Voters got change on Grand Forks School Board they wanted but now what?
Voters wanted a change on the Grand Forks School Board and that choice was reflected at the polls Tuesday, said elected members.
Of seven available seats on the board, four newcomers — Ward Johnson, Meggen Sande, Eric Burin and Dane Ferguson — will be joining a board that’s fallen under some scrutiny the past year over a lack of transparency.
Elected members said little meaning could be drawn from who was re-elected — Becca Grandstrand, Bill Palmiscno and Doug Carpenter — and who was not. Voters often abide by name recognition and there was surprisingly low turnout, they said.
The only clear result from the election is new members’ desire to better inform the public about board decisions, though that appears to be the only common thread between them, said Carpenter, who will join new members for their first meeting July 14.
Candidates had limited venues to discuss issues in a way that clearly revealed their viewpoint, so it’s hard to tell where they precisely stand, he said.
“I think people wanted a change (on the board), but I’m not sure other than transparency that we have a clear vision of exactly what they want,” he said.
Sande said she didn’t think new members could make changes overnight. It’s going to take a lot of work, she said.
Voters were frustrated over taxes and how money was spent, and the lack of context given for board decisions, she said. As a new member, her first step will be educating herself on the process, she said.
“I want to do a lot of listening and I want to ask a lot of questions,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I know it’s going to take a lot of time to educate myself on all of the specifics.”
Grandstrand, who has one four-year term behind her, said new members receive training, both from a state organization and the district superintendent, and plenty of background information on finances, building projects and programs.
While this is helpful, members should also directly reach out to community members, students and teachers, even in larger school districts, such as Fargo’s, which face challenges similar to Grand Forks, she said. Board members try to explain things more thoroughly when there’s a significant turnover on the board, but the transition is still “overwhelming,” she said.
“A lot of it will come with experience and experiencing it,” she said. “I encourage new board members to ask questions and speak up when something doesn’t make sense.”
Understanding the process behind the district’s $87 million budget will also take some time, too, some members said. With several newcomers interested in fiscal responsibility, Carpenter estimates they’ll be looking at ways to hold down or reduce the mill levy, he said.
The newly-elected members said they are optimistic moving forward.
“(Voters) want some fresh ideas, they want transparency,” said Sande. “Sometimes, that just takes some new people with different backgrounds to collaborate and find a new way to come to a great solution.”