Benton County area school board election

by jmagdefrau on September 4, 2013

Candidates running for seats on Belle Plaine, Benton and Kirkwood boards

School board elections are set for Tuesday, Sept. 10, for Belle Plaine and Benton Community. Belle Plaine has two incumbents running unopposed for its five-member school board. Benton Community has three incumbents running unopposed on the seven-member board.

Belle Plaine seats are voted on at-large. Benton is voted on by director district.

There are two running for one seat for Director District 6 on the Kirkwood Community College Board. Running are Elaine Harrington, incumbent, and Joel G. Thys.

Polls are open 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Belle Plaine will vote at the fire station in Belle Plaine.

The following polling places are open in Benton.

  • PRECINCT AREA #1 NEWHALL – Newhall City Hall
  • PRECINCT AREA #2 VAN HORNE – Van Horne Emergency Station
  • PRECINCT AREA #3 ATKINS – Atkins City Hall (change in location)
  • PRECINCT AREA #4 WATKINS – St. Michael’s Parish Center in Norway
  • PRECINCT AREA #5 NORWAY – St. Michael’s Parish Center in Norway
  • PRECINCT AREA #6 BLAIRSTOWN – City Hall, Blairstown
  • PRECINCT AREA #7 KEYSTONE – City Hall, Keystone

Running in Belle Plaine are Jon Garling and Rima Johnson.

Running in Benton are Patrick Stepanek, District 4; Kyle Schmidt, District 5; and Wayne Reinhardt, District 6.

Profiles on the candidates are featured.


Elaine Harrington

BACKGROUND: Wife of 44 years. Mother of three daughters. Grandmother to five grandchildren. Lifelong resident of Benton County

EDUCATION: Graduated from Washington High School in Vinton in 1966. Graduated from Cedar Rapids Business College in 1967

BUSINESS BACKGROUND: Shea, Mitchell & Jackson, Attorneys, executive assistant 1967-1974. Country Upholstery, owner 1980 – 2000. Farming operation, co-owner, 1969 – current

ORGANIZATIONS: Former K-12 Benton Community School Board Member for six years. Kirkwood Board of Trustees, 2003 to present. Member of Facilities Foundation, Kirkwood Community College for nine years. Board Member of Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity, Benton County Chapter. Chairman of Family Selection Committee for Cedar Valley Habitat, Benton County Chapter

HONORS AND RECOGNITION: “Women of Influence for the Corridor” 2013 Honoree. Heritage Farm Recognition. Century Farm Recognition

PAST SCHOOL BOARD EXPERIENCE: Benton Community School Board 1997-2003. Kirkwood Community College Trustee Board 2003 to present

STATEMENT:  Kirkwood has maintained their reputation in innovation by remaining a leader. We have proudly been at the front of the line instead of a follower when it comes to investing in technology and improvement projects to better serve our students. It’s because of this drive and passion that Kirkwood graduates the second largest number of students in the agriculture field.

While serving on the board, we have implemented numerous innovative projects such as:

• Kirkwood building remodel to improve energy efficiency

• The opening of “The Hotel” at Kirkwood

• “Class Act” Restaurant upgrade to better prepare and develop our students of the Culinary Arts, Restaurant and Hotel Management department

• Wind turbine installation, which offsets about 25 percent of our electrical consumption

• New regional centers in Washington, Johnson and Linn counties

• New Kirkwood Continuing Education Training Center for our truck driving classes, fire training, etc.

• Ballantyne Auditorium Remodel

• Establishment of “The Vineyard” winery, which produces over 16 grape varieties annually

Going forward, Kirkwood will continue to work hard for articulation agreements with the regent and private colleges of Iowa. Also, we will increase partnerships with manufacturing and industrial business in the Corridor, as well as the surrounding areas.

The challenges we face going forward will be different from the past. I believe that technology will play a key part in the continuing success of Kirkwood and I will continue to be in the forefront of making that happen.

My major focus while on the board at Kirkwood, is to make sure that each and every student, whether traditional or nontraditional, receives an education. While many projects and investments are being made and implemented to better serve our students and community, it is still important to remember to keep the costs of tuition at an affordable rate.

Throughout my tenure on the board, I have seen numerous situations in which our students have overcome some very hard obstacles in their lives. This is what keeps my drive, determination and passion. This is what I will continue to strive for.

It has been a privilege to serve on the Board of Trustees, and I ask for your vote on Sept. 10.

Joel Thys

Family: Married to Dawn Thys. Children: Mallory 12, Jaden 11, Jordan 8.

Education:  AAS in Automotive Technology, Des Moines Area Community College (1988); AAS in Marketing Management, Kirkwood Community College (1994); BA in Liberal Arts, Western Illinois University (1997); MBA in Business Administration, University of Iowa (2002).

