Helping GF’s school board: Candidates eager to help embattled board membersA bank executive, a parole officer, a payroll expert and a nurse are seeking a place on the Grand Forks School Board. Some said they just want to be part of the team. Some said they wanted to improve the board, making it more open and responsive to the public. One, Doug Carpenter, has even been an open critic current board members.
By: Jennifer Johnson and Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald
A bank executive, a parole officer, a payroll expert and a nurse are seeking a place on the Grand Forks School Board.
Some said they just want to be part of the team. Some said they wanted to improve the board, making it more open and responsive to the public. One, Doug Carpenter, has even been an open critic current board members.
The board endured public ire, including Carpenter’s, a few months ago after it proposed a 28.6-percent property tax increase. The pressure eventually led the board to approve an increase of 21.6 percent.
“The School Board is in unfamiliar territory having to win back the trust of the taxpayers,” said candidate Kevin Kuntz, who works in UND’s payroll department. He said he hopes to help win back that trust.
Doug Carpenter, the critic turned candidate, said he wants to help, too, touting his experience as a former City Council member. “I’ve had plenty of experience dealing with the public and the press.”
Carpenter works for Alerus Financial.
The other candidates were less critical of the board.
John Knutson, a supervisor at the state’s local Parole and Probation office, said he understands difficult decisions have to be made.
Amy Zabinski, a supervisor at Altru Health System, said she wants to ensure the future is bright for area children.
The School Board will appoint the new member at its next meeting on Oct. 28. The new member would serve until the next citywide election on June 10.
Here’s what the candidates say about their goals and motivations:
• Doug Carpenter said that, if appointed, he would aim for more board transparency, particularly about the budget.
“I want to get it so the board has a good, full understanding of the budget and the consequences of decisions,” he said. “I want that discussion and information to be much more public than it is today.”
He said he’d push to make financial information available on the board’s website so it’s convenient for the public to access.
The board should also discuss its decisions more, he said. That might be happening in committees but not when the full board convenes, he said.
Carpenter added that his background as a certified public accountant could only help the board.
• John Knutson said he’s been involved in several committees at jobs over the years, and he understands that “maybe there’s a decision that needs to be made that’s not always well-liked.”
He didn’t mean anything specific, he said, but he believes boards need to consider the consequences of their decisions and stay up to date.
“We’re building a new elementary school, and sometimes, if we want the best services available, we need to pay for that,” he said. “If the school district or the city is growing, the citizens may not like paying extra taxes, but if it’s appropriate there may be a need for it.”
“I want to make sure that communication stays open and also assure that long term and short term goals, and their effects, are going to be looked at,” he said.
Knutson has a son in elementary school.
• Kevin Kuntz said he feels he’s a stakeholder in the school district on two levels. “One, I’m a homeowner looking for tax relief and, two, I have two children in the Grand Forks public schools.”
His experience with the schools has been “very very good,” but, he said there has to be a “balance” between fiscal responsibility and the quality education the district hopes to provide.
While he applauds the board for giving raises to teachers, even in tough economic times, he said he would’ve balked at giving administrators as big of a raise.
The board recently decided to increase teachers’ compensation by 9.9 percent and department heads’ by 10.1 percent over two years.
He also would’ve been more proactive in telling the public, all of the public, about the proposed 28.6 percent tax increase. Not doing so, he said, was “probably not above board.”
The board only sent out letters about a tax hearing to 662 homeowners, the ones getting the biggest tax increases.
• Amy Zabinski has two children who graduated from Grand Forks schools and another two still in the system.
“As a nurse, I’m trained to look at a person as a whole, such as how health and education all ties together,” she said.
Zabinski, who has a degree in elementary education, said she has a well-rounded understanding of education. She also wants to ensure that the city’s children have an opportunity to build a good foundation to become successful adults, she said.
Asked what she would do if she were appointed, she said it would give her a chance “to become part of the team that makes sure we’re a good future for our young ones.”
Call Johnson at (701) 787-6736, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1736 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.