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Johnson reflects on time as Bemidji School Board member

After eight years of service to the community on the Bemidji School Board, Steve Johnson will no longer split his duties as business owner and school board member. Johnson applies the final sanding to a vehicle he is repairing in his body shop in Nymore. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Steven H. Johnson, a member of the Bemidji School District's Board of Education for eight years, is grateful he was given the opportunity to give back to the school district both he and his children belonged to.

This month he will step down as newcomer Melissa Bahr joins the board.

Johnson calls his time on the board "rewarding" and looks forward to having a little more time for himself.

A lifelong resident of Bemidji, he said he ran for the school board after getting involved with a committee formed to save the old Bemidji High School, which eventually was torn down.

"My father said, 'Don't complain unless you get involved,'" Johnson said. "I ran partially because of that old high school building. But I also thought being on the board was something I could do."

Johnson said he is proud of how he made decisions on the board. Before making any decision, he said, he considered three factors - the taxpayers, employees and students.

"That's all I thought about," he said. "I figured I did the right thing. You have to make some tough decisions, but I had to balance them on those three things."

As a school board member, Johnson said one of the hardest issues he faced was changing the amount of time teachers receive for preparation time during the school day.

"We changed the prep time so everyone's time was more even," he said. "Teachers didn't like that. I had kids in school then. It was a hard deal."

Johnson said he foresees tough decisions ahead for school board members, particularly with employee contract negotiations and the amount of money in the district's fund balance.

Johnson has been a longtime opponent of four-period days and allowing charter school students to use school district facilities. He hopes school board members continue to push legislators to hold charter schools accountable to the same level of fiscal responsibility as traditional public schools.

"I don't have anything against charter schools, but they should have the same responsibilities," Johnson said. "They get the same amount of money as we do for athletics. Why should they get to play on our equipment?"

Johnson said he has "been fighting that issue" for as long as he has been on the board. He hopes to continue to convince school board members not to allow charter school students to participate in school district athletics.

At the November school board meeting, Johnson said he was glad he was able to put his "two cents" in on the issue of over-crowded elementary schools. In particular, Johnson said, he wanted the district to consider reopening the Deer Lake Elementary School, which has been closed for several years.

"There was a school board back in 1982 that thought it was important to build the Deer Lake school," he said.

Johnson said he hopes the school board will research the number of students currently located along the old Deer Lake Elementary School bus route. He said he would rather see that building reopened instead of a new elementary school building being built.

"I'm thinking that's a lot of money," Johnson said. "What went through my mind at that meeting was, 'Gee, I wish I was I was still on the board because I could really push that.'"

As a business man and owner of Steve's Auto Body in Bemidji, Johnson said he was glad he got involved in the school board.

"You talk to businessmen and they don't want to get involved in any type of politics because they think it will hurt their business," he said. "But those that go out on a limb, they are doing what they think is right. The career politicians, I don't think they are doing this country any good."

He added he hopes more business persons get involved.

Despite the time commitment and tough decision-making that was required, Johnson said he will miss being on the school board.

"It was fun being engaged in the school because it kept me in contact with the people there," Johnson said. "The people on the board are great people. They are smart people. We just didn't always think the same."

Reflecting back on his time as a school board member, Johnson said his favorite and most memorable moments came every spring when he handed out high school diplomas to students.

"That makes it all worthwhile," he said.