Why serve? Board reps report

Serving on the local school board is not only rewarding, it is vital, according to members past and present. The decisions made regard millions in tax dollars and impact thousands of students.

Nominations are being taken by the Fort Dodge Community School District through Thursday. Seats held by Stuart Cochrane, Brian Forsythe and Jan Merz are up for election on Sept. 10, with only Cochrane and Forsythe planning to run for new four-year terms.

As of Friday, the FDCSD has not received any other nominations.

Cochrane, current board president, said the school board is important.

“The importance of the school board is the fact that you have such an opportunity through public service to affect so many different lives, not only the young people and their parents but also their friends and the rest of their family,” Cochrane said. “We have an opportunity to offer service to what I think are some of the finest people anywhere. It is a source of great satisfaction to rub elbows with those people on a regular basis.”

According to Cochrane, being on the school board means being responsible to the community.

“We are constantly vigilant of being good stewards of tax dollars,” he said. “Some of the decisions we make are time-consuming because we wrestle with how it impacts our students and staff as well as the taxpayers.”

He added, “It really is a sense of service when you combine all those things at once.”

Jerry Schnurr III, who served nine years on the Fort Dodge school board until stepping down in 2011, said he enjoyed being a board member.

“It was very enjoyable and exciting to work with the administrators and teachers to provide a positive learning experience for all the children in Fort Dodge,” said Schnurr, who served as board president during part of his tenure. “One of the best things about being on the board and one of the things I enjoyed most was having some input in how the children are educated and trying to improve education so the children can achieve their dreams and their desire.”

Schnurr said the board plays a significant role in the shaping of education in Fort Dodge.

“I think it’s really important to have a quality public school system for a number of reasons,” he said. “One, for the children, and two, families, which is your constituent. And without the children you don’t have a reason to be there. So the first consideration we all had, when I was on the board, was, how is this going to affect children? Any decision we make, how is it affecting children?”

Merz has served on the Fort Dodge school board for 24 years.

“I joined back when I was a PTA person,” Merz said. “I learned that the only way you really know what’s going on is to be involved in decision-making. I thought I had something to share or a perspective to give to the board and that’s why I ran. I ran three times before I got on the board and I never regretted it.”

The board makes many important decisions, but not independent of the community, Merz said. For example, in building Butler Elementary or Fort Dodge Middle School the board acted to keep the community informed.

“We had to work with the public to make them aware of what we were trying to do and why to build those two schools, and those are deep intense things that take lots of time,” she said. “And then there’s other decisions that come with that, but the decisions built the decision to go to the public to ask for the money.”

Merz said interested people should run, but must be willing to invest time in participation and in making good decisions.

“You do represent the public and you do need to listen carefully to what they say,” she said. “It’s not just a spur-of-the-moment thing. Most of the things we go through we think through very deeply. But it’s so rewarding to see the kids grow and prosper from what you’ve done, whether it be by policy or watching them walk across the stage and shake your hand and graduate.”

She added, “It’s all part of the reward you get.”