Elections for the Bellevue Board of Education are set for Tuesday, Nov. 5, and seven candidates are officially vying for three open seats in the board.
New candidates this election cycle include Rhonda Anderson, Jacob Ohlert, Marty Ploessl, Josh Richter and Matt Wedeking.
Incumbent board members Kevin Lundin and Janet Sieverding have also filed for re-election. Martha Montgomery-Henning chose not to run again.
This is the first year school board members will be elected during the general election in November instead of during a separate election in September.
School board members are elected to serve four-year terms, with elections taking place in odd-numbered years. Those elected receive no pay. Experienced school board members say the rewards of service lie in meeting the needs of children and communities.
Each Bellevue School Board candidate was recently asked an identical series of questions, and the following should give a bit of insight on the candidate and why they have decided to run.
Incumbent school board member Kevin Lundin, a graduate of Bellevue High School, hails from rural Springbrook, where he and his family has farmed for most of his life. He has also been a dairy producer for the past 32 years as, well as a beef producer for seven years.
As well as serving for 12 years on the Bellevue School Board, Lundin is the Chairman of the Springbrook Fire Agency, a Jackson County Township Trustee, a volunteer fire fighter for the Springbrook Fire Department and a member of the Knights of Columbus.
He said he is running for re-election because he wants to give back to the community through leadership in public education.
“I want to see all kids get a K-12 education and be ready for life after school in terms of finding a good career or going on to higher education,” said Lundin.
Lundin said the biggest issue facing the Bellevue School District is the Bellevue Elementary building. “It needs updating to the 21st century or we need to build new,” said Lundin, who added that overall, students also need to learn more life skills – and that some of those skills should be taught in the home by the mothers and fathers, thereby making them better students.
“We need to communicate, collaborate and problem-solve,” said Lundin. “I think our staff and administrators are doing an excellent job with our students. I also think we need to build better relationships with our students and our community.”
Lundin said the biggest strength of the Bellevue School District is its modern educational programs.
“Our school district is way ahead of the curve when it comes to education,” said Lundin. “When I go to conferences, I see other districts implementing resources that we have been implementing for a while. Our district is also in good financial shape.”
Lundin and his wife Cindy have three sons, Lucas, Brent and Dylan. The couple, who has been married for 36 years, also have 5 grandchildren.
Incumbent school board member Janet Sieverding, who was born and raised in the Bellevue/Springbrook area, graduated from Bellevue High School and married her high school sweetheart, Kevin Sieverding.
She is a certified pharmacy technician at Bellevue Pharmacy and has served on the Bellevue School Board for the past 11 years.
“I first ran for school board in 2008, and I am running again because I want to continue to be part of giving our students all the opportunities possible,” said Sieverding. “I want to continue to be part of preparing children for college, careers and life. I believe in continuity on our board to be able to carry out long-term plans.”
Sieverding said the biggest issue facing the Bellevue School District is the elementary building.
“Our biggest issue is the lack of room and age of our elementary buildings,” said Sieverding. “Working as a board, my goal is to make sure (even with these issues) our students are given the best education possible. I also want to continue to work on physical plant issues.”
She said the biggest strength of school is its people. “Our biggest strength is our students, teachers, staff and administrators,” concluded Sieverding. “By working together, the potential for our students is unlimited.”
Jacob Ohlert, a newcomer to the school board race, attended the Bellevue Community School from kindergarten through 12th grade. After high school, he went to Clinton Community College, and then transferred to Iowa State University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
“I worked as a structural engineer for five years and during that time became licensed as a professional engineer in the state of Iowa, and also married my wife Katie, who has blessed us with our two-year-old daughter, Mabel,” said Ohlert. “I’ve gone on to become licensed in six other states and I am currently working as a forensic engineer, determining the causes of, and potential solutions to, issues with structures. I have recently moved back to Bellevue and have purchased a historic home two blocks west of the grade school, and am doing my best to preserve and improve my little corner of the community.”
