With the need to hire a new superintendent and the possibility of an operational levy and referendum on the way, the 2020 St. Peter School Board election garnered high interest from candidates and voters.

On the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 5, the election was unofficially called for two incumbents and two newcomers. Incumbent Ben Leonard was re-elected with the highest vote total of 1,015 votes while fellow incumbent Tim Lokensgard received 847. Newcomer Bill Soderlund was elected to the board with the second-highest vote count, 991, and newcomer Tracy Stuewe received 868 votes.

Each term on the District 508 school board is four years. Soderlund and Stuewe will be replacing Mark Karlsrud and Bob Meeks in 2020, neither of whom ran for re-election.

Six other candidates rounded out the field including Bill Kraut (769 votes), Julie Carlblom (719), Mohamed Abdulkadir (650), Molly Wendroth (539), Andy Vanderlinden (363) and Bernadette Volk (321).

The results as of Tuesday night are unofficial and won’t be official until they are canvassed by the Saint Peter School Board, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Saint Peter Middle School media center.

Following their electoral victories Tuesday night, each of the four successful candidates were asked questions about the race and their priorities for the future.

Ben Leonard

Background: Leonard is a 44-year old parent of four who has served on the School Board since 2008. Leonard campaigned on his 12 years of experience and a platform that emphasized developing a thorough plan for the district’s upcoming operating referendum.

How are you feeling about being reelected to the school board tonight?

“I’m really thankful that ten people decided to put themselves out there to take their time to run for the school board. I think that was great and I’m really grateful to the voters for choosing four candidates to lead the school board for the next four years. It’s always a big buildup to election day and then you have the election and then you do the work. This is just the beginning and in January when everyone’s sworn in, we’ll get to work on hiring the new superintendent.”

What are your priorities for your upcoming term?

“We’ve got two new board members who haven’t served on the school board before. So, we’ll want to get them up to speed and that’s a big learning curve. I’ve had to do it, every school board member has had to do it and they’ll do a great job. We’re going to hire a superintendent, so that journey will start early in 2020 and we’ll want to get that wrapped up by the time school ends. So that’s a big upcoming job and we’re looking at an operational levy and referendum that we’re going to have to conduct and go to the voters again and hopefully, they decide to continue to support the schools like they always have in St. Peter.”

Bill Soderlund

Background: One of the newcomers to the School Board, 58-year old Bill Soderlund is both a pharmacist and manager who came to the St. Peter to raise a family and manage Soderlund drug. Today, Soderlund owns the Vet-Rx pharmacy and pledged to use his business experience to take a deep dive into the district’s finances and focus on solutions rather than problems.

How are you feeling about being elected to the school board tonight?

“I’m happy to have the opportunity to serve the students and the community. There were a lot of good candidates out there, that’s for sure.”

What are your priorities for your upcoming term?

“To start out with, I want to go over the finances and look it over and get a real good handle on what’s going on. So I familiarized myself with it. I have a lot of business background, so I’m going to see if there’s ways to improve efficiencies and increase revenue. I’m going to try and get and a handle on that and we’re going to meet and start figuring out how to move forward in search of a new superintendent. It’s going to be definitely coming up quick too.”

Tracy Stuewe

Background: Another newcomer, Tracy Stuewe is a 46 year old Community Volunteer and Disability/Special Education Advocate and mother of four. Stuewe is also President of the St. Peter Booster Club and Chairperson of the Special Education Advisory Council. As a special education advocate and mother of a child with autism, Stuewe has stressed the importance of increasing mental health services for students and focusing on special education.

How are you feeling about being elected to the school board tonight?

“It’s been kind of a long night, I will say that much. I’m kind of excited that people have the confidence in me that I’ll do a good job leading the school district and I’m just excited to get the campaign behind me and get on with the hard work.”

What are your priorities for your upcoming term?

“I think my biggest priority honestly is learning a lot because I know there’s a lot to be learned in this process. The things that I wanted to focus on was mental health and focus on some services and programs that maybe we can start to implement. I don’t know what that would be, but I just know it’s very prevalent and I have a son who has autism, so special education outcomes are always at the tip of my brain as well. Overall, I’m looking to learn and to see where we’re at and get my feet wet. I wish I could just come in and say I’ll make all sorts of magical changes, but I’m not settling up to think that’s actually going to happen, but mental health and special education are my passions.

Tim Lokensgard

Background: Tim Lokensgard is a 51-year-old school board incumbent and Facility Security Director for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. Descended from seven generations of rural St. Peter farmers, Lokensgard campaigned on promoting leadership and integrity on the board, hiring a qualified superintendent and maintaining positive relationships between the school and outside stakeholders.

How are you feeling about being reelected to the school board tonight?

“It looked to be a good turnout. A lot of votes. I appreciate getting voted in again. It was a close race. I appreciate all the candidates for sure. It’s exciting when there’s ten people and all that choice and I think the school district has got interest, so that’s good. There’s a lot of work to do in the next years. I’m excited, looking forward to working with the school district and the community members again for the next four years.

What are your priorities for your upcoming term?

“I think this year the board really needs to focus on a high-quality superintendent candidate. That should be number one. [We need to] lay out a really good strategic plan involving figuring out what we’re going to do with an operating levy in the next couple years and not really a set agenda, just keep doing the board’s work.”

Reach Reporter Carson Hughes at 507-931-8572.

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