John Carlson reflects on school board career

When John Carlson was elected to the Cambridge-Isanti School Board in
November 2008, he quickly learned how much reading was involved, and
how quickly time would pass.

Rachel Kytonen
[email protected]

When John Carlson was elected to the Cambridge-Isanti School Board in November 2008, he quickly learned how much reading was involved, and how quickly time would pass.

“The biggest change for me, from my current career, was the amount of reading we had to do,” Carlson said. “The other thing that amazed me was the shift away from the classroom to the price of diesel, fuel, energy audits and employee issues. The classroom and the board room have the same goal, but it’s a different world.”

Carlson, who decided to not file for re-election in November, attended his final board meeting in December. During his time on the board he was a part of the SEE (Schools for Equity in Education) committee, Minnesota State High School League, finance, licensure, and teacher negotiation committees.

Carlson appreciated the district’s willingness to train new board members.

“One thing I will say about District 911 is its willingness to invest money for continuing education for board members, faculty and staff,” Carlson said. “The district invested a lot of money in me for seminars, classes, etc.”

Carlson always had a good working relationship with the board.

“I think it has been a real cooperative board,” Carlson said. “On this board you have to plan, and have discussion, but you can’t have discussion ahead of time on how you’re going to vote. You can voice your opinion, but research must be done before board meetings.”

When elected to the board, Carlson immediately got involved on the finance committee.

“Everything has money attached to it, and you see every department come across your desk when you’re on the finance committee,” he said. “It gives you a chance to learn about everything, more in-depth.”

Carlson was involved in many positive aspects of the district. He highlighted the stimulus package the district got through the Obama administration that funded on-going educational training opportunities for teachers, principals and administrators. He also mentioned a highlight as the upgrading of the computer lab at the high school.

Another area Carlson enjoyed being a part of was the long range facilities committee. Carlson noted the bus garage remodeling project in Cambridge, energy efficiency projects in the schools and the district’s recent acquisition of the former Cambridge Armory building.

Carlson prided himself on being an informed and active participant on the school board.

“There are two ways you can serve on the school board—you can come once a month and attend your regular meetings, or you can live it everyday,” Carlson said. “If you’re in town, and up and around, you will be talked to and confronted about issues. You can go into hiding, or you can be exposed and get your hands wet.”

One of the juggling acts of being a board member was balancing board work with private work.

“I basically removed myself from the auction business while serving on the board,” Carlson said. “Serving on the board cost me money for my family and you can’t replace it. Being on the board means you’re going to be reading emails, doing board work—it’s an enormous undertaking. You could so something board-related everyday if you choose to.”

Carlson said the “saddest day” of his career was Sunday, April 25, when he learned about the fatal accident just west of Cambridge that resulted in the deaths of six people—including three young students and one young adult—from the Cambridge-Isanti area.

“I remember heading to the crash site to make sure the district had all the proper names of those who had died, and making a call to Superintendent Bruce Novak because it was a crisis situation,” Carlson said. “It was the saddest day I had had while serving on the school board.”

Carlson has nothing but the utmost respect for his fellow board members.

“I had a real good relationship with the other board members,” Carlson said. “They were always respectful, and we always had a good dialogue. There were differences of opinions, but we would always came to terms and be in agreement, and move forward with what the majority felt.”

Carlson encourages the new board members to come in with an open mind.

“You can come in with an agenda or with an idea of things you’d like to change, but if you come in here trying to get someone removed or with a specific reason, you’re going to have a long four years,” he said. “There are three types of people—those who make things happen; those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.”

One aspect Carlson said is frustrating about public education is “they have taken God out of the equation.”

Carlson is a 1981 graduate of Cambridge High School, and has lived in the Isanti County area his entire life.

“The school district is really a city within a city,” Carlson said.

Even though he’s no longer serving on the board, Carlson plans to say involved in the district, but will focus again on his auction business.

Carlson said he enjoyed his time on the board.

“It has probably been the fastest 26 months of my life—between board meetings and my kids, it has been something every night,” Carlson said. “I realize I haven’t been perfect, but I’ve tried to do the right thing. Anytime you take issues with controversy, there’s bound to be some inflammation. But I know more now about how the system and government works, and I have a better understanding of why things are the way they are. I’d like to thank everyone within the district for all their support.”