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Grand Forks School Board candidates: A look at their answers to six questions from the Herald

There are 23 School Board candidates for the upcoming June 14 election. Twenty of them returned a questionnaire from the Herald.

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The Mark Sanford Education Center, headquarters of Grand Forks Public Schools. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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Following are Grand Forks School Board candidates’ answers to a series of six questions posed by the Grand Forks Herald.

Overall, there are 23 candidates vying for five seats, all of which are at-large positions. Two candidates – Jacqueline Hassett and Bill Palmiscno – are running as incumbents. All 23 candidates are running for four-year terms, which begin in July. The election is June 14.

The Herald reached out by telephone and email to all 23 candidates. Twenty of them responded.

The Herald requested photos from each candidate. The photos that were supplied are included.

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Josh Anderson

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

As a Grand Forks community member, parent of 4 children, a past GFPS employee and member of the recent GFPS Facilities Task Force, I have deep and unique knowledge of the school district and challenges it faces. Along with that, I have a strong drive and dedication to see our school district, teachers, and students succeed. Given the opportunity to serve I will focus on common sense, data driven decision making that serves our students and teachers well while keeping the community and taxpayers in view. Community involvement and understanding will be key for the future success of our Grand Forks Public Schools. Continual communication and opportunities for community engagement are important and I would support efforts to find the best methods to achieve this.

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Josh Anderson, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
Submitted photo

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

I believe the biggest challenge in the coming years revolves around the financial health of the district and how to continue offering exceptional education and a rewarding environment for all who are employed in the GFPS. Using data driven decision making and taking into account the feedback of all stakeholders will be the best path to move forward successfully.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

As stated in a prior response I have a deep and unique knowledge of the school district and the challenges it faces. Along with that, I am a common sense candidate who is able to assimilate many pieces of data, and input from various stakeholders to make a decision that best represents the whole and delivers the goal of providing a successful education for all students. I have already been actively involved in projects to improve our school district and have delivered on that work.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

Efforts to improve building conditions, where investment makes sense, have been planned. With the additional 10 mills of funding that was recently approved by a vote of taxpayers, this provides a start in climbing this mountain. Beyond that, some large challenges, and in turn decisions, around the number of facilities, overall facility failure and community growth need to be made. Data and input have been provided and now decisions need to be made. A referendum in order to replace Valley Middle school is a logical start to this process but is not the end. Again, my work on the Facility Task Force provided an in depth look and possible solutions to the facility challenges.

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5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

Yes. Our students deserve a better environment to learn in and our teacher and staff deserve to be able to deliver an educational experience that is exceptional and work in a facility that supports that to the fullest extent. At this time, this is not happening, simply put we need to do better. The community as a whole will benefit from the referendum and new facility.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

Continual and proactive planning, where able, is key. There is a current plan in place that will bring the district’s budget back to a healthy fund balance over a number of years. This requires a lot of pieces aligning in order to stay on track. It is a good start and requires continual adjustment as challenges arise.

In the overall view of the goals of the school district, all stakeholders should have a desire for the success of our students as the first and foremost goal. With student success, comes a healthy school district and community. Staff health and success plays directly into student success. Seeking the input of all stakeholders and making decisions best aligned to the overall success of the overarching goal is key.

Ronald Barta

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

I want to assist the district in becoming academically relevant and improve the fiscal situation. The particular problem I see with the current board is they are not providing leadership. Instead they are involved in group think and allowing the district to go deeper and deeper into debt.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

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Academic improvement and Fiscal Responsibility

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

I am a master logistician with many years of experience leading large programs. I drill down to the root causes of problems and develop actions that fix those problems. I lead employees through difficult situations driving them to measurable metrics.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

It is a fact that the current facilities are advanced in years. Based on the student numbers for some schools, the costs to operate (manpower/utilities/scheduled and unscheduled maintenance) the current model is not sustainable. Old buildings will get older and require more maintenance. We need to identify the specific requirements, identify why the maintenance was deferred, and make the hard decisions. If that is moving away from the “neighborhood schools” model then that is what we need to do. There are efficiencies to consolidation. If, after analysis, the current model is supportable we need to identify the required funding to ensure our children have the best opportunities possible.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

No, this district has proven that it is not a good steward with funding and should not be provided any greater amount until we can be shown a good return on investment. Appropriated funds (not earning, but asking) are looked at by some as a never-ending purse. Fact is the city taxes are some of the highest I have ever paid and I have lived 11 years in Europe. Taxes MUST be managed effectively and any savings we can obtain must go back to the taxpayer. The facility discussion that was held in March at South Middle School led me to believe we are planning on building for future education. When broken down it appeared they were over scoping the build. While the statement “future learning” is a nice slogan to hear there is no definition and thus cannot be measured in requirements or cost.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

Yes. Hard decisions will have to be made. A deep analysis must be completed. The salaries for the administration staff is one of the first areas I would like to review. With our schools rated in the 30% percentile of the state the compensation for 30 of these individuals should not be over $100K annually. If you are not effective in running this program your pay should not be compensated at a level that is indicative of being successful.

Dave Berger

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed?

I greatly appreciate how you have framed these questions, because first and foremost I am running to SERVE my community. I care deeply about the city of Grand Forks, its schools, its students, and its citizens. I am committed to listening well, meeting today’s challenges, and building a bright future for all. The purpose of public schools is to teach students what society needs them to know. This way, our community grows stronger by having well-informed citizens who are able to reason, communicate, solve problems, think critically, and navigate this ever-changing world.

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Dave Berger, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
Submitted photo

I am not running on an issue or issues; rather, I am hoping to bring some perspective, level-headedness, and reason to the various conversations and decisions in front of the school board. I also have a sense that the relationship between the schools and the broader community is currently frayed. No matter the issue, there seems to be a divide between “us” and “them”. We need to move forward into a new chapter, rebuilding trust and restoring lines of communication. As a natural connector, I have already done much of this work behind the scenes, with a broad base of constituents who already trust my leadership and my insight.

My hope is to serve as a member of a school board that represents everyone; after all, it is YOUR Grand Forks School Board. We may not always agree on the best path forward, but I hope that we can see ourselves as partners in this work – and the work matters. This community matters. Our kids matter.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board?

Here are my two main areas of concern:

A. Instituting a long-term plan for our buildings and our budgets.

It is disconcerting to hear that a complete accounting of the district’s maintenance needs, building update requirements, and programmatic plans totaled over $260 million. Equally bothersome to me is that $2.5 million is spent annually – from the building fund - on debt repayments, with only half of that money paying down the principal on those debts.

