Editor's note: This is the first part of a few stories to help you prepare for the Sioux Falls school board election next week. Watch for more in Friday's issue and a special Tuesday morning issue next week.
Simplified: You'll see three names on the May 16 ballot in the Sioux Falls school board election, but really only two people want your vote. Sioux Falls Simplified chatted with both of them to talk about important issues facing the district. Here's what you need to know.
Why it matters
- The Sioux Falls school board oversees a district with nearly 25,000 students, 1,800 teachers and an annual budget of over $300 million. So, whoever is elected will have a direct impact on thousands of people in the community (as well as how everyone's tax dollars are spent).
- This year, the school board vote will happen in a standalone election, i.e. there aren't any city-wide races or issues on the ballot. Historically, turnout is less than 5%. (In the 2019 standalone school board election, board members were chosen by just over 4,200 people – or 3.8% of registered voters).
- Regardless of the outcome, Sioux Falls will have a new face on the school board. Cynthia Mickelson is not running for re-election after two terms. On the ballot are Dawn Marie Johnson, Brian Mattson and Nicolas Lee Zachariasen.
- It's worth noting here that only Johnson and Mattson have actively campaigned. Zachariasen posted on his social media an endorsement for Johnson, calling her "absurdly better qualified" than himself. Zachariasen did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Ok, so tell me a little more about the two active candidates
Dawn Marie Johnson, 33, is the director of leadership and culture for the South Dakota Afterschool Network. Before that, she worked as an outreach coordinator at the Axtell Park building. She's also got a 9-year-old daughter who's a student in the district.
Brian Mattson, 52, is a self-employed investor in both real estate and stocks. He's been married for almost 30 years and is a veteran Marine (because there's no such thing as a "former" Marine, he added).
Here's a little more about them in their own words:
Answers are edited for length and clarity.
Why did you want to run for school board?
Mattson: There were a lot of friends of mine at church that kept telling me, 'You'd be great for the school board position,' and I've always been interested in education.
- As far as why, I decided to run because I felt called by God. I feel that he has called me, and so far he has been making things happen, and it's amazing.
Johnson: (Because of my previous job at the Joe Foss Alternative School) I know how to connect and bridge gaps between students and the community, and I was fortunate enough to develop a professional relationship with Cynthia Mickelson. She's been like a mentor to me.
- So all those things coming together, it just made sense for me to run, and if it wasn't me, who was going to do it?
What's the most important issue to you – i.e. what's your biggest focus if elected?
Johnson: I took the time to meet with teachers, educators, custodial staff ... as much as I want to give you my priorities, I'm going to give you what I've learned.
- Everybody's (top priority) is (South Dakota's new) social studies standards. What are we going to do to navigate this giant curriculum? That's everybody's concern right now.
- We have three years, $3 million and I'm sure there's more that I need to learn about it, but given what I know, that's going to be a big focus of my term.
Mattson: What I bring to the table is fiscal responsibility. And having the financial aspect down – figuring out where we can allocate funds, how we can raise more funds, what kind of waste we're having, are we being efficient in everything that we're doing – that's one of the main pieces.
- Bullying – that's also a big thing for me. (I want to) come alongside teachers and give them all the tools we can to have a disciplined class.