Voters will choose five members, from a field of seven candidates, to serve on the Grand Forks School Board in the June 9 election.
Five candidates are running for four 4-year terms on the board. Two candidates are running for one 2-year term.
Another candidate, Linda Jenkins, told the Herald on May 13 that she decided not to run, although her name appears on the ballot as a candidate for the two-year term. Jenkins made the decision to withdraw after the deadline to remove her name from the ballot, she said.
Christopher Douthit was elected to the School Board in June 2018, but resigned last summer to accept a one-year position as interim principal of Schroeder Middle School. The board then selected Jeff Manley to fill that position until the next election.
Running for one 2-year term are Christopher Douthit and Brad Raymond.
The five candidates who are running for four 4-year terms are Amber Flynn, Lee Hensrud, Eric Lunn, Jeff Manley and Cynthia Shabb. Of those, Flynn, Lunn, Manley and Shabb are incumbents.
The candidates who win on election day officially begin their terms in July, joining current members Doug Carpenter, Jacqueline Hoffarth, Shannon Mikula and Bill Palmiscno. Palmiscno is serving as board president.
The Herald asked each candidate to respond to a questionnaire. Here are their responses.
Running for one, 2-year term on the board are:
Education: Bachelor of science in education; middle level education – master’s in educational leadership
Occupation: Interim principal, Schroeder Middle School (through June 30)
Why are you running? I chose to run in order to serve our students in providing a quality education that prepares them for future successes. In my years of work and service I have always respected those who place themselves second to others. Their successes are many. It would be an honor to again serve the students and citizens of Grand Forks.
How would you approach managing the school district’s budget? This will require our working collaboratively with community members, state legislators and federal representatives in assuring our budget is sound. With the current deficit of over $5 million, difficult decisions will be made, which will involve our citizens voting on the proposed referendum. Should the referendum pass, it will then be the school board’s responsibility to utilize those funds in an efficient manner. The board and district leadership will receive feedback from the Community Planning Task Force – their efforts will provide an advisory recommendation that may serve as a guide as this challenging work is accomplished.
What is the greatest challenge the school is facing, and how should it be addressed? There are two. First – Assuring our students and district employees are able to safely return to school in August due to COVID-19. Our students will have been out of school buildings for 5½ months, and many families struggle through multiple challenges, both personal and professional. Educators will be dedicated to meeting students’ emotional, social and educational needs (in that order). Second – The budget. We have to balance the budget, maintain a proper reserve, review our facilities and assure we receive appropriate funding from our community, and state and federal government.
What should be the district’s No. 1 priority? Our students. They are our work and we must dedicate ourselves to their being provided a quality education from competent professionals in safe, caring schools.
Education: Bachelor’s of business administration from UND, 2000
Occupation: Owner of Gemini Custom Brands, Inc.
Why are you running? The reason I am running is to hopefully be a voice for the community. A voice for the students, parents and the teachers. My experience to date with the School Board and administration is that the voices of those that matter most seem to go unheard until after the fact and I would like those voices to be heard early on in the process when decisions are being made that impact those the most.
How would you approach managing the school district’s budget? First step would be to evaluate the numbers and make sure they are accurate and comprehensive. Being a small business owner, you have to be conscious of every penny, looking for pitfalls and excessive or unnecessary spending and creating solutions to fix those problems.
What is the greatest challenge the school district is facing, and how should it be addressed? The obvious challenge to the school district is the massive shortfall of funding, but in order to gain ground on the finances we need the public’s buy-in and support. I believe that the community of Grand Forks doesn’t trust our School Board or current administration and therefore our greatest challenge will be gaining back the community’s trust to fix our financial problems.
What should be the district’s No. 1 priority? The number 1 priority should be gaining back the community’s trust and finding a way to work together with the city and the residents to make our school district one of the best in the state. We need to take better care of our teachers and develop safer learning environments for everyone in the classroom.
Running for the four, 4-year terms on the board (all, except Lee Hensrud, are incumbents):
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration and master of science degree in higher education, UND
Why are you running? As a parent of two children, one currently in the school district, and a product of the Grand Forks school system, I care about the educational experience of students. I want to give back to the system that provided me with a great experience and continue the positive work that has been accomplished over the past four years in my role as a current school board member.
How would you approach managing the school district’s budget? The budget should fund priorities in the district’s new strategic plan and align with facilities recommendations. Budgetary efficiencies should be created as a way to save money and the board should be looking at opportunities for new sources of funding (grant funding sources and a referendum).
What is the greatest challenge the school district is facing, and how should it be addressed? Mental health issues. Students are struggling in a variety of ways, now more than ever. I am proud of the work that has been done in recent years toward mental health issues (hiring a mental health coordinator and additional staff, programming opportunities, etc.) and this should be a top priority for the board.