Business: Owner of Thys Automotive Group with locations in Blairstown, Victor, Belle Plaine, Toledo/Tama

Current Organizations: Kirkwood Community College – Marketing Management Advisory Committee – Since 2006

St. John’s Catholic Church – Blairstown- Finance Council Rep. – Since 2010

Blairstown Sauerkraut Days – Committee Member – Since 1998

Past Organizations:  Blairstown City Council Member, Blairstown Community Foundation, Benton County Development Group

Statement: I think Kirkwood has done an outstanding job creating new curriculum that is forward thinking and exciting for our local students to take advantage of. Two of the biggest commitments that have been made are the building of the wind turbine and Hotel Kirkwood. We are very fortunate to have training in these fields this close to home.

As a board member, I would look to build on these accomplishments and be a part of keeping Kirkwood a leader in community colleges.

Belle Plaine

Rima Khachatourian Johnson

Age: 68


• Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature, University of Tehran

• Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education, University of Iowa


• Assistant at Belle Plaine Community Library

• Retired teacher


• Belle Plaine School Foundation Board (President)

• PEO (President)

• Athena Club

Prior School Board Experience: Two years

Why are you running for reelection?

I am passionate about education and I feel this role allows me to give back to the school district.

I bring to the table nearly 40 years of professional teaching experience on three continents. I believe I am uniquely suited to understanding the needs of students, teachers and the district, and am committed to serving this community to the best of my ability.

In the last two years, I have learned a great deal in my capacity as a board member about the strengths of our district and the challenges ahead. I hope to continue to help steer the course as we overcome those challenges and create the best possible experience for our students and teachers alike.

The Belle Plaine Board of Education decided this spring to end sharing a superintendent with HLV after the 2013-2014 year. What are the advantages of Belle Plaine having its own superintendent?

At the time we decided to share superintendents, this was an advantageous solution that met the needs of both Belle Plaine schools and HLV. Over the past several years, our priorities have continued to evolve – and today a full-time superintendent can better meet those needs.

Where do you see the district headed with sharing of programs and teaching staff with HLV or other districts?

I hope we will continue aspects of the sharing program that have been most successful for students in both districts. We will meet with HLV’s board in late September to more fully develop a roadmap for the future.

Our district’s greatest strengths

Our dedicated and hard working staff, and the tremendous support of the community.

Our district’s biggest challenges

• State funding.

• Preparing and meeting the needs of the 21st century learners.

• Updating our learning tools to better suit today’s technology standards.

My goals if elected

• To be a good steward of taxpayer trust – and money.

• Facilitate the continuation of our strong curriculum and meeting the technology needs of our students.

• Set policies that would help our administrators provide exceptional assistance to our staff in meeting the greatest learning needs of our students.

• Add an elementary counselor/at-risk coordinator.

Other comments

I believe that public education is the backbone of democracy, and that all students can be educated and have inherent potential to become productive, engaged citizens. A board setting high standards with specific, measurable, action-based, realistic and time-based (“S.M.A.R.T.”) goals will facilitate improvement in student achievement and make our community stronger for the long-term.

Jon Garling

Age: 29

Education: Belle Plaine High School, 2003. Iowa State University – Bachelor of Science degree in economics, 2006

Occupation: Insurance agent at Grimm Real Estate & Insurance, North English

Memberships/organizations: Dollars for Scholars

Prior school board experience: Elected in September 2011 to fill a vacancy

Why are you running for reelection?

Our current board has a strong commitment to the pursuits we have undertaken, and I think we would all like to see them come to fruition.  We have made some really great steps, but the process is ongoing and ever changing.

What are the advantages of Belle Plaine having its own superintendent? 

We had been tossing around the hiring of another administrator position for at least a year.  We felt that it could be advantageous for us to instead have a full time superintendent to fill some of the roles we wanted from that position.  Mr. Lynch has been fantastic to work with and I know the adjustment to someone else will be difficult.

Where do you see the district headed with sharing of programs and teaching staff with HLV or other districts? 

Expanding.  We have a great relationship with HLV and our programs currently shared have been a boon to both schools.  I don’t see why we would not keep it moving forward.  We also have other districts sharing other programs that we may want to be a part of, and thanks to our experience with HLV, we have a good working knowledge of how to do it.

Our district’s greatest strengths: A commitment to our graduating students that they are prepared for whatever their next endeavor may be.  We also have programs in place in the elementary that promote positive reinforcement and socially healthy kids.  Every school can make a good student, but we want to make good people as well.

Our district’s biggest challenges: We are still a small district and have all the same problems small districts have. We are unable to hire all the staff we would like.  We have to make smart decisions about any programs that have recurring costs or, once started, cannot be stopped.  These are not new challenges, nor unique ones.  We look to see what other districts have done or are doing and try to adopt and adapt to what works.

Your goals if elected: I would like to have the opportunity to get our teachers the equipment and technology they need to get the most out of their classes.  No two teachers have the same needs, but the way technology has changed, I think we have plenty of overlapping needs.  We need to find those and efficiently implement them.


Wayne Reinhardt

District 6 (Blairstown)


Family: With wife Colleen, four children: Lucas Woodland and his wife Tara, Minneapolis area. Expecting their first grandchild in early October.

Three daughters: Dana, Jenna, and Deann. All live in Iowa and are Benton graduates.

