SAUK RAPIDS -- Five people are running for four open seats on the Sauk Rapids-Rice school board.

Ryan Butkowski, photo by's Jim Maurice

Incumbent Ryan Butkowski won his first term on the board four years ago and is looking to be re-elected. He says with the ongoing COVID-19 concerns its been challenging for school boards.

Governor Walz did us no favors.  The executive orders says one thing, that you have to follow the MDH chart, and then during his press conference he flipped that.

Butkowski says school boards had their plans rejected by the Minnesota Department of Health, so there needs to be more clear consistent rules to follow.

Meanwhile, while several school districts in the Twin Cities metro area have ended their contracts with police departments for school resource officers, Sauk Rapids-Rice's partnership is working well.

When I talk to our student body, they love having the SRO around.  There's a feeling of safety, he knows the kids, the kids know him.

Butkowski says he wants to continue to serve on the school board to see the new Pleasantview through, and looking at other building needs in the district for example the middle school pool is empty and that space isn't being used.

He also wants to continue his work with capped enrollment in the district. This year's senior class has 375 students and there are 288 kids in the kindergarten class, with the declining enrollment by design.

Also, stabilization of the leadership team in the district, he's worked with four different superintendents in the four years he's been on the board.

Olivia Kolbe, photo by's Jim Maurice

The lone newcomer in that field is Olivia Kolbe. She says her family moved to Sauk Rapids about four years ago and she has a daughter who is in the Middle School this year.

She says she's running for office because she wants to help build community relationships between the district and the residents.

Because when you hear District 47 you hear Sauk Rapids-Rice School District, but I feel like the town of Rice is being forgotten and I'm trying to figure out if there is a way to bring all of the communities together.

Kolbe says she moved to Sauk Rapids specifically because of the good schools and she is in favor of continuing to keep open enrollment closed.

There's only so many you can take in by opening enrollment that it creates more expense, more spending for the district, and then the actual community members that live in the district don't get the full benefit of the investment.

Kolbe volunteers as the treasurer of the Sauk Rapids Youth Basketball organization.

Tracy Morse, photo by's Jim Maurice

A longtime member of the Sauk Rapids-Rice School Board is hoping to have at least four more years in office. Tracy Morse has been on the board for 22 years and is one of five people running for four open seats in this election.

Morse has run a childcare business in Sauk Rapids for over 30 years and says early learning continues to be a priority for her.

To teens and to grandparents that are parenting and to parents that English isn't their first language how do we bring those groups together to find the best way to help them with their parenting.

Morse says as for the district's decision to cap enrollment it was loud and clear that was what the residents wanted. She says the challenge moving forward will be balancing the budget with fewer state dollars coming-in due to lower student numbers.

It gives us the flexibility to have smaller class sizes, which is an awesome thing, but we just have to be thoughtful about how do we make and manage those dollars when we're putting the budget together.

As for the challenges of COVID-19 this school year, Morse says it's been tough but she says the budget cuts and staffing cuts they had to make years ago was much more difficult.

Mark Hauck, photo by's Jim Maurice

Mark Hauck has been on the board for three terms. He says he's been a Sauk Rapids resident since 1993 and was first introduced to the Sauk Rapids-Rice programs through early childhood at Pleasantview.

He says he's a big advocate for health and wellness and has been using his position on the board to build on the Safe Routes to School program at Pleasantview.

The sidewalk that is in front of the building is new and that's because of a Safe Routes to School grant that I helped with and worked with the city to install.

Now Hauck says he's turned his attention to Rice Elementary and working with the city to replace some aging sidewalks.

We're also looking to try to gain better access for the families that live west of town to get across the railroad tracks and to the school.

Hauck says the Highway 10 overpass has provided better access for families that live on the east side of Rice.

He says the referendum that passed last November to replace Pleasantview Elementary will be good for the district, with the new building providing a better learning atmosphere as well as a more safe and secure environment for the students and staff.

He says as for the future, a big challenge for the board will be adjusting to declining enrollment from the capped enrollment policy which will mean fewer state dollars.

Jan Solarz, photo by's Jim Maurice

Jan Solarz of Rice is a 24 year veteran of the school board. All of her kids went to Rice Elementary and she says she was instrumental in getting the new playground built there.

She also says the district has put a fair amount of money into keeping that building up-to-date.

I was the board chair when we built the new high school and we promised the residents if there was money left over we were going to put air conditioning in every single building.

Solarz says, if she gets another term on the board, she wants to work to reopen the pool at the Middle School, which has been shut down since the budget cuts that were made back in 2008.

I will really work hard to see if we can get that Middle School pool open.  We live in Minnesota and the land of 10,000 lakes and every time a child drowns that bothers me.

Solarz says she's also passionate about the early childhood programs.

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