What should be the district’s No. 1 priority? Students are our greatest responsibility. All students should feel safe and have equitable access to education. Teachers and staff are our best resources to support students and we should pay them affordable, living salaries and benefits, provide them with professional development opportunities and ensure they have a safe environment and ample resources to teach our students.
Education: High school graduate; some college
Occupation: Self-employed, small-business owner
Why are you running? I am running in hopes of making a difference rather than just holding a board seat.
How would you approach managing the school district’s budget? I think we have a real issue with needs versus wants when it comes to budgeting. While one could say everything is “needed,” we must prioritize and be responsible with the taxpayer’s money.
What is the greatest challenge the school district is facing, and how should it be addressed? I feel the greatest challenge our district faces is rebuilding trust between the taxpayers and the district. Transparency, accountability and open communication are key to overcome this challenge.
What should be the district’s No. 1 priority? Our #1 priority should be to provide the best overall learning experience for our youth while operating within our means.
Education: Bachelor of science in microbiology at North Dakota State University, Bachelor of science in medicine at UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences, MD (Doctor of Medicine) at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, pediatric residency at The University of Texas Medical Branch
Occupation: Physician at Spectra Health.
Why are you running? I am running for reelection as I feel I have the right characteristics to be a good board member, including being a good listener, the ability to understand the big picture, and the ability to make common-sense decisions.
How would you approach managing the school district’s budget? The current school district budget is not sustainable going into the future. We will either need to increase revenue or decrease our expenses. In my view, we need to do both to stabilize the budget. First, we need to do a significant amount of education for the public. From a revenue standpoint, they need to understand that our district is very underfunded when compared to similar school districts (i.e., Fargo, Bismarck, Minot, West Fargo). This has led to our current financial situation. However, we also need to be great stewards of the monies we are given to run this district. We need to make decisions on programming, buildings, supplies, etc., based on facts and input from all stakeholders, including the public, our youth, and our employees.
What is the greatest challenge the school district is facing, and how should it be addressed? The budget is our greatest challenge. See (above) for how it should be addressed.
What should be the district’s No. 1 priority? Our highest priority is the students of the Grand Forks Public Schools. This includes providing a great environment for learning, adequate resources for learning, and great staff for learning. We are already blessed with a great staff to shepherd our students through the learning process.
Education: Bachelor of science in computer science from UND
Occupation: Supervisor of Data Analytics and Integration at Altru Health System
Why are you running? I joined the School Board in September 2019. We have several big challenges that I would like to help work through. Being from Grand Forks, it is satisfying to see the school system turn the corner and become more accountable and transparent. I am proud to be a part of that.
How would you approach managing the school district’s budget? Prioritization. We have limited resources. Lately those resources have gone to projects that were not planned. Broken elevators, a wet fall with water intrusion into buildings, mold, radon, etc. We have a great team that produced a long-range facilities plan. This plan will help to maintain and upgrade our facilities in an orderly fashion.
What is the greatest challenge the school district is facing, and how should it be addressed? There are many challenges, and I am not sure one is more important than the other. Aging of the school buildings. Neighborhood schools. Budget/referendum issues. Student mental well being. We have to be mindful of all of these challenges.
What should be the district’s No. 1 priority? A student’s quality of education should be the #1 priority. We can have many other important challenges as mentioned above, but at the end of the day, we have to make sure our students are what we are focused on.
Education: Bachelor of science in English education from the University of Minnesota; Master’s in library science from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.; Ph.D. in educational leadership from UND
Occupation: Executive director of Global Friends Coalition
Why are you running? I am a strong supporter of public education. A good education is essential for the future of Grand Forks’ children. Because of my experience and knowledge about the public schools, and my love of service, I want to continue to be involved to see some projects through to completion. I want to help continue to make the district a great place for students to learn.
How would you approach managing the school district’s budget? The recommendations from the Facilities Task Force are instrumental in shaping and managing the budget. A lot of what the district is able to do centers around what the community at large wants to support. Communication within district personnel and to the public is critical.
What is the greatest challenge the school district is facing, and how should it be addressed? COVID-19 has raised challenges. District personnel have done a fantastic job with so little preparation time. Planning for the possibility of COVID-19 remaining in the fall, with the need to maintain social distancing, is essential. Budget needs are pressing. District personnel need to be compensated and our buildings need to be maintained. Strategic decision-making is essential.
What should be the district’s No. 1 priority? If we do what is best for students to learn, then we are doing our job. The district’s motto is, “A great place to grow and learn.” Number 1, the district should always keep student learning at the forefront.