Collectively, they support the students and staff in the Brainerd School District, hope for stronger communication between the district and the community and consider re-opening Whittier School as one of the best options for lowering elementary class sizes.
Individually, they're vying for your vote on Nov. 3.
Candidates seeking one of the three four-year seats up for election on the Brainerd School Board took turns answering questions during a candidate forum Monday at Brainerd High School's Little Theater. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
On Monday night, the six candidates for the three four-year terms open on the Brainerd School Board sat together on stage at the Brainerd High School's Little Theater, answering several questions posed to them by panelists that included Tom Freeman, a BHS senior; Kathy Hegstrom, a BHS social studies teacher; Mike O'Rourke, associate editor for the Brainerd Dispatch; and Dan Hegstad, KAWB station manager for Lakeland Public Television. Moderator for the candidate forum was Karen Christofferson.
Candidates included Chris Robinson, Nancy Cross, Tom Haglin, Ruth Nelson, Todd Froemming and Howard Brewer.
Hegstad said in speaking with community members, trust in the district seems to be a big issue. He asked candidates how they would rebuild that trust.
"Be transparent," responded Cross.
Haglin said board members need to communicate both good and bad news in order to build trust in the district. He referenced the 2007 failed operating levy referendum, adding that community members need to know specifically where their tax dollars are going before deciding to vote in favor of a referendum.
Nelson, who is seeking her second term on the board, said when she looks back at that 2007 failed referendum, she now believes the board shouldn't have asked for such a large sum and the district didn't communicate as well to those who don't have children in the district.
"We talked too much and didn't listen as much as we should," said Nelson.
Froemming said the district needs to set its expectations by spending more time educating the community on what's happening in the district, which would establish credibility.
"I don't see it as a trust issue," Brewer said, though he did not elaborate further on this point. He said the district has good teachers and good schools.
Robinson said he wondered if there would be more trust in the district and board if more community members served on school board committees.
When asked which of the five elementary school options presented recently by school administrators that they were in favor of, many said they would consider re-opening Whittier School, although costs would be a determining factor as well.
Haglin said he was not in favor of relocating Baxter fourth-graders to Forestview Middle School or opening portable classrooms at Lowell or Riverside schools. He said the obvious choice is to re-open Whittier School, but he would need to look first at long-term demographic trends in the district beyond the next five years.
Nelson concurred with Haglin, saying she doesn't like the proposal of moving Baxter fourth-graders to Forestview or opening portable classrooms but she favors reopening Whittier or moving a K-4 section to Washington Educational Services Building. She also said she's open to "a couple other ideas."
Froemming said he lives in the north Brainerd neighborhood near Whittier School and as long as it's financial feasible, he supports reopening the school, which closed as part of budget cuts in 2008.
"Whittier to me is the only choice," said Brewer. "Why? Because it's there. The building is already there."
Robinson said he felt he didn't have enough information to advocate a decision but believes the board needs to go with the lowest cost option that also has community support.
While Cross said finances play a factor, she said it's also important that the community supports a plan. She said Whittier School had strong support from its parents and volunteers. She did not support moving students into Washington Educational Services Building.
Candidates had one minute each to answer several questions Monday. The forum was broadcast live on local public access channels 8 and 15 on Charter Communications and will be rebroadcast several times until the Nov. 3 election. The polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. Nov. 3. To find out your polling site, visit the district's Web site, www.isd181.org, or call Janet Horn at the district office at 454-6912.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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