Write-in candidates recruited for Hermantown School Board election

Although Hermantown residents clamored to defeat a school district referendum last year, they stayed home when it came time to file for School Board seats this year.

Leo Plewa
Leo Plewa is running as a write-in candidate for the Hermantown School Board. (2005 file / News Tribune)

Although Hermantown residents clamored to defeat a school district referendum last year, they stayed home when it came time to file for School Board seats this year.

Only one person filed for three open seats, prompting a campaign to recruit

write-in candidates.

At least six more people have announced they are willing to serve in a district that's dealing with outdated, unsafe schools and a paraprofessional contract unsettled for a year and a half.

Outgoing board member Pamela Carlson doesn't think Hermantown


*esidents are apathetic. In smaller communities it can be hard being a School Board member charged with making unpopular decisions that affect people you know, she said.

"You're so close to constituents that it sometimes gets personal," Carlson said. "People don't want to mix it up with friends and neighbors. You can lose friends."

Board member Jim Knapp, a 12-year veteran, has heard concerns from

potential candidates about having children enrolled in the district and how being a board member can affect relationships with teachers and staff.

"When it puts your kids right in the middle of it, it makes it very difficult," he said.

The Hermantown teachers union organized a forum for all the candidates, one

incumbent among them, and the local newspaper has printed information about each one. If write-ins hadn't come forward, an application process would have been used to fill the seats, said outgoing board Chairwoman Jamie Jago.

"People's lives are getting busier and busier and school finances are very difficult," she said, noting it's hard to run a school district with such troubling issues as failing facilities and not enough money to fix them. "I give credit to the people stepping up."


Leo Plewa, a 50-year Hermantown resident and former city employee, was asked by community members to run. He doesn't

*emember a time when a School Board election had more open spots than candidates on a ballot. The 76-year-old, whose four kids graduated from Hermantown, didn't think to file this summer because he didn't know how little interest there would be in serving.

"From my point of view, people do not want to be involved," he said. "There seems to be a disconnect between the schools and the community."

Deanna Gronseth, a Duluth public schools speech pathologist with two kids in the district, also was asked to run. She didn't file for a spot because she assumed others would.

"We often assume there are well-qualified people out there, and they'll be stepping up," she said. "But many of us are well-qualified ... and we can help out."

Both Plewa and Gronseth are handing out business cards so people know they are running and know how to spell their names on the ballot.

The candidate forum, which is to be broadcast on Hermantown's public access channel a handful of times until the election, had more audience members than past referendum meetings, said Kevin Leonard, president of the Hermantown teachers union, Education Minnesota, Hermantown.

"We're pleased that people, once we realized we were in this predicament, we now have more than we need," he said.


Candidates for Hermantown's School Board election are incumbent Greg Carlson, who will appear on the ballot, and write-in candidates Rick Fuller, Sara Romagnoli, Terri Kragseth, Blaine Peterson, Leo Plewa and Deanna Gronseth.

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