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OUR OPINION: School Board’s challenge: Rebuild trust

opinion Grand Forks,North Dakota 58203 http://www.grandforksherald.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/our%20opinion_2.jpg?itok=EQNSJImH
Grand Forks Herald
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OUR OPINION: School Board’s challenge: Rebuild trust
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

 With 1,195 votes, Meggen Sande won the second highest vote total among all the candidates in Tuesday’s Grand Forks School Board race.

Here is part of what Sande said in her statement last week to the Herald:

“In my opinion, the culture of the district needs to change. … The biggest issues the district faces are financial responsibility and a lack of public confidence. … I believe taxpayers distrust school administration. Providing timely and relevant financial information will help restore trust. …

“I would take a more conservative approach to spending,” Sande concluded.

“The emphasis should be on providing the best quality education for our children, and not simply increasing infrastructure.”

Eric Burin won 1,098 votes, the third highest vote total among all the candidates. He’ll join Sande as a newcomer to the board.

Here is part of Burin’s recent statement to the Herald:

“Traditionally, our community has invested in public schools. But respect for the district has waned. As a parent, teacher and leader, I can help rekindle faith in public education.”

Ward Johnson is a third School Board challenger who was elected.

“I believe the School Board needs new blood,” Johnson said in his Herald statement.

“I have been disappointed with the recent decisions regarding budgets and additional spending. I believe the board has lost its priorities. … I think the board has failed to justify its decisions regarding budget issues and has acted in instances where a vote put to the public would have been a better decision.”

The pattern in these statements is clear. And it’s one that likely marks the start of a new and challenging era for the Grand Forks School Board.

Seven incumbents on the nine-member board were running for re-election and/or open seats. Notably, incumbent Bill Palmiscno won 1,353 votes, the highest total for any School Board candidate of the night.

But only two other incumbents were elected. And one of them, Doug Carpenter, is relatively new to the board, having been appointed last year as a budget reformer to fill an unexpired term.

Ousting four incumbents is very unusual on the Grand Forks School Board. Of course, everything about this year’s race was unusual, starting with the fact that an unprecedented 20 candidates were vying for seven seats.

Clearly, the turmoil has its roots in last year’s budget episode. That’s when the district leadership’s decisions drew strong criticism from unexpected sources, including a few state legislators.

Now, the board’s task should be to listen to and hear — really hear — the message that most voters seemed to be sending on Tuesday.

Here’s an idea: Maybe for a fair portion of the new board’s first meeting, the incumbent board members simply should invite the newcomers to sound off.

What were the factors that drove the candidates to run for office, and what are their ideas for reform?

Dane Ferguson is the fourth challenger-candidate to be elected. “I will ensure that transparency and accountability will be the new normal,” Ferguson said in his Herald statement.

“If elected, I will make sure I communicate with the public via editorial updates, radio addresses and interviews. … I’m willing to do what it takes so the new board is held accountable for the decisions it is making.”

That sounds like a pretty good place to start.

ms like a pretty good place to start.

Tom Dennis
(701) 780-1276
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