‘Differentiating’ Marshalltown

Miller says school board has made progress, and there’s more he wants to do

T-R PHOTO BY ADAM SODDERS Marshalltown School Board member Mike Miller said it was a sense of slipping pride in the district that first motivated him to put his name in for selection. He said the number of families open enrolling out of the district concerns him, and he wants to “differentiate” Marshalltown positively from surrounding districts.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a five-part series of interviews with the five candidates vying for a seat on the Marshalltown School Board.

“I think pride in our school district is foundational to pride in our town.”

Marshalltown School Board member Mike Miller is running to keep his seat in the Sept. 12 election, and the Racom President and CEO said there’s still much to accomplish.

When he put his name in for board selection after former member Jennifer Wilson resigned in late 2015, Miller said he’d seen pride in the district slipping. He also said he wanted to “make our school district different, distinctive and better.”

It didn’t take long after he was selected to the board in January of 2016 that serious decisions had to be made. Miller’s first board meeting was the same one in which former district superintendent Dr. Marvin Wade announced he would be leaving.

“It was like, out of the frying pan, into the fire,” he said.

Wade’s move halted the work being done to update an aging strategic plan, and the board’s focus shifted to hiring a new superintendent.

“We spent probably the better portion of the first year of my time on school board just doing that,” Miller said.

In the end, district Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte was chosen, and several administrative positions were filled soon after.

“I’m super proud of the person that we chose, I’m super proud of the process that we went through to choose Theron,” he said.

More recently, Miller said the district’s new five-year strategic planning process, new mission and vision statements and Phase II of the Marshalltown High School Roundhouse construction project have been some ongoing items of interest.

“I think we’ve done an exceptionally good job at making sure the public was involved, engaged and informed,” he said. and of the district added “We’re not proud enough of ourselves; the school district does a really good job of educating our kids.”

Despite the praise, Miller said there are still plenty of things for the board to work on.

“We have this problem of open enrollment,” he said. “One of the reasons I wanted to be on the school board was to look at what those reasons are, why those families are not choosing the Marshalltown School District, and try and fix those.”

He said the district offers more opportunities to its students than surrounding competitors, including more college credit through Marshalltown Community College and better extracurricular options.

“If you look at just the raw statistics, whether it’s graduation rate, or average test scores, and you use that as your barometer for measuring how good the Marshalltown School District is, I think you’re looking at the wrong measurement,” Miller said. “The demographics of the Marshalltown School District are really wide.”

The district has a high percentage of students from homes of poverty, as well as a high number of English language learning (ELL) students.

“I think the school district does a pretty good job of providing additional support to those kids where English is their second language,” Miller said, adding there are also programs to get students on track to graduate and keep them coming to school on time. “We need to continue to do that.”

On the state budget outlook, Miller said retaining district families is one way to cover for predicted lack of allowable growth funding from the state.

“There were a lot of districts that suffered in the last budget cycle … Marshalltown wasn’t one of those; last year, ours grew by over 100 kids,” he said. “The state provides about $6,400 of supplemental aid per students … they’re talking about it not changing, but if you get more students, that helps the budget.”

Miller said he’s proud the district didn’t raise the tax rate to make up for last year’s relatively low allowable growth.

One of the hardest parts of the job is making decisions on matters like student expulsion, Miller said, adding that’s one example of tough decisions board members must make.

A 1986 MHS graduate, Miller’s two children are currently Marshalltown students. His daughter Emily is a sophomore at MHS and his son Owen is an eighth grader at Miller Middle School.

“We’re busy parents,” Miller said of he and his wife, Jennifer, adding with a laugh “I’ve coached my kids in virtually every sport they’ve ever played in.”

Previously, Miller served on the Marshalltown City Council, as president of the Marshalltown YMCA-YWCA board and as president of Marshall Economic Development, formerly known as MEDIC.

He enjoys playing guitar, fitness activities and slow-pitch softball. He’s also a fitness instructor at the Y.

While the work of a school board member is serious, Miller said he’s enjoyed learning and serving as a board member.

“It’s been fun, it’s been hard, things move more slowly than you want them to, but I think our board is a good group of people that I respect and like and have a similar vision to,” he said. “I hope to do it for at least another four years.”


Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com