by Jim Boyle
Elk River Star News
Elk River Area School Board elections have a history of providing some of the most hotly contested area races.
The number of candidates often hits double digits.
Not this year.
Three of the five Elk River Area School Board on this fall’s ballot will not have a challenger. That includes Jamie Plantenberg-Selbitschka, who filed for the office for the first time ever.
When the filing period closed June 3, she and incumbent Tony Walter were the only two to file for two at-large seats. Unless somebody launches a successful write-in campaign on the November ballot, both are in come January 2015.
“That was really exciting to learn,” Plantenberg-Selbitschka, of Otsego. “It means that this will not be a ‘pick me over someone else’ campaign. It’s education campaign. It’s an opportunity to tell people about myself.”
The Eagan native moved to Otsego from West St. Paul with her husband, Nick Selbitschka, in 2007. She admits it was culture shock for her to go from being 15 minutes to the Mall of America while growing up to a more sparse area where Target had yet to even locate here. Once it did, that eased the transition.
Once her oldest son started attending Otsego, her life really began to transform. She says she fell in love with the school community and her neighborhood, especially as they battled through adversity and demonstrated a selflessness in the acts of helping one another.
The six-year resident of the school district said she suspects the limited interest is a sign that a majority of people are OK with the direction of the school district.
She also knows there’s a huge time commitment needed to serve.
“Sports start at 5 p.m. and work goes until 5 p.m.” she said. “How’s this work? You have to pick your battles.”
Plantenberg-Selbitschka has decided helping out the school system is one of her battles.
Plantenberg-Selbitschka’s oldest child is now a fourth-grade student at Otsego Elementary School. The middle child will turn 4 years old in August and will attend preschool at Handke this fall. The youngest will be 2 years old in October.
“My kids are going to grow up here,” she said.
Because of that, she has gotten especially involved in the parent group at Otsego Elementary School, including her service as the president of group for the past two years.
“I’m happy to do what I can,” she said.
Her involvement, however, didn’t stop there. Plantenberg-Selbitschka also got involved in the Elk River Early Childhood Family Education Advisory Council.
And she chairs the Legislative Action Team that, among others things, advocates for equitable school funding. She’s optimistic that the push for legislation that was stripped at the last-minute will be successfully approved next year.
Plantenberg-Selbitschka has also branched into municipal government by serving on the Otsego Heritage Preservation Committee.
“I have made fabulous friends and connections,” she said. “I have an interest in these things. I see how it all works together.”
The mother of three nearly has her bachelor’s degree in business administration from St. Catherine University in St. Paul but life got in the way of finishing the degree. She hopes to finish her degree program with some online studies.
Her involvement in the business of the school district blossomed after she received an email blast seeking citizens to serve on the core planning team to draw up the school district’s strategic plan. She responded and was selected, she said, reflecting on being there in a room for three days while the team went over every word of their final document.
She has enjoyed watching the board stand up for the body of work and treat is as a living, breathing document.
“I appreciate that the board takes that plan seriously,” she said. “And the core group still gets together to regularly review the plan. It’s not a static document. The district is amenable to change.”
Her decision to run for School Board was not on her radar a year ago. Maybe on her 10-year plan.
But as she watched the school district deal with the delimiter process that got tangled and the situation with Reid Sagehorn, a student who left Rogers High School after a dustup over a comment on social media, she saw how her candidacy could be viable.
She said she sees how the district operates and believes it is more open to discussion than some people believe. But she says people have to come to the table with an open mind and be ready to listen.
“I want to continue to build on this positive environment,” she said.
She’s also excited to serve as an Otsego voice on the board and a voice for the entire district as it prepares for a possible fall bond and levy referendum.
Elk River Area School Board
Of four seats up on the Elk River Area School Board, only one will be contested.
Larry Farber, a former Elk River City Council member and Sherburne County commissioner, and incumbent Shane Steinbrecher filed for the District 1 seat on the Elk River Area School Board. District 1 includes part of Elk River and the northern reaches of the Elk River Area School District.
Elk River Area School Board Chairwoman Jane Bunting is running for District 2, the southerly election district, and does not have a challenger.
Nor does incumbent Tony Walter and Jamie Plantenberg-Selbitschka, who are each seeking one of two available at-large seats.
At-large School Board Member Jolene Jorgensen is not seeking re-election.