When asked why he is running for school board, Ohlert said the following.
“To answer this question, it needs to be broken into two separate questions, ‘why run for school board now?”, and ‘why am I personally running for school board?’ The answer to the first question is that a school board, if arranged properly, should be representative of the community. However, the current board has unanimously supported proposals that more than half of the community opposes. Therefore, the current board is not representative of the community, and I think that this imbalance needs to be corrected,” said Ohlert. “The answer to the second question has two parts. First, I’ve been very blessed in both my personal and professional lives, and because of that I have the ability, and the responsibility, to volunteer a portion of my time back to the community that has helped lay the foundation for that success. Secondly, I think my education in civil engineering, as it relates to community planning and development, along with my experience as a structural and forensic engineer may be of value given the nature of the issues currently being faced by the district.”
Ohlert said that the biggest issue facing the Bellevue School District surrounds the way the current school board is address the issues with the old elementary building.
“The biggest issue facing our district, is short-sightedness. When planning for the future of our community, I think it is incorrect to only look 50 or 100 years down the road,” said Ohlert. “The long-term negative impacts of hollowing out the center of our town will far outlast the luster of a new building, and the success of our children and our children’s children is dependent on the success of the community that surrounds them. The void left by the school will have negative impacts to our library and church programs and will degrade the neighborhood surrounding the school. I would address this issue by applying my unique education and experiences to generate appropriate solutions to the issues we face.”
Ohlert said the school district’s biggest strength is the passion the community has for the education of its children.
“The school's location at the heart of the town is reflective of that passion and focus. What makes us unique from every other school in the state is that we have a direct physical link to the passion and hard work of all the generations that came before us,” said Ohlert. “Valuing and maintaining this centralized campus is a critical way we can educate our children on the value of community through our actions. I want my daughter to be able to ascend the same limestone stairs that have been worn down by generations of children before her. It serves as a daily reminder to us that our children are involved in something lasting and meaningful, that countless kids have successfully come and gone, and that they have a contributing part to play, not just in wearing down the stairs, but in what happens beyond them.”
Another newcomer to the school board elections in Bellevue is Joshua Richter.
He grew up in Adair, IA and married Candice Hoffmann of Bellevue in 2007 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
The couple has three boys, Parker, 10, Tyson, 6 and Jace, 4 all who attend Bellevue Community Schools.
“We moved back to Bellevue in 2012 to grow our family in a small town and school district with values that we both grew up with,” said Richter, who received an associates degree from AIB College of Business in Des Moines and a bachelors degree from the University of Iowa.
He has worked in the insurance industry for over 15 years and currently serves as a consultant and associate with Marsh & McLennan, an Insurance Brokerage from New York.
He is currently the coordinator for the Youth Football Program, the President of the Bellevue Ball Association, President of the Bellevue PTA, Youth Director for the Bellevue Chapter of the Knights of Columbus, member of the Bellevue Facilities Committee and member of the Bellevue School Improvement Committee. Richter is also coaches youth football teams and serves as an Assistant High School Football Coach and Assistant Boys Golf Coach at Bellevue.
Richter said he decided to run for a seat on the Bellevue School Board because he wanted
an active member in the decisions made for the school district.
“I hope to be a voice for both the teachers and the people of our community and welcome open discussion. The imprint left by the school board is felt year after year,” said Richter. “The decisions about the budget, policies and discipline hold significant weight and we have to find creative ways to expand services and improve education, all while looking out for the well-being of our community.”
Richter said there are a number of issues facing the Bellevue School District, but the lack of space at Bellevue Elementary is at the top of his list.
“The elementary building has a three-section Kindergarten, three section first grade and possibly a three section second grade next school year. The district is trying to find creative ways to make room and are transitioning spaces right now to house these new classrooms, but the elementary is at the point where they don’t have a safe space to put these classrooms,” said Richter. “They’ve talked about pulling in modular classrooms and setting those up on the school grounds, but our need is much more than that. Our district is continually growing when the state has said that it should be on the decline. That’s why is so important that we work together as a community to solve the issue at the elementary, whether that is a remodel and addition to the current building or the proposed new building on the new ground purchased by the district.”
