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Three candidates vie for two open school board seats
Seneca School District
Seneca School District

SENECA – Voters will select two from among the three candidates running for the Seneca School Board in the April 4 election. Those three candidates are Mark Johnson, Britney Joy and Eric Grimsled.

Sen SB 2023 candidates_Mark Johnson
Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is indeed a veteran member of the Seneca Area School District Board. Johnson is approaching serving on that board for 24 years at this point. How is that for perspective? He was first elected to the school board in the last millennium.

Not only has Johnson served on the board for more than two decades, he also served as board president for 12 of those years. He stepped down from being the president last spring and the board elected  Shawn Lenzendorf to serve as the new president.

Experience? Mark Johnson has also served as the board’s representative to CESA #3 for many  years, and continues in that position. The Cooperative Educational  Service Agency #3  helps 31 local, rural school districts with administration, staffing and curriculum on a contracted basis.

Why is Mark Johnson running for re-election to the Seneca School Board this spring?

“Well, (I’m running) because I think I can help, along with other board members, to continue to keep putting the school on a positive path by making a helpful contribution to the district, along with other board members.”

The veteran school board member continues to see one of the biggest issues facing the Seneca School district and other small school districts as funding.

“It (funding) is still an important issue,” Johnson noted.

“When all the federal money came through, the state sat back and let the federal money fund the schools. Now, without that federal money, the state will have to step up for districts like North Crawford, Wauzeka-Steuben and Seneca.

“We need to help education so we get an educated workforce and that helps everybody,” Johnson said.

However, Johnson sees another important issue emerging in addition to securing he necessary funding for education.

Staffing has become a real issue for the school district, and one of the most acute needs is bus drivers, according to the veteran school board member.

“It’s a real issue,” Johnson said. “When I was in school, small dairy farmers, and sometimes the wives of farmers, and sometimes both, drove school buses. However, that’s changed and we just can’t get bus drivers.”

Retaining staff in addition to bus drivers is also a problem, Johnson explained. Keeping teachers and others working in the district has become a challenge. Part of the challenge relates to Act 10 passed in 2010. In addition to eliminating the bargaining power and contracts sought by teacher unions, Act 10 put forward the annual consumer price index as a guide post for wage adjustments. Often the CPI was a one or two percent increase annually. Districts like Seneca, sometimes slightly exceeded the CPI increase to reward staff and keep them working in the district.

However, this year with the onset of inflation the CPI increase jumped to around eight percent. Longtime board members in Seneca and elsewhere, like Mark Johnson, are worried about the district’s ability to meet the sudden large increase in the CPI.

“I don’t know exactly what we can do,” Johnson said of the  massive sudden increase in the CPI. “You want to be fair.”

Johnson noted that no matter how good of an idea the seven-member  school board had, if they didn’t have the administration and staff buy into it, it probably was not going to work.

Over the years, the Seneca staff has usually bought into the district’s plans, according to Johnson.

“Look we need to keep good people to run the school,” Johnson said. “We need that good staffing to keep the school moving in a positive direction.”

Although there have been some things that were not perfect along the way, Johnson believes that overall the district is headed in the right direction.

“The kids come out with a good education and become good husbands and wives and good professionals,” he said

It seems Mark Johnson truly believes in the school district.

“Look it’s hard to fail in this school district,” he said. “There are so many people watching out for you. There are ‘after school programs’ to help kids. We’re proud pf the kids that leave here.”

Ultimately, Mark Johnson wanted to thank voters in the district, who have trusted him to be on the school board for the past 24 years.

“I’m going to be on the school board to do what’s best for the district, best for the kids and best for the staff,” Johnson said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for people to get on the school board to get rid of something or chop this or that.

“Throughout the years, I have worked with a lot of caring people on the board,” Johnson said. “Over the years, I got to work with people who did not always agree with everything I did.

“I’m also proud that for the last four or five years the board was not sniping at each other, and showed respect for other board members.”

Sen SB 2023 candidates_Britney Joy
Britney Joy

Britney Joy

Britney Joy is another Seneca High School graduate, who has served on the Seneca Area District School Board. Joy was elected in 2020 to her first term on the board. She currently serves as the Seneca School Board Clerk, keeping track of records and meeting minutes for the body.

Britney, 37, lives at 24101 Joy Road, Eastman with her husband Derek and their four children–Harper, 11, Ronan, 9, Keegan, 8, and Stella, 5.

Joy graduated from Seneca High School in 2003. She attended UW-LaCrosse, where she majored in business management and minored in information systems. She graduated from UW-L in 2006.

In college, Joy interned with the Trane Corporation, where she continues to work some 18 years later.

“I started as an intern and kept going,” Britney recalled. That’s modestly put. Joy is now employed by Trane as an IT Site Leader.

In addition to working for Trane, Joy also serves on the finance council of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Seneca. And, she teaches Sunday School at St. Patrick’s.

Joy remains active in the Seneca Community Club, and helps with Youth Leadership’s Christmas Gift Basket effort and with the Wellness Day event at Seneca Schools. She also coaches Seneca Little League.

When Britney is relaxing, she’s usually involved in one of her two favorite activities–gardening or camping.

Why is Britney Joy running for the Seneca School Board?

Well, the reason hasn’t changed much since the last time she ran in 2020.

“I take great pride in the school,” Joy said of her alma mater. “I want to see kids in our area continue to receive a quality education, like they have been getting.”

Like others familiar with the situation, Joy believes the major issues in education involve receiving adequate funding from the state.

“It’s often about how to do more with less for the small schools,” Joy said. “I’d like to see more offered to the students.”

Particularly, Joy believes there should be more classes focused on the trades. However, she questions whether the funding in the small school districts will allow for such an expansion of the curriculum.

If Joy is re-elected, she indicated that a first priority for her would be to work toward creating a long-term comprehensive plan for the school district with a five- to 10-year outlook.

“We need to get something in place that will help us move from more short-term to long-term planning,” she explained. “It’s something needed in the district for sure.”

Joy also believes a goal of the district should remain incorporating virtual learning into the curriculum.

The IT manager has been impressed with the district’s amazing job at rolling out a virtual learning curriculum in a single day at the start of the pandemic.

“Now, when we have exhausted  snow days that are built in (to school calendar, we have switched out to virtual snow days and it went well.”

Joy noted there remain some families without great internet access, but even that situation is improving.

Students in elementary school have computer access, and students from fifth grade up have a computer they can take home when the school goes virtual.

The middle school and high school student computers are loaded with files on Google classroom.

Seneca Area School District Board Member Britney Joy seems proud of the school and what the district has been able to accomplish.

Sen SB 2023 candidates_Eric Grimsled
Eric Grimsled

Eric Grimsled

Eric Grimsled is running for one of the two open Seneca Area School District Board seats in the upcoming election. He is running against incumbents Britney Joy and Mark Johnson.

Grimsled is a 49-year-old farmer, who raises beef. He lives with his wife Janelle and two children, a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, at 18450 State Highway 27 Gays Mills.

Grimsled graduated from Seneca High School. He also received a degree from Southwest Tech after completing a one-year machinist program.

Grimsled is a member of the Mount Sterling Lutheran Church. He is also a former Seneca firefighter and EMT.

In addition to raising beef cattle, Grimsled also runs a dozing company. He previously spent 15 to 18 years doing road construction.

Despite repeated attempts, Eric Grimsled was unable to answer questions about his Seneca School. Board candidacy this year The biographical information included here was gleaned from his background published during last year’s election.