Education: Benton Community graduate.

Business: Own and operate grain and cattle farm near Luzerne with wife, Colleen. Works at Cargill in Cedar Rapids as a flour operator.

Experience: Served as District 6 Director the past four years.

Organizations: Member of Grace Lutheran Church, Blairstown, where he serves as head usher.

Statement: Benton has been very good to my family, not only as an employer for my wife, but in the education that we have all received there. That is why I would like to continue to serve on the Board of Education as a way of giving something back.

We have great staff here all the way from administration, teachers, support staff, cooks, maintenance, and bus drivers. All of these people help to make Benton what it is today.

It has been an exciting four years in our district. In this time, projects have been completed in all of our buildings. Additions to Atkins and Keystone, improvements to the Norway building, the remolding of the fine arts wing and stadium project, and with the warm weather that always seems to hit at the beginning and end of the school year having all of our buildings air conditioned are all improvements that will help Benton for years to come. These are all things that have been done to the buildings and grounds, but inside is where some of the exciting things are happening. I have been impressed by the second chance reading and reading recover programs, the 1-to-1 program where all middle school and high school students are issued an iPad. I feel this can only help with the educational process. Being able to do all this and maintain a low property tax rate is very important, as 80 percent of the people in our district do not have children or grandchildren in our schools.

Some areas of uncertainty come when it comes to setting the schools yearly budget, as this is required to be done, sometimes before the state has set the allowable growth rate for the upcoming year. Declining enrollment continues to be a concern. In the last four years our largest class has been the senior class. Then as they graduate, the replacement class of kindergartners has been smaller than the graduating class. Being able to meet the requirements set by the No Child Left Behind Act is also a major issue.

Please be sure to vote on Sept. 10.

Pat Stepanek

District 4 (Watkins area)

Reason for running, background and experience: My wife and I moved to the Benton School District 33 years ago because we wanted to raise our children in a rural area that had a quality school district.  Our four daughters graduated from Benton Community and three have returned to raise their families here.  We are now blessed with 12 grandchildren, 10 of whom will someday graduate from Benton Community.  I am running for re-election to the Board of Education to do my part to ensure that our district continues to provide the quality of education that my daughters experienced.

I also want to continue to serve on the board to follow through and add to the many things we accomplished the past four years. First, we began participating in the Eastern Iowa Compact initiative that encourages a personalized learning experience for all students. Staff professional development is continuously emphasized, including the creation of a professional learning community environment. Technology has been integrated through all grades including providing iPads to each student in grades 7 through 12.  We also continue to support additional opportunities for students to earn college credits.  Last year our school ranked second among Grant Wood Area Education schools in college credit courses completed.

With a commitment to provide a safe and secure environment, the district is in the process of updating security in all of our centers.  A.L.I.C.E. training (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate) was provided to all district employees, and students will also be receiving age appropriate education on the training during the school year.

The financial strength of the district has improved in this last four years.  The bonds that financed the new roof on the middle/high school building were prepaid.  This saved the district $654,382 in future interest costs.  Our district’s solvency ratio has gone from 2 percent in 2010 to 12.4 percent at the end of the 2012 school year. A solvency ratio above 10 percent is considered excellent. At the same time, we have completed major infrastructure projects to enhance the students overall learning experience.  These included completion of an addition and remodeling of the Atkins Center, as well as updates at the other elementary centers.  We renovated the football stadium, the middle/high school auditorium and put new bleachers in the gymnasium.  We have initiated an effort to market our school through realtors as one way to attract more families and counter the dropping enrollment we have experienced. Another action we have taken to make our district more appealing to young families is using our Atkins Center’s extra classroom space to provide daycare services and started a latchkey service in the Norway Center.

Professional & Educational Background: Wartburg College, Bachelor of Arts degrees in accounting and business administration; Certified Public Accountant (CPA); two-plus years’ experience in public accounting; Board of Directors and CFO of Securities Corporation of Iowa and affiliated companies.

My employer from late 70s to the mid-90s was GreatAmerica Leasing Corporation. I am currently employed as Director of Internal Audit.

Member of the following professional organizations: American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Iowa Society of Certified Public Accountants, Institute of Internal Auditors, Heartland-Iowa Chapter of Institute of Internal Auditors.

Boards: Linnhaven (a non-profit organization that provides residential living and programming for mentally and physically disabled individuals), served as treasurer; YMCA (12 years), served as president and treasurer; ARC of East Central Iowa; Board of Governors of Heartland-Iowa Chapter of Institute of Internal Auditors; Wartburg College Alumni Board.

Other Community Activities: Current member of Benton Community Board of Education; Prairie High School long-range planning committee; Benton Community long-range planning committee; co-chaired Benton/Norway whole grade sharing committee; superintendent search committee for Benton Community;  2008 Infrastructure committee member for Benton Community; member of Rotary for 28 years – past president (87-88) and board member;  volunteer coach for girls pony league softball and YMCA basketball.

Kyle Schmidt is candidate for Norway Director District (District 5). No profile was received. He is an incumbent.

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