According to Joe Bowen of the Grand Forks Herald, “the district owes its creditors nearly $28 million spread across a handful of bond issuances and other loans.”

As a district, we would find ourselves in a stronger financial position by paying off all of our debts and building an emergency fund. To that end, I would lead a discussion on an appropriate timeline to pay off the district’s debt and put those building fund dollars to better use.

B. Recruiting and retaining our excellent teachers.

Aside from the strategies outlined in the Grand Forks Public Schools Strategic Plan (competitive compensation and benefits packages, high-quality orientation programs, a mentoring program for staff, and opportunities for continuing education/professional development), I would listen to feedback provided by current and potential employees of the district.

In addition to those ideas, I would add the following thoughts:

We need to do away with the idea that teachers and staff should be able to continually do more with less. There are creative ways to adjust the school calendar in order to allow time for staff members to plan, design, and prepare. We also need to bolster our comprehensive district-wide mental health system for both students and staff.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates?

I am a natural connector and communicator, and I care deeply about the Grand Forks Public Schools and this community. In my adult life, I have advocated for students and schools at every turn. I have served as a mentor, a presenter, a volunteer, and a parent. Through my work with the Community Violence Intervention Center, the Mental Health Matters Education Task Force, and the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, I have endeavored to make our community a safe, supportive environment for all of our learners and educators. Finally, my career at Sharon (Lutheran Church) and the collaborations that I have created with the community and the schools are a testament to my skills and my leadership style.

I am committed to listening well, meeting today’s challenges, and building a bright future for all. We simply cannot predict what the next four years will have in store for us, but we can prepare by electing leaders with accountability, reason, and a broad perspective. I am available and willing to listen to concerns, to find common ground, and to learn. We all benefit from great schools, and we are better together!

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools?

I would agree that many of the schools in the district are aging. Our three newest elementary schools – Century, Phoenix, and Discovery – have come online since 1989, but the majority were built between 1953 and 1966. Those six schools have a combined enrollment of 1,846, nearly 58 percent of all K-5 students in our district. In December 2020, the Facilities Task Force recommended consolidation of several smaller schools in order to provide “equitable facilities, programs, and opportunities throughout the district” and “significant operational savings to the district in addressing budget issues.”

Of our ten elementary schools, the largest five have an average enrollment of 421 students, while the smallest five have an average enrollment of 218 students. Many families are looking specifically for neighborhood schools, and many learners benefit from these environments as well. Our two children attended West Elementary before it was closed; in fact, we kept our younger child at West for her last three years of elementary school (even though other schools were closer to our new home) because she was thriving there and we appreciated the sense of community we witnessed.

We need a comprehensive and transparent approach to any decision involving closing another school, balancing maintenance needs, state requirements, building codes, accessibility, student safety, and new visions for classroom and building use as we discern whether repair or replacement is the better option.

Ultimately, we need to keep our current financial situation and budget projections in mind as we make the best decisions possible for our kids.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

I fully support the referendum to build a new school on the Valley Middle School campus. We need to address equity and equal access to resources throughout the district, and it is clear that a new middle school on this site is the prudent choice. Our students and educators deserve learning environments which meet the needs of today’s classroom, ensure that we can continue offering our excellent programs and services, and enable us to plan for the future.

This decision will also impact recruiting and retaining teachers, provide financial stability to our district, and bring new businesses and families to Grand Forks. Great schools attract great people!

As a community, we have a responsibility to uplift and support all of our students and their families, and I encourage everyone to pass this referendum on September 27th.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget?

According to the General Fund Budget and 3 Year Projection presented at the Grand Forks School Board meeting on October 19, 2021, there is already a plan in place to operate with a surplus budget over the next three school years. Local, state, and federal funding sources are expected to see an overall increase of 2.05% for the 2022-2023 school year, while expenses will see an increase of just 0.52%. This will add just over one million dollars back into the general fund balance. By 2024-25, the school district’s general fund balance is projected to grow from $7.4 million (6.5% of total expenditures) to $18.9 million (16.9% of total expenditures), a balance which is much more in line with auditors’ recommendations.

The other side of the district’s financial picture is that $2.5 million is spent annually – from the building fund - on debt repayments, with only half of that money paying down the principal on those debts. During my first year on the school board, I will lead a discussion on an appropriate timeline to pay off the district’s debt and put those building fund dollars to better use.

Dee Decimus

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? 

Student achievement and success is job #1. To provide the opportunity to contribute significantly to the health of our community and our kids. Every child should be able to realize success, so I plan to focus on impartiality, well-intended diversity initiatives to ensure our School Board’s practices and policies are equitable. This is essential to sustain our investments in our children no matter what race, disability, or religious belief.

2. Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

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Dee Decimus, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
Submitted photo

As a taxpayer, a big concern is the amount of money spent per child at particular schools within the district. Where is the money going? Why is it being spent so quickly? Budgets and funding priorities are important. The next topic that is close to my heart is what is being taught in our schools? What voice do our parents have to with the education being provided and taught. Teachers should not be pushing their personal beliefs and be parenting our children. Parents parent. Teachers teach. Teachers should be impartial to children and families who may have different personal beliefs or views from their own. We have to foster individual critical thinking and free speech and have our children be able to think for themselves. Our children should have freedom of speech.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

The Grand Forks School Board, elected by the people, who are entrusted with the educational lives of our children and their future, in our society, needs some fresh ideas. The board needs to focus on student achievement, lean budgets, and well-maintained buildings.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

As a small business owner in Grand Forks, a home healthcare business which has grown to 75 employees in three years, I have a passion for our youth and elders in our community. My approach to diverse situations, cultural differences and how we can encompass all children that attend GF public schools is rooted in decades of pioneering work with leaders, business owners, organizations in her community and other southern states. I grew up in Roseau, MN on a farm with my parents and siblings. I was taught at a very young age to work hard and stand up for what I believe in. After high school I attended Northland Community and Technical College in TRF, MN and obtained my Associates Degree in Administration. I than attended St. Cloud State University and received a bachelor’s degree in Recreation Sports Management. I continued my education at the University of New Mexico where I obtained my master’s degree in Sports Administration. My dream of being a youth Athletic Director was very close. While working in the Athletic Department at the University of New Mexico I was asked by a family member to move to Grand Forks to assist a family member with a medical condition which required around the clock care. Once in North Dakota I quickly realized this is where I wanted to start a family and raise my kids. The town was smaller, and everyone said we have the best schools around. After being here almost 10 years, this is home and I have connections with small communities and connections to larger communities with different cultural backgrounds which makes me an ideal candidate for School Board to be the voice of parents in our community.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

Parents want neighborhood schools. We need to keep them well maintained, not ignoring maintenance so they are forced to build new. We need to put kids first and do what we can to ensure the quality of our future community. Creating equitable access, learning opportunities and including the voice of each learner, a strong sense of belonging will be cultivated and in turn, each student will be empowered and equipped to be successful.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not? 

