Editor's note: This week we feature the eight candidates running for four seats on the Minnetonka School Board. We will publish two candidates per day for four days. You can meet and grill all the candidates at our Speed Dating For Your Vote event at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at the Gold Nugget Tavern.
KAREN WALKOWSKI, incumbent
Minnetonka Patch: What qualifications do you have that will make you an effective Minnetonka school board member?
Walkowski: I have served on the Minnetonka School Board for the last 4 years and am the current chair of the board. Prior to my service on the school board, I was a member of the Minnetonka Schools Citizen Finance Advisory and Audit Committee (2000-2007) and participated in two strategic planning efforts for the district (2003 and 2007).
My knowledge of the many aspects of the school district operations and programs provides me with deep knowledge of the successes, issues, priorities and opportunities. My knowledge of school finances will provide a critical perspective as the district faces increasing pressures to maintain balanced budgets. I have been an active parent volunteer for both of my children when they attended school, including serving as the team parent for the MHS Girls Gymnastics Team and supporting my son’s various baseball teams.
Patch: What is the biggest issue for Minnetonka's school district? Why?
Walkowski: I believe that the Minnetonka School District has positioned itself to be in an outstanding financial situation for the near term which will allow the District to continue to grow and meet the needs of the students. However, the reality of a questionable economic recovery nationally and the continued financial issues at the state level which include using schools to balance the state budget, will require the Minnetonka School District to pursue funding models that will ensure long term stability for our students.
Patch: What is current Minnetonka School District leadership doing well? What could be better?
Walkowski: It has been a privilege to serve for the last four years with the current School Board. I think one of the greatest attributes of this board is that we made a conscious decision to lead by consensus. Each member of the board is aware that the only way we can be truly effective is to speak to the school administration, staff, students and community as one voice.
With that in mind, we work very hard to resolve our differences in opinions and to challenge the staff to develop the best program or initiative so that we can approve programs, policies and initiatives, knowing that they have been thoroughly discussed. Agreeing not to bring issues to a vote until we are satisfied that the action item is truly the best solution to meet the needs of the students, strengthens both our credibility as leaders and the quality of the programs and initiatives that are presented for the vote.
The current board serves as a unique model for other boards. Having said that, I know that there is always room for improvement. One area that I know is a continual challenge to the current Board as well as to most organizations is ensuring that the Board communicates as effectively as possible.
Patch: How will you get input from your constituents?
Walkowski: Input to the Board, is available in many different ways. There is opportunity for community comments at each board meeting. The Board hosts listening sessions prior to many board meetings to address specific areas of interest or concern and we attend PTA/PTO meetings to seek input from specific parent groups. Board members have also accompanied staff at presentations to obtain parent input as we research new programs including the middle school curriculum, the Navigator program and expansion of the immersion program into middle school (currently in process).
As an individual board member, I welcome emails at my school board email and encourage people to call me.
As a parent of MHS graduates and an active member of my community and church, I seek out opinions from friends, neighbors and other parents and members of the community.
Patch: Give us a brief background of yourself.
Walkowski: I was raised in Minnetonka and graduated from Hopkins Lindbergh High School in 1977 (Karen Westgate). After obtaining my Masters Degree, I moved to northern California and lived there for 15 years.
In 1999, I moved back to Minnesota with my family and chose to live in the Minnetonka School District. Both of my children (Ian and Leah) graduated from Minnetonka High School and are both attending college. I have been married to my husband, Bill for 24 years. I have a Master’s in Healthcare Administration from the University of Minnesota (1984) and am currently the National Director for Payment Policy for United HealthCare (Medicaid Division).
In addition to serving on the Minnetonka School Board, I am on the Board of Directors for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics-Children’s Minnetonka. I am also a member of Wooddale Church.