staff and students, board and administrators, schools and the community. Community and parent engagement are district priorities. The board needs to take that commitment seriously, help define what it means, and make sure it’s happening.

It’s also a priority of the board to help ensure the successful rollout of safety and technology improvements if the November referendum passes.


Q. Do you support the technology and safety referendum being proposed?

I supported the referendum by guiding it to unanimous board approval. I continue to support it in my campaign. It’s important to keep in mind that passing a referendum is not the end goal. Having more money to pay for better hardware doesn’t guarantee better schools. The school board has the responsibility to ensure that schools are indeed safer, including more and better social supports and mental health care. Investment in hand-held computers and new teaching technology has to result in better learning or else it’s just another fad. My support for the referendum includes seeing that the money is spent wisely, then evaluating the result.


Q. Does the school district sufficiently address the needs of its students?

The school district can’t “sufficiently address the needs of its students” with current staffing levels. Our distressed and marginalized children are helped most not by technology but by caring interaction with good teachers and support staff, especially in small groups and one-on-one. We just can’t afford enough teachers, so we do the best we can.

The question really is, “How does Bloomington address these needs compared with other (also understaffed) districts?” The answer is that Bloomington does a superlative job. Teachers work hard to collaborate on options that address student needs. The district has excellent team leaders who push staff to try even harder. Bloomington schools are first-class organizations of people who care, a lot, for our children.


Ricardo Oliva

Ricardo Oliva
Ricardo Oliva

Address: 10725 Bush Lake Road Circle

Age: 38

Family: Wife; 3 children

Education: Kennedy High School; bachelor of music, contemporary writing and production, Berklee College of Music; master of music, music education, Boston University

Occupation: Technology

Years lived in city: 38, excluding time away at college

Community involvement: Bloomington Athletic Association coach, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports Leadership Team at Ridgeview Elementary, participated on Bloomington District Curriculum Advisory Committee and Music Education Steering Committee

Contact information:


Q. Why are you seeking election to the Bloomington Board of Education?

I am seeking election because I am passionate about education, I believe it is important for parents to have a voice on the board and I want to serve the community that I grew up in.

I believe with my background in education and education research, along with my dedication to the success of Bloomington’s schools, I could positively impact Bloomington students if elected.

The top three priorities are school funding, school safety and student achievement. Without proper funding we cannot provide programming adequate for our needs. That is why I am committed to maintaining our district in a way that is sustainable by being fiscally responsible. Our students spend approximately seven hours per day, 180 days per year, for 13 years in our buildings while attending K-12. It is important that we keep these students as safe and secure as possible during those times.

There is a lot of talk about the achievement gap, and I see this as the difference between those students who graduate and those who do not. In Bloomington, the graduation rate is close to 80 percent. While this may be higher than graduation rates nationwide, I consider it unacceptable that approximately 20 percent of our students fail to finish high school. I am committed to creating an environment where all students can reach their full potential by supporting our current Pathways to Graduation, Response to Intervention and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports initiatives along with curricular programming that is rigorous, as well as relevant, to our students.


Q. Do you support the technology and safety referendum being proposed?

Yes. First, as mentioned previously, I believe it is our duty to protect our students while they are under our care. By making design adjustments to our schools, we can deter, mitigate and prevent crimes against our children.

Second, if our primary focus as educators is to prepare students for life after school, then technology must play a primary role in that effort.


Q. Does the school district sufficiently address the needs of its students?

The district does address the needs of all students. Of course, the district can always do more whenever they have more resources. Especially as our demographics change and our need for special services grows, we will need to regularly assess the situation and make adjustments where necessary.


Jim Sorum

Jim Sorum
Jim Sorum

Address: 1020 W. 107th St.

Age: 70

Family: Wife, Diane; 3 adult children; 6 grandchildren

Education: Bachelor of arts, business administration and accounting, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul

Occupation: Recently retired, former head of cost accounting department, Nuaire

Years lived in city: 32

Community involvement: 21 years school board (chair, vice-chair, treasurer); past Bloomington Athletic Association coach, referee and umpire; BEC-TV sports announcer; BASA Hall of Fame; AGORA Immigrant Support Organization; Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Executive Board

Contact information:


Q. Why are you seeking election to the Bloomington Board of Education?

I served on the school board for 21 years and retired two years ago. Although officially retiring, I never stopped visiting and volunteering at the schools because I have three grandchildren attending Bloomington Public Schools.