Not at this time, until it can be more defined.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

Lean budgets are essential to maximize taxpayer’s investment. I believe in the power of teamwork and with a strong school board, we will have the power to focus on moving forward with goals to prosper. Being proactive instead of reactive is key.

Elizabeth Delgado

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

My children attended Grand Forks schools. I saw serious deficiencies then but those deficiencies have become more severe. I experienced frustration over numerous things when I tried to communicate with the schools with concerns and didn't seem to get results. I have been in the shoes of many parents so I understand their frustrations. I see the potential in children to be great leaders and successful individuals. Sadly, I don’t think our school system sees their potential or are at least not treating the kids as if they do. Children and youth are our future leaders. My intention is to be an advocate and voice for them within our school district.

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Elizabeth Delgado, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
Submitted

Our school district is severely deficient in academics. From the time when I attended school to now, proficiency has diminished significantly. When I attended school, curriculum was used that was common sense. Common core is NOT common sense curriculum. It is curriculum that sabotages student proficiency. There is A LOT of work to do in the area of academics within our school system. It doesn't make any sense how we can have graduation rates of 85% or higher when proficiency is less than 40% in most of our high schools and as low as 20% in at least one of our high schools. That just doesn't line up. Our district is not even meeting its own goals. We are letting students slip through the cracks academically and that is a grave injustice and disservice to our students. Our students deserve better. They need to know that we really do want the best for them. The proficiency ratings do not convey that we care about the kids.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

Board members who forget that they are the employees of the public and who do not want to be fully transparent with the employer (the public).

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

Integrity, common sense, and logic. I believe there is a lot our school district has not told parents that they really do need to be told. I believe Roberts Rules of Order can be abused by a controlling board on which all but one member agrees on a matter in that it prevents that one member from voicing his or her disagreement. I think Roberts Rules of Order need to be suspended so that no board member is restrained from expressing opposition to any attempts the Board might make that is unethical.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

I live in a home that is 120 years old. At no point in the nearly 30 years my family has lived in our home have we considered tearing it down and building a new home. Why? Because the structure has been maintained. Things have been taken care of as they have arisen, not five, ten, or 20 years down the road. The same should be said about every building. . .that maintenance and repair items have been taken care of sooner rather than later. There are going to be both foreseen and unforeseen items. If property owners are wise stewards with their monetary resources, they think about that and prepare for the “what if’s” by putting funds away so they don’t have to scrounge up the funds or rob Peter (savings, citizens through increased property taxes) to pay Paul (contractors). This should be no different for a school district than for a homeowner.

Our city has a sufficient number of schools. When you don’t take care of what you have, it becomes overwhelming to the point of thinking it’s “too many” or “too much”. In reality, it only seems overwhelming because of how extensive maintenance and repair needs become when put off for far too long.

When asking couples what they look for in considering a move, the most common answer I get is “a school in the neighborhood”. Neighborhood schools attract families and businesses which give the local economy a boost. Schools tend to be at the heart of the neighborhoods in which they exist and build neighborhood cohesion.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

Students thrive in a sufficient environment, not a deficient one. Our local school board has sacrificed sufficient environments for students for pie in the sky projects. Existing environments should always be maintained before plans for any new projects are drawn up. Just think how improved the physical school environment would be for students and staff if maintenance items would have been taken care of sooner rather than later or not at all. One has to wonder if they intentionally delay maintenance items to make it appear that school buildings are not worth keeping and need to be replaced. The longer maintenance items are delayed, the more serious the issues they become and the more expensive it will be to fix them. We need to bring our current schools to a sufficient state so our students can thrive. After items are taken care of, the board might realize that we don’t really need to replace a building with a new one. Considering the delayed maintenance and repair items across our district, I cannot support the referendum. We have got to take care of existing issues before building a new building that will eventually add to the maintenance and repair issues.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

A new team of board members will have to look at the budget with fresh eyes. Budgets are based on assumptions. Before the new Board can actually address the budget, it will have to evaluate if the assumptions have changed in recent years and whether or not they have been accurate assumptions. Is the budget even close to reality or was it based on wishful thinking?

One of the first areas I think needs to be evaluated is COVID funds that our district received. At one board meeting, it was admitted that not all money has been spent. I think the Board needs to look at those funds and determine whether or not tending to some of the deferred maintenance items is allowed under the terms of the receipt of any COVID funds.

Monte Gaukler

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

I want to serve on the school board and lend my voice and experience because the Grand Forks Public Schools have had such a tremendous impact on my family and I. It has become increasingly clear to me how much education has shaped my life and I want to help provide similar opportunities to those in our community. I began teaching in the Grand Forks Public Schools when I was 22 years old. Now, I am a grandmother. This passage of time and my history as an educator affords me a very unique perspective. I have grown up with the Grand Forks Public Schools, and I realize the responsibility that a school board position carries and the impact the board has on our community. I do not take this lightly. You can count on me to listen, act with common sense, and above all, do what is best for our students, staff and community. As a community it is crucial that we are solution focused, and that we concentrate on what is best for our school district as a whole. We need to ensure that all our students across the district are getting high quality educational experiences. It is also clear that in the very near future we will face a teacher shortage. It is crucial that we start attending to that trend now, and engage strategies that will help to bring (and keep!) the best and brightest to Grand Forks. This will also involve addressing practical issues, like teacher burnout (especially following the pandemic) and teacher salaries. Equal access to resources, and structurally sound and well-functioning buildings are pragmatic but vital concerns that contribute to staff, student, and teacher well-being. High quality education for every student, attention to teacher recruitment and retention, and fully functioning school buildings are the priorities of my campaign. My goal is to listen to our students, families, staff and community stakeholders, and seek the best and most informed path toward these goals.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

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Monte Gaukler, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
Submitted photo