Richter said the biggest strength of the Bellevue School District is its educators.
“Having spent the last four years on the PTA, I’ve seen the lengths that our teachers go to and the time they dedicate to their students. Our district does a fantastic job of attracting the best talent and furthering their abilities through professional development, certifications and continuing education,” he said. “In education, quality teachers matter most, they determine each child’s wins and losses, establish standards and expectations within each class and grade level and ultimately influence the success of the educational process.”
“Given a good teacher, and locate him in a cellar, an attic, or a barn, and the strong students of the institution will beat a path to his door. Given a weak teacher and surround him with the finest array of equipment that money can buy, and permit the students to choose, and his class room will echo its own emptiness,” Richter concluded.
Marty Ploessl has thrown his hat in the ring for one of three open seats on the Bellevue School Board.
He and his wife Laural were married in 1987. The couple has three children, Tana, Corbin and Keenan, which are all Bellevue High School graduates. They also currently have three grandchildren attending Bellevue Elementary School.
Ploessl has worked for Woodward Communications for the past 24 years and is currently the Operations Manager for Woodward Printing Services in Platteville, WI.
He continues to be involved in the Bellevue youth sports programs, serving as league coordinator in the past and currently coaching in the softball and baseball programs.
He is currently a member of the Saint John Lutheran Church council.
This is the second time Ploessl has run for school board.
“I have always had an interest in the school and have been an active member of the Bellevue Community School District Facilities Committee,” said Ploessl. “I ran for school board about 12 years ago and leading into this year's election I was told there was a possibility that none of the incumbents would be seeking re-election. I completed my application papers and although two of the incumbents are seeking reelection and I know several of the other candidates, I still felt compelled to throw my hat in the ring.”
Ploessl said the biggest issue facing the school district is the old Bellevue Elementary building.
“How does the district move forward and identify the best usage of the current facilities and what can be done in a fiscally responsible manner? We need to continue to look at the proposal for a new elementary facility and explore all opportunities for reducing the total project costs. At the same time, we should revisit possible options for the existing building and clearly communicate the pros and cons of each option,” said Ploessl. “I feel like a majority of voters believe there is a need to do something but are uncomfortable with the overall price tag. I believe the school district has many things to be proud of, however, being the owner of the oldest elementary school building in the state of Iowa is not one of them.”
Ploessl said that the district’s greatest strength is the college credit opportunities and overall education programs.
“I believe the district does a great job of preparing students for life. For our students who intend to pursue further education, the opportunity to earn college credits during their high school years is an incredible opportunity,” said Ploessl. “This has allowed many students the opportunity to complete their college education in a shorter period of time and reduces the financial burden associated with obtaining a college degree.”
In reality, not all of our students are going to be doctors, lawyers or business professionals, and for those who are not, it's important to expose them to opportunities in vocational fields and provide real-world learning opportunities which will help them be successful in the future,” he concluded. “I think the current school board and school administrators have done a great job of keeping our students' needs at the forefront in their decision-making process while continuing to be fiscally responsible.”
Rhonda Anderson has she has a passion to serve the community. That’s why she decided to get involved and run for a seat on the Bellevue School Board.
Anderson graduated from Ar-We-Va High School in Westside, Iowa. She met her husband, Scott, at Drake University and a few years later, graduated from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy in 1989. She has been a pharmacist in the area for over 24 years. She is a member of St. John Lutheran Church and has taught Sunday School, been involved in youth ministry and attended a mission trip with a confirmation class to Cairo, IL. She is also a member of PEO and has held various offices.
