By Tom Merchant
Westbrook — This past fall longtime school board member, Gene Kronback, decided to not run again for a position on the board and its chairperson for all but two years of his tenure.
Kronback, a rural Westbrook farmer, has always had strong ties with education. He went to South Dakota State University to get his degree in agriculture and teaching. He then taught agriculture at Brewster for 12 years. In 1976 he and his wife, Maydelle, moved with their three children back to Westbrook to take over the family farm when his parents retired. After moving back, he filled in for sixth months as ag teacher in Walnut Grove.
He noted all three of his children have followed suit by getting their teaching degrees. Two of them are still currently teaching.
In the spring of 1985 Kronback was asked to run for school board by several friends and board members. Also having three children in school he wanted to take a more active role in their educational opportunities. He was elected and replaced Kenny Jans who was going off of the board.
At the time Marlowe Nelsen was the board chairman, and when Nelsen ran for county commissioner two years later Kronback was named board chairman.
Kronback said, “it takes a couple of years being on the board to really learn how the district operates with budgetary matters. Back then it was easier to deal with budgets, they were more black and white. Today the budgets are much more complex with so many funding sources to deal with.”
Back then boards had to deal with many more changes in staffing — “today teachers tend to stay longer, with many staying through retirement,” Kronback said.
During his time on the board Kronback worked with three full time superintendents, and one part time. When he started Doc Quincey was superintendent, then Steve Kjorness was working towards getting his superintendent’s certificate. During that time Don Knutson helped out on a part time basis. For the past ten years Kronback has served with Loy Woelber. “I have been fortunate have a limited number of superintendents and a low staff turnover while I served,” he said.
In the first few years one of the biggest problems was letting bids for fuel oil and gas. Kronback said, “We had several bidders from the area at the time. Of course we also had to deal with teacher contracts, budgets, and maintaining our buildings.”
Teacher contract negotiations were always a big thing. “We have always had a good working relationship with the teachers, and we always settled before the deadline,” Kronback stated.
Coming from a teaching background, Kronback knew where they were coming from. “I was in their shoes at one time, on the other side of the table,” he said.
When it came to setting levy’s Kronback felt there is no sense in levying for more than they needed. We tried to hold it down — and have been fortunate to have the funds to do that.