I believe that teacher recruitment and retention are going to be critical for the next several years. Currently, there are about 9,000 teachers in North Dakota, and a significant percentage of those teachers are leaving the profession. According to the information that I could find, between UND and Mayville State, approximately 200 students will graduate with a teaching degree this spring. That is simply not enough teachers to help replace all of the teaching content areas that are falling woefully short and that have been declared as a critical shortage by the North Dakota Education Standards and Practices Board. We need to have assistance from the ND Legislature, and they need to act when they convene in January. We need to increase the pipeline of educators. If the ND Legislature could provide tuition waivers for students that are going into education, I think that this could be a start. We are a rural state, and a state that does a fantastic job of training teachers. Removing barriers to that training should be our first step in improving the teacher pipeline. In Grand Forks, we need to revitalize the Junior Educators of Tomorrow (JET) Program. This program allows current high school students (and would-be teachers) to get excited about education. If we have students partner with our current educators to see and feel the rewards of teaching, we might be able to encourage more students to enter the field of education. Finally, we need to address teacher retention. How do we honestly address the awful myth that teachers have “summers off and stop working at 3:30?” Most teachers start their days early, and work tirelessly into the evenings grading papers and doing course prep. Likewise, we need to address teacher burnout and include space in everyone’s day to promote a positive mental health climate.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates?

As a recently retired GFPS educator and a current instructor at UND for pre-service educators, I believe that I would bring a unique perspective to the school board. In these unique roles, I have seen education issues from both sides of the desk. I have learned how to collaborate, seek information, set educational goals, seek out and obtain grants and other resources.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

I understand the value of neighborhood schools; and I support small class sizes. Figuring out how to do this in a fiscally responsible way is one of the key tasks of the School Board. When this conversation is brought up, I think it is important to have all voices at the table and listen to all points of view. Then and only then will the right and prudent decision be made for the school district.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not? 

Having functioning and structurally sound buildings is crucial to providing high quality education. I will advocate for the referendum, and do whatever I can to support efforts to be as transparent as possible. It is important that the community know what the plan is and how that plan will affect everyone involved.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget?

The recently passed mill levy would allow us to restructure the district’s finances, and is a crucial part of addressing the district deficits. Two additional ideas I believe we should pursue are seeking additional state funding and pursuing grants for program funding at the federal level.

Senta Grzadzielewski

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

It is important to me to set an example of service for my children, especially in the communities we live and work. I believe the current board works hard to address the issues they face. If elected, my priorities will include crafting a working relationship with superintendents, teachers, and administrators based on mutual respect and the goal of student success and a greater connection to the surrounding community.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

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Senta Grzadzielewski, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
Submitted photo

I think the biggest challenge in the coming years will be school funding and the residual impacts of inequitable distribution.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

I have three children, ages 6, 4, and 2. My oldest goes to Kindergarten at Phoenix Elementary, making me a proud Phoenix Firebird mom! I have a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, a Master's in Public Administration, and a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership. Additionally, I am a Major in the United States Air Force Reserves, a local artist, and a comedian (but only in my own home).

Throughout my career, I have developed strong leadership skills and the ability to connect with people from all walks of life. I very much subscribe to the Servant Leadership model of leading because servant leaders are authentic and acknowledge that they can benefit from others' expertise and contributions; they seek out thoughts and ideas from those around them, which requires a great deal of humility.

I see myself on the School Board as someone who seeks to understand, listens to the perspective of others, and represents the voices in our community. I believe both families and teachers are essential educators in a child's life, and the surrounding community should be well invested in the success of the students in their communities. This type of support fosters educational success in students that we hope will one day serve in our community. Much of that begins with creative partnerships to spark involvement, interest, mentorship, resources, and learning opportunities beyond the classroom.

4. It's been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

I support neighborhood schools. See next response for a more detailed view.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

I support the building of new facilities when the old facilities no longer provide a safe and equitable learning environment for the students. Additionally, I support neighborhood schools. I think the community should care about the state of our schools, whether they have children in the system, homeschool, have no kids, etc. Part of that involves an effective campaign to help the surrounding areas understand the current state of the schools and a clear understanding of what they will gain from their investment. This campaign includes communications about what taxpayers will get with their contributions in terms of the facility specifics and sustainability, as well as how the success of students positively impacts the community's future. "These buildings [civic buildings] are not mere luxuries, but investments in community-making that evoke identity, pride, and participation in public life"- Suburban Nation

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district's deficit budget? 

I think it is important to secure long-term funding sourced with integrity. While, as a general political view, I do not support a redistribution of wealth, I believe children should be provided with the best possible chance to succeed in the school system. This means finding creative ways to reduce food insecurity in schools, create an equitable learning environment, and recruit the best teachers and staff in all neighborhoods in Grand Forks. People tend to want positive results but become apprehensive when it comes to footing the bill, and that's where collaboration is key. Whether the solution is weighted funding, seeking funds at the state level, or finding ways to elicit community support, I am open to brainstorming.

Jacqueline (Jackie) Hassett

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

I am one of two incumbents running for reelection this year. Although the last years have been challenging, I'm running again because I strongly believe in public education and that our community deserves a school board which is strongly invested in their community. I am certainly a person who is invested in my community over any personal agendas. I believe I have shown that in my dedication to our work the last four years. I do not have any particular issue I think is not being addressed on some level in the district, however that doesn't mean there is not work to be done. The top issue for me is ensuring we have safety in our schools. For me this means not only physical safety, but educational and psychological safety. Budget and facility issues are at the center of this. I'm excited for work planned to engage the community more on making decisions about our buildings.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

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Jacqueline Hassett, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
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Our most pressing challenges include money and teacher retention. Both are national trends unfortunately and influenced by factors outside the board control in some ways. They are challenges none the less. It's crucial we remain creative, advocate for increased funding, and listen to teachers and staff to ease the difficulties. It is true that deferred maintenance is a heavy burden left from past boards. Combine that with simple aging of buildings and outdated buildings for today's educational practices, facilities are a large budget need moving forward. Teachers and students deserve equitable and safe spaces for the work they do. Money is also part of what is needed to compensate teachers. We can find other ways to better teacher experiences in our district and be an even more attractive place of employment but long term teachers, social workers, paraprofessionals, and all staff must see a change in salaries as well.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