The Andersons have lived in Bellevue over 30 years and have four children, Rebecca, Matthew, Lucas and Marcus. Scott practices dentistry in Bellevue. Becca and her husband, Steven, live in Dubuque. She is a pharmacist for Hartig Drug and Steven works at Prudential. Matthew and his wife, Emily, reside in Kirksville, MO. He is a second lieutenant in the Army and in his third year of medical school at Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine. Emily practices as a nurse at the Gutensohn Clinic. Lucas is a senior at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee pursuing a degree in architecture. Marcus is a senior at Bellevue High School.
“I have a passion to help our children become knowledgeable and well-rounded adults. The exposure to social media has caused additional stress to our youth,” said Anderson when asked why she was running for school board. “I want to ensure our students are in an environment that will be safe and encourage learning. I will use my life experience to relate to them.”
Anderson said the biggest issues revolve around safety and mental health.
“The biggest issue facing our school district is maintaining the safety of our students. Why would we want our young children in an unsafe environment? Mental health plays a huge role in this safety. It affects every aspect of our lives and can be influenced by medications, alcohol and drugs,” said Anderson. “I believe that my pharmacy profession has well equipped me to combat the issues of mental health in our children. I would like to begin yoga in third grade to encourage relaxation. I would also be a proponent of having more guest speakers discuss current issues our society is facing.”
Anderson said the biggest strength that the community has is competition.
“The strongest asset to our school district is that Bellevue offers a public and parochial school. I believe having two schools available motivates teachers and the school to work to the best of their ability,” said Anderson. “Some might consider this a negative, however, competition brings the best teachers and programs to our schools. It is important for our community to maintain both schools as these are invaluable to the future of our students.”
Matt Wedeking, who has a variety of strong skills as well as community involvement is also running for an open seat on the Bellevue School Board this fall.
He and his wife Shannon have two children attending Bellevue High School; Audrey, who is a junior and Jensen a freshman.
Wedeking is an Industrial Engineer at Collins Aerospace in Bellevue. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University and his MBA at the University of Dubuque.
Wedeking coaches multiple youth basketball and baseball teams; and volunteerd as an umpire for the Bellevue Ball Association. He also helps officiate the Community Club and D.A.R.E. basketball tournaments. He is a member of the School Improvement Advisory Council, Facilities Committee and serves as a volunteer assistant coach for the varsity girls basketball program.
He was also elected to two terms on the Bellevue Golf Club board of directors, serving as president for three of the six years.
Wedeking says he is running for school board to be involved in the future of local students. He also wants to give of his time for the greater good.
“I feel that it is important to be involved in the community. With two children and several nieces and nephews in the school system, I want to help ensure they continue to have opportunities to grow and prepare for their futures,” said Wedeking. “I have experience with budgeting, capital planning and execution, project management and process improvement. I believe these skills along with my broad range of perspectives, personal dedication to the community and school make me a good candidate for the school board.”
The biggest issue facing the local school district, according to Wedeking, is to continue to provide students with opportunities.
“Today when we hear so much about budget cuts and school closings, I think the biggest issue is to ensure we can provide as many opportunities for the students as we can. When you think about everything the school system consists of (academics, infrastructure, fine arts and extra curricular activities to name a few) this is no small task,” said Wedeking. “I do not think it is right to go in this position thinking I need to make a lot of changes. The first step for me would be to learn as much as I can about how the school system functions, what the needs are, what the different forms of finance are and how and what those funds can be used for, etc. At that time I will be able to see what I believe the district needs to focus its attention on going forward.”
Wedeking said school teachers and staff are huge assets to the Bellevue School District.
“The employees are the biggest strength of the district. Whether attending an event at the school, reading the paper or looking at the school website and social media postings you see examples of the multiple things our students are learning and are involved in,” said Wedeking. “None of these things are possible without the school district employees guidance and support.”
Polls are open from 7 a.m. - 8 p.m. Nov. 5. Watch your local newspaper for more on the election and profiles on the candidates in the coming weeks..