I want to rejoin the team that has produced state and national award winning schools, a team that hired a championship caliber superintendent who hired all-star administrators to head our schools and hired the best and brightest teachers and staff to care for and nurture our students.

I recently retired as head of the cost accounting department of a multi-million dollar international manufacturing company in Plymouth. My background in business and finance has been helpful in making budget and policy decisions for the school board, and I’m the only candidate in this election who has that business experience.

One priority for the next couple of years should be to maintain a funding level that is adequate and appropriate. That means the state has to provide the money to fund the mandates they insist we follow so we don’t have to shift money from our own funds to pay for special services.

Another priority is to strengthen the district’s Pathways to Graduation program to ensure all students can learn to the best of their ability.

A third priority is to promote family engagement in their children’s schools. History has shown when parents are involved students do better in school.


Q. Do you support the technology and safety referendum being proposed?

I support the referendum for technology and security for the district. The levy can be accomplished with no tax increase on property owners thanks to the sound financial condition and management of the district’s current debt. We need new school entrance and exit security software measures, and we need technology advances of laptop computers and white boards to keep the students learning better.


Q. Does the school district sufficiently address the needs of its students?

The district does a very good job trying to address the needs of all students. I’ve been involved in several task forces and served on advisory committees for diversity, special education, early childhood, community and adult education and finance to hear from the parents and citizens about how we can do things better.

The district always needs money for programs and special initiatives. Grants are constantly pursued, and corporate and business partnerships are part of the district’s success. Free all-day kindergarten will create some facility restructuring, but the opportunity and benefit to the new learners will be a positive trade off.


Dawn Steigauf

Dawn Steigauf
Dawn Steigauf

Address: 10119 Pleasant Ave. S.

Age: 54

Family: Husband, John; 3 children

Education: Bachelor of science, child, parent community service, Iowa State University

Occupation: Caregiver for our adult son, who has autism

Years lived in city: 30

Community involvement: School district Special Education Advisory, Bloomington Human Rights Commission, school district Curriculum Advisory, Minnesota ASD Task Force, site councils, PTSA, American Cancer Society area chairperson, Autism Society of Minnesota Board, Sunday school teacher, Girl Scout cookie mom

Contact information:


Q. Why are you seeking election to the Bloomington Board of Education?

I am seeking election to the Bloomington Board of Education because I am passionate about education and I believe in serving my community.

I think we have good schools because of involved parents, community support and high quality staff. Expanding access to our early childhood programs will be critical to helping close the achievement gap. Since most brain development happens before age 5, it is important children have high quality early childhood experiences. If a child comes to kindergarten already a year behind his or her peers, it is difficult to catch up.

Research supports that the Response to Intervention model is effective for students and I support expanding implementation of this model in our district. I would like to see Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports expanded in the district.

To reduce the dropout rate our schools need to make sure that students who believe college is unattainable for them still see a career path. Employers are experiencing a shortage of technical and skilled laborers entering the job market and we need to prepare students for these careers. I support the district efforts to reach out to all parents in the community to increase parent engagement.


Q. Do you support the technology and safety referendum being proposed?

Yes. I support the safety committee’s recommendations to upgrade our schools to keep our students and staff safe. To compete globally, we need to update and improve access to technology.


Q. Does the school district sufficiently address the needs of its students?

Our district has excelled at creating programs for high-achieving students like Elements and Dimensions Academy; we have students open enrolling from other districts. We have to continuously evaluate programs like these to make sure they continue to meet the needs of our students.

Meeting the needs of our diverse population from gifted and talented to special education to English language learners is a challenge for our district. We will have to be innovative in how we deliver services to all our children to make the best use of our resources.

Response to Intervention has been shown to reduce special education costs by helping students before they need special education services, thus reducing evaluations and paperwork. Research shows that early childhood education and early intervention services are the most cost effective for improving education outcomes for all students. I support increasing access to these for our students. To meet the needs of all students, we need to support students based on their needs and use research-based instructional practices.