I believe strongly in having a diverse school board who represent different types of stakeholders in the community. I am always advocating for people to run for the school board because the diversity of thought makes for a better board and better decisions. Perhaps the thing most different about me is how I grew up. I grew up in a lower economic bracket and faced many of the home struggles some of our students face. My early life spent on an Air Force base gives me some nice perspective with our own AFB being a part of our district. After graduating here in Grand Forks, I was the first one in my family to graduate from college getting my elementary ed degree with a focus on special education. I later would earn degrees in social work and am now a licensed Masters in Social Work. I continued at UND and am all but dissertation away from a doctorate in higher education. As an educator having taught early childhood to graduate students, as a social worker, and as a mom to three kids in the district, I am in tune to a variety of impacts our decisions will have on different kinds of people. I understand education and the professionalism which goes into so much of how the system operates but have the experience in policy analysis and research methods to ensure we do not fall into "that's just how its done" ruts some organizations do. I also like to think I bring kindness, assertiveness, and collaboration skills which may not be unique but certainly needed in this work.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

I think decisions about our schools need to be based on data and community needs. I have always advocated for stakeholder involvement in how these decisions are made and they are certainly tough decisions. What is good for one group may not be the best for another. It is why I was a board member who really pushed for forming a stakeholder task force on facilities. Centering students, it is true we need to improve our buildings or build new buildings to provide safe environments for learning and growth in our district. There is no way around it. It is going to be super important we find ways to engage more community members moving forward so we can build trust and make tough choices which are best for all of us - particularly students. I enjoy our small schools and was a West elementary parent for many many years. I do not know the answers completely but I do think we need to look at the reality of our schools' conditions and engage the public before jumping into long-term decisions. The only thing I do know needs to happen is we need a new Valley Middle School. That school's needs are urgent.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

As a current board member I do support the proposed referendum. We need a new Valley Middle School for many reasons - from safety, to ADA compliance, to educational program needs. I believe our community values how important public schools are to our community and will make a decision to invest in them. As a board we need to provide space for questions and better communicate with groups of people so we can create trust in what will be done with the money. Residents who do not understand the whys and whats will find this difficult. There is a lot of work to be done before a referendum vote.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

I think we're on a good path with having spent many hours prioritizing our goals, what we need moving forward and what is not as important right now. Without some local help (referendum support) the budget becomes less easy to address without some tough choices. I think those choices should affect education and people the least amount possible. I value the staff we have and do not want to create negative work conditions or put more strain on them. I value the hiring of our grant manager who has done fantastic work finding money to alleviate pressure on our general fund and finding ways to better learning environments/teaching tools. Our teachers actually can be largely creative in finding efficiencies. Listening to them is crucial. I think that sort of creative thinking needs to keep happening. I also think we need to advocate for better state and federal funding and keep in tune to various bills which may affect local resources.

Jennifer Kolodka

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed?

I want to serve on the GFPS School Board because I believe in high quality, equitable and engaging education for all students. I believe that public education is about more than challenging students with reading, writing, and arithmetic. It is also about the arts, music, career and technical opportunities, and extracurriculars that allow kids to find their passions and sense of community in the school system. I became concerned when GFPS started cutting funding to the arts, the gifted programming, and other areas they deemed as non-essential parts of public school. I also became concerned when there was talk about shutting down the neighborhood schools. Many families choose to live and remain in a city because of the experience their children have within the school system and the quality of education at those schools. A strong and healthy school system is a necessary component of any thriving and healthy community. I am concerned for our community and the school system when I see the increasing levels of teacher turnover in our district every year and the deteriorating condition of our buildings. Both of these issues need to be addressed aggressively and urgently. If elected, my top priority and concern is maintaining and retaining our teaching staff and buildings. Teacher retention has an impact on the quality of learning in the classroom, student achievement at all levels including the struggling learner and the gifted learner, behavioral issues in the classroom, sense of community within the school, and mentoring of new teachers in the district. As a school system, we can not keep losing years of teacher experience and knowledge out the front doors of our schools.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board?

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Jennifer Kolodka, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
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The most challenging area for the district right now is finances. There is a lot of work to do on maintaining and repairing buildings. Just like we all do with our personal budgets, GFPS needs to prioritize needs versus wants. The budget is tight right now and every dollar needs to be maximized and utilized in a way that best fulfills the most urgent needs of the district, which in my opinion should be preserving buildings and retaining teachers and staff. They have published a massive laundry list of what they’d like to see done with every building in the district, and that is just not a realistic expectation at this time. We do need to begin chipping away at a very long repair list, but in a common sense way that prevents future higher emergency repair costs. The district needs to rebuild trust and transparency with its taxpayers and community, and an ongoing dialogue and openness about finances will be key to repairing that relationship and building trust.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

Over the years, I have gained experience working and being involved in many areas of the public education system: as a school counselor, a paraprofessional, a substitute teacher, a PTO treasurer, a classroom volunteer, a parent, and a bus driver. I have spent countless hours inside GFPS buildings working, volunteering, visiting, and observing. This first-hand experience is a valuable asset to me as a candidate. It helps me to see the bigger picture behind the concerns and information discussed. I feel I am knowledgeable about the operations of a public school system. As a counselor, I have training and experience listening to all kinds of information and perspectives, facilitating meaningful conversations about the issues between multiple parties, encouraging all voices to speak up and add their input, and guiding groups of people towards solutions that are well thought out, level headed, and fair. A board member should not have a personal agenda they are trying to move forward or be committed to only their viewpoints and beliefs. Board members should be visible throughout the district and community, observing and experiencing firsthand our school system in many areas, so as to thoroughly understand the issues and concerns at play from all stakeholders’ perspectives, before making educated and informed decisions at the board meetings.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

When you compare GFPS to other districts, I don’t believe we are operating too many buildings. Neighborhood schools have wide-ranging value for the students, the families, the building atmosphere for staff, and the overall relationship, sense of pride and connection with the neighborhood. The citizens of Grand Forks have made their voices heard a few times on this issue and they like neighborhood schools. Families want to feel that they have a sense of involvement and belonging within GFPS. They want that smaller town, smaller school feel with opportunities for involvement and awareness of their child’s educational life inside that building. Neighborhood schools with active and engaged PTOs are an excellent way to foster that relationship and connection. As a school board member, I would like to put time and energy into helping each school build a stronger PTO/PTA organization. A child’s success at school is always greater when there is an active and healthy relationship between Parent - Teacher - School System - Community.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not? 

