City: Cottage Grove
Family: Wife Katie, one grown son
Occupation: Director of customer planning and communication for Schwan Food Co.
Related school district experience: Twelve years on South Washington County School Board
The new homes springing up in Woodbury and Cottage Grove should serve as notice that District 833 needs more space and staff to accommodate an expected surge in enrollments, Ron Kath said.
Kath, who is running for his fourth term on the South Washington County School Board, said he hopes voters will approve the three-part referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot that would give the district the money to do just that.
“We never have built onto any of our middle schools,” he said. “Now we’re at the point that two of our middle schools are near or at capacity.”
Construction costs will only go up if they delay, he said.
The referendum includes a $96 million bond issue that would pay for the construction of a new Oltman Middle School, and a $46.5 million bond issue for upgrading and expanding high schools and elementary schools in the district.
Some mistakenly believe that the current Oltman Middle School will sit empty. Not so, Kath said. The building in St. Paul Park will become the new Nuevas Fronteras Spanish Immersion School. That will help relieve overcrowding at its current location at Crestview Elementary School.
“We’re not doing it because it’s old,” he said of building a new middle school. “We’re going to repurpose it as an elementary school. First of all, we have a need for capacity. And second, we need to build capacity for Crestview and Nuevas Fronteras.”
The two bond issues are dependent on passage of the $10.3 million operating levy increase, and the second bond measure can only pass if voters approve the first one.
Kath said it’s also important to replenish the rainy day fund, which sustained the district in the years following the financial meltdown of 2008. Some other school districts had to borrow money to stay afloat, he said.
“We made it through the recession without having to ask for property tax increases,” Kath said. “Now, as the economy starts to recover, we feel it’s a time when the voters can bring us out of deficit spending.”
Should the referendum fail, Kath said they’re prepared to make some tough decisions.
“The board has already identified $4 million in cuts,” he said. “I would support those going forward.”
Should additional cuts be needed, Kath said there’s a budget process in place to address that.
“First, have administrators and staff, teachers, custodians, bus drivers look at the budget to determine if there are any possible budgets cuts,” he said. “Take information to the public. The public will let us know which programs we can and can’t cut.”
The achievement gap presents another challenge to the district. Disparities persist among certain student groups despite overall test scores ranking higher than the state average. Kath said he favors using technology to encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills as opposed to rote memorization.
“I think what we need to do is listen to our administration who will determine what programs will help close that gap,” he said. “There’s not one program that’s going to solve the achievement gap. It’s going to be everybody collaborating together.”
When he’s not working at the Schwan Food Co. or tending to School Board business, chances are Kath can be found outdoors. He enjoys hunting, fishing and riding his Boss Hoss motorcycle.
This summer, he and his wife Katie took a boat trip to Lake Pepin.
Kath said he’s a loyal fan of Minnesota teams, including the Vikings, the Gophers and the Wild. But when it comes to basketball, he divides his allegiance between the Timberwolves and the San Antonio Spurs.
“My job moved me to San Antonio,” he said. “The Spurs kind of became my home team.”