While I am not happy that we are in this position as a district and as a taxpayer, I will support the $55 million referendum because any frustration I (or we) have with the lack of management over the district’s finances for the past decade does not mean I (or we) take it out on the current students and teachers. GFPS now sits with buildings in desperate need of repairs and if they ignore some of those maintenance requests even longer, it is only going to result in an even bigger bill down the road for the next school board and the taxpayers. This passing off of the baton to the next guy is exactly what got us into this situation and we simply cannot ignore it any longer. The prior lack of oversight and accountability for our buildings put us into this situation as a district. This is extremely frustrating to the entire community of Grand Forks. There are now additional bills to be paid and not enough money to pay them, which leaves two options: find a way to bring in more revenue and/or find a way to cut expenses further. The voters (including myself) approved the increase in mills, which means there is more revenue coming into the district now. This helps the budget along with the influx of ESSER funds due to the pandemic. I intend to bring fresh eyes and discussion to the table, looking over that budget line by line and seeking to find ways to be more efficient in the use of every single taxpayer dollar. These are hard times financially for families and for businesses, and the board needs to be respectful of that situation and be held responsible, accountable, and transparent in the way they spend money if they’re going to tap into the taxpayers’ pockets for more help with the referendum.

Joel Larson

1 Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

I want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board in order to give back to my community and to serve my family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and citizens of our school district. I seek to serve the students, parents, teachers, and community at large by offering my experience and skillset to work through the ongoing and future challenges. There is no “one reason” that I am running and I bring no specific agenda, other than to do what is in the best interest of the students, teachers, staff, district, and community. I am running to offer a reasonable voice, to be a creative and collaborative thinker, and to offer my unique skill set as a problem solver and team player in order to help the Grand Forks Schools through the upcoming challenges. You will see my green signs throughout the district, Joel for School Board, and I look forward to continuing to visit with the community about my collaborative mindset and my wish to serve our community.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

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Joel Larson, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
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While there are a few challenges that come to mind, perhaps the most pressing is recruiting and retaining the highest quality teachers to lead our kids into the future. We are lucky to have a school system of very high-quality educators, but with retirements, the aftermath of the pandemic and the now changing workforce, we will need to work hard to attract and retain talent. Additionally, it has been well-established that a very pressing concern for our learners, teachers, and community is the failing infrastructure and pressing building needs. Our community has felt the direct impact of a lack of funding for these needs in our community. The funds that were to be used to repair or rebuild were depleted, and as a result, the school district had to utilize its general fund in order to make critical repairs to keep schools open and allow our kids to learn. The impact of that was that difficult decisions had to be made, including cutting various elective, but critical, programs for students in our district. The general fund is also the funding source for paying staff, and quality pay, again, is a key issue in the current workforce. Securing greater and consistent funds from as many possible sources and developing a strategy for rebuilding and/or upkeep of school buildings will both help improve the recruitment and retention of teachers, will promote better equity in learning environments for students throughout the district, and will ensure important elective and extracurricular programs in our district are reinstated.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

I am in the middle of a successful legal career being a strong communicator, creative thinker, and problem solver. I seek opinions of all and avoid jumping to conclusions or accepting things at face value. I will bring my experience and skillset to the school board so that I may be of service to this community. While there are other strong candidates, I differentiate myself as a constant problem solver. I have had the opportunity to work collaboratively on legislative issues and have experience lobbying for the organizations I have represented in my career. Throughout my career I’ve had many, many opportunities to identify various issues, gather the facts, determine the options, and then act/advise in the best interests of those that I serve. If elected to the school board, I will do the same so that I can serve my community.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools?  

Equity in the school district is a critical issue. Our family is fortunate to belong to nearby neighborhood schools and I would hope that every child/family could be so fortunate. Certainly, this isn’t the case for everyone, but the value it brings to each child who has this luxury will be something I look at very closely. There are some very difficult choices that will need to be made regarding school repairs or rebuilding and I will consider all voices and the perspectives of each person that the decisions will impact.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

Absolutely, yes. As discussed in prior answers, there is a great need for repairs and rebuilding, but also recruiting and retention. Without the additional funds from the referendum, it will be a much more difficult path to begin to address these numerous challenges. Investing in our public schools inarguably makes our community better and it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure the success and education of the next generation of learners.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

As I mentioned previously, my background and experience has taught me to critically review all facts and research before making decisions. I want to thank the Grand Forks Education Association for their trust in and endorsement of me. If I should be elected to the school board, my intention is to thoroughly review all spending and critical needs of the district, to collaborate with my school board members and district staff, and to assist in seeking additional funding sources for the school. The Grand Forks School District was lucky to recruit Brandon Baumbach as its new Business Manager. He brings considerable talent to the district, and I would lean into his knowledge and experience as well. At every point in my career, I’ve had creative ideas to solve the myriad problems faced by those that I serve; I’ll strive to do that same as a member of the school board.

Sona Lesmeister

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed?

I am a mom with two students in the public schools system. Over the years I have watched issues come up that various friends tried to address through the proper channels, leading up to the school board. To no avail. The COMMUNICATION between parents and our schools is selective and broken. I watched parents give up and exit the PS system because they weren't heard. Also, the curriculum has other agendas in mind, while not giving enough attention to the basics.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board?

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Sona Lesmeister, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
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Repairing their relationship with the public by focusing on mastering the basics - solid curriculum, academic excellence and transparency. Parents and community members need to be considered partners and an accountable party, not the enemy.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates?

Diversity - I grew up in former Czechoslovakia (now Czechia). I had the benefit of living in both, Communist and free societies. I saw the strengths of our education system and its weaknesses. I have been learning the differences in the U.S. education system through my children, understanding its strengths and weaknesses. I am multilingual, and a strong communicator. I have earned an MBA with emphasis on public sector and public finance. Being from somewhere else affords me to ask the simple questions we sometimes forget to ask, because they seem too trivial. It is the trivial questions that need in fact re-visiting, from time to time, because they can lead to new a-ha moments and fresh solutions.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

Grand Forks school district has 12 elementary schools, 4 middle schools and 2 senior high schools, and one alternative school, according to the audit report for the fiscal year ending 6/30/2020. Grand Forks is the type of a community, where neighborhood schools are a welcomed feature. We have prided ourselves with a very good safety track record, which is at least partly due to having neighborhood schools, I believe. It seems there is an expected growth of the community - housing market is booming and the house inventory is low. If this is the case, having fewer schools doesn't seem to make sense. My question is: How did we allow the school facilities in such disrepair for so long? Was there a lack of foresight in the former boards? Inadequate funds allocation for this purpose? To answer the question fully, I would need to have more information, so we don't end up reacting, instead of being proactive with any proposed solution.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not? 

The referendum is asking $55 million for building a new Valley Middle School and moving the Child Nutrition Center. To be clearly in support or against, I would need to see

1) breakdown of how we arrived at $55 million. What will it buy us today?

2) what happens if/when we outspend the said sum of money? (which tends to happen with construction projects)

3) Is there a best case and worst case scenario (with cost estimates, clear dollar designation, etc) and possible alternatives? The project is said to be done in 3 years. Are we confident this is true under current supply chain issues, material shortages, worker shortages, and price increases?

4) Can we be confident the funds will be spent according to their purpose? Trust, transparency and accountability are big, especially since this will be raising our taxes.

5) If this is solely focusing on building a new middle school, which without a doubt is much desired, what about all the other buildings that are in disrepair/needing maintenance? Do we earmark funds for future building maintenance needs? It wasn't very clear to me from the financial report I saw. I do not believe we can answer this new building question without serious consideration for the existing buildings in the district. Just look at the most recent Schroeder Middle School incident.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

The conventional wisdom tells us to spend less than we have. That is a simplistic view, but a good guiding principle. We need better fiscal transparency. We can either reduce the expenses or increase the revenue. Perhaps renting the space when facilities (such as gyms or cafeteria) are not in use. Rental fee could include the responsibility of that party to clean the rented space (to keep the custodial cost down). There could be a partnership with GF visitor center to feature respective schools merchandise that is typically only available to purchase online. School merchandise could also be available at other stores for the general public to buy and show support to their alma mater, or their grandchildrens' schools. A portion of the proceeds would go to the school budget. Certain merchandise items could only be available through local stores, to support shopping locally. On the expense side - revisit the expense items, and see whether certain vendors could be switched for a better rate, new contracts negotiated for certain services, or see if we could use local volunteers to supplement some of the needs the school district has.

Bonnie McMullin

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

I am running for School Board because I am frustrated with my own children's current educational experiences. I am disappointed in the way the current School Board and District Administrators are steering our schools. I have spent the past 5 years as a substitute teacher in our Grand Forks Public Schools. I have served in various capacities in different grades at 6 different schools. I am appalled as I look into the mismanagement of our school's budgets, buildings and policies. We have administrators that are actively pushing Gender Identity Education and CRT (Critical Race Theory) in our K-12 schools. YES, IN OUR GRAND FORKS SCHOOLS! This is unacceptable to me. I have watched as apathetic decisions have been made that directly affect my family. I have seen the deterioration of beloved music, art and enrichment programs. I believe that schools should be places of academic learning and skill acquisition not social indoctrination. I will fight against any ideas that separate our children from their parents. I will push for full transparency of the board. We should be looking for answers together that meet the educational needs of our students.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

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Bonnie McMullin, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
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The most pressing challenges facing the Grand Forks Public School Board have to do with finances, buildings and pushing Gender Identity instruction. I see these being the biggest issues facing our community. Our school administrators and Board have spent money that we simply do not have. This cannot be sustained and we are feeling the brunt of this acutely. There has been so much deferred maintenance on our buildings that we are in a crisis. National inflation will only exacerbate this as we look for our answers. There are going to need to be a lot of very difficult conversations about how we lead our schools out of this crisis and into the future. With so much being said nationally about Gender Identity and who decides which gender is right for a child, it is imperative that Grand Forks stand to protect our children from this trend. Grand Forks Public Schools must have a clear policy that rids our schools of any such covert teaching. Parents must play key role in decisions affecting the social and emotional health of their children.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

I have many strengths that would be of benefit to the decision making processes of the School Board. My undergraduate degree is in Education. I have taught in a classroom of my own for several years. For the past 5 years I have been working as a substitute teacher in Grand Forks Schools. I know our schools. I have been fortunate to gain a first hand knowledge of how the schools differ and what could be done to make our schools more unified. I am bilingual. I am fluent in Spanish. I spent time living in South America and then taught elementary school in a dual language program. I understand what it can be like for those coming to our schools from other places and how hard it can be on the whole family as they try to adapt. I am the mother of 5 children who all attend Grand Forks Schools. My children are spread throughout all levels of schooling. I have 2 children at Red River, 2 children at South Middle School and 1 child at Discovery Elementary. I have a vested interest in our schools being excellent at every level. I bring that unique perspective. I know what it is like to manage with clear goals in mind. I am a critical thinker. I believe that the School Board has a responsibility to research and obtain a factual understanding of issues at hand. I will bring a willingness to learn and research ideas. I will work with community members, parents, teachers and administrators to represent our children's best interests.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

I love the idea of neighborhood schools. They are charming. I love teaching in them. I love the low teacher-to-student ratios. I wish everyone could experience a school like our neighborhood schools. Is this a favorable and sustainable model moving forward? I am not sure that it is fair or feasible to operate our neighborhood schools the way they have been run in the past. Am I against them, no. Do I see issues that involve fixing and running a school for 80-100 students when there is so much need throughout the district, yes. We may need to look to our beloved neighborhood schools and prioritize. Our district is struggling financially. Our enrollment numbers are falling. We cannot maintain what we HAVE been doing and remain viable for the future. Also, it should be pointed out that the infrastructure surrounding our neighborhood schools has not been upgraded to meet the needs of parents, buses and delivery trucks bring into question the safety of the students. In a perfect world we would fix or rebuild all of our schools that provide such amazing opportunities.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

No. I have a very hard time supporting the idea of building a new school when there is so much other need in our district. I think that Valley Middle School is in need of dramatic facility upgrades. At the minimum I think Valley Middle School needs immediate, although short term, action taken like relocatable classrooms. The student population is bursting at the seams of the school. Is this the time to rebuild? I think the board is going to have to really look at the numbers of where and how we can stop the hemorrhage of district money. We cannot spend our way out of a crisis. New buildings still have costs. We cannot keep asking our citizens and farmers to foot the bill of our financial mismanagement. Although it is tragic that any of our Grand Forks students have to deal with school building failures, we should look at previous policies that have led to these failures. Who has been in charge? Where is the transparency in how our funds are spent? I think 55 million dollars would go a lot further fixing our current school buildings and aging classroom technology needs.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

I don't know what I don't know. I do not know or have all the answers. I believe that is why you need a board that can receive input from all reliable sources. I know things have to change. I would look at those areas where we are spending significantly above other districts in North Dakota and try to bring that into line with our state averages. Is our per student benefit to cost worth our money? I would look to our students and what is best for them academically, emotionally and socially. It may be time to streamline some of our administrative processes. Mostly paperless communication and forms? Energy saving measures for our schools? Community funding for specific projects and initiatives? Pragmatic approaches to determine essential positions and roles within our schools? I believe that we have to fund our schools and teachers appropriately. We need to support our arts and extra curricular activities. We have to keep our schools places that are competitive and that prepare our students for the future. We have to look for solutions, although painful to the way things have been done before, that can lead us out and forward to many years of growth and prosperity.

Cameron Murphy

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

I am running for the school board because the direction the Grand Forks schools have taken over the last 5 years has been terribly negative. The district was once nationally recognized and is now the worst in the state of the major city school districts. My goal is to help right the ship and restore the Grand Forks Public Schools to its formerly high standards. To illustrate this decline, in 2017 Grand Forks Central and Red River ranked 4th and 5th in the state and ~2500 nationwide. Today they rank 15th and 18th in the state and ~6900 nationally. This decline is not a one-time blip, but a long-standing trend in the wrong direction.

A major problem not being addressed is the working environment for our resolute educators. Teachers enter the profession with a passion for helping kids see things in themselves they did not know was there. But teachers are frustrated as the top-down inflexibility of the curriculum does not allow for creativity or using what has worked well in the past, especially for our most experienced teachers, to simply get our kids the best education possible.

When I asked the Valley City School Board what they did to go from a low ranked school to the top ranked school (2021), they told me they simply let their staff pursue their passion. This tact makes sense, and it would behoove Grand Forks to also let teachers simply teach.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

There are two major challenges facing the board, with one leading directly to the other.

The first is restoring standards and culture. Right now, the Grand Forks Public Schools have lost its way in both instances. It is not a matter of more resources as we spend more per pupil today than before, even when adjusting for inflation (in 2020).

The second is regaining the trust of the community. The taxpayers in Grand Forks have proven repeatedly that spending money on a quality education for our children is of utmost importance, but this also comes with high expectations for student achievement and well-being. Current policies have had a demonstrable negative effect on both student achievement and well-being, of which the latter gives way to the former. Hence, the community is left with the options that the current leadership on the Board is either incompetent or has an agenda that does not align with the welfare of the student body. Without this trust and a vision for the future, the willingness of the community to spend substantial resources on the infrastructure needs of the district will be limited.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

My greatest strength is the ability to analyze and integrate data to produce a better solution. It is important to have someone on the board that is more inclined to ask tough questions of the superintendent and hold him accountable. By having a more detached, data-driven, scientific approach, the ability to build consensus and integrate different views into a coherent policy is greater, along with the ability to communicate with the community at large.

A huge differentiator for me is my diverse background. Having experienced firsthand the educational environment in different areas, Hilliard, OH, La Costa, CA, Gaithersburg, MD, and here in Grand Forks, including year-round versus traditional school, I can bring innovative ideas to the district. Clearly the status quo is not working and an inquisitive, creative mind is what I bring to the table.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

Neighborhood schools at the elementary level are beneficial but are also quite costly. The more buildings we have the higher the cost, not just in maintenance, but also in salaries. We must strike a balance between what we want and what we can truly support.

The simple reality is that with the current budget we are hard pressed to support all the schools, especially those with lower enrollment. We also have the issue of too many students in some schools. Both can be addressed through redrawing the lines, but this also disrupts the idea of a neighborhood school to begin with.

One solution to solve the overcrowding problem is year-round school. This calendar has many benefits over the traditional calendar as we can reduce the in-school population by 25% and student learning retention is superior to the traditional calendar. This also gives us flexibility in reducing class sizes without building more classrooms. Having learned in both a traditional and year-round environment, my firsthand knowledge shows that the year-round model is superior, especially in elementary grades.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

Having seen the condition of Valley Middle School I would support the referendum. That said, we need to make sure that we have a plan and present this to the community, not just for Valley, but on how this affects the district as a whole. Other buildings are also in distress and need to be refurbished or replaced and these need to be taken into consideration.

Our allocation of resources is very heavy on the non-building and maintenance side of the ledger. For comparison, Grand Forks has about the same mill levy as Bismarck, yet we only have about a third of Bismarck’s building fund per year.

Buildings and maintenance come down to priorities. When comparing Bismarck and Grand Forks, Bismarck spends over $1,000 less per pupil yet has higher performance than Grand Forks as a district with an average ACT score of 19.43 for Bismarck versus 16.69 for Grand Forks (major high schools only) in 2020-21.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

The current modus operandi of the school board is a relentless pursuit of a lower student teacher ratio. This, however, is not a cure-all and, in fact, has no bearing at the high school level on student performance. Consider that Bismarck Century currently ranks 3rd in the state but has an 18:1 student-teacher ratio, whereas Red River ranks 18th with a 12:1 student-teacher ratio. Hence, by simply recognizing that more teachers do not equal better outcomes is critical when addressing the budget deficit.

So where can a lower ratio help? Research from the Brookings Institute suggests that lowering the student-teacher ratio can have a significant impact on student learning at the lowest grade levels, in other words, when students are creating the tools, e.g., reading, to become more independent learners.

Teacher compensation is a common refrain and there are creative ways to increase pay while not actually spending more money. The easiest is to give teachers the choice of taking their health insurance allocation as cash in their pocket or get the district health insurance plan. This can immediately become a 10-15% pay increase without having the district spend more money for those teachers that do not need employer-provided health insurance. This policy works quite well in Minto.

While we tend to like neighborhood schools, supporting them is prohibitively expensive. Consolidating the low-attendance elementary schools may cost more on the front end (a new school would likely need to be built) but will save the district a substantial amount of money in salaries, mainly in non-teaching staff and administration.

Finally, toward the idea of decreasing the student-teacher ratio while also increasing learning rate, which is currently -5%, meaning that students are learning on the average 5% less per grade level than the national average, year-round school can do both without the need for completely new buildings to increase classroom space. This would require the addition of air conditioning in buildings as students will be there in the summer. This last idea is the most unorthodox and long-term but has proven successful where it has been tried and is preferable for both students and teachers.

Bill Palmiscno

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed? 

I would like to continue to serve on the GF School Board, the work of the school board is very important to the citizens of Grand Forks. I also have two grandchildren attending elementary school in GF. Facility needs and retention of staff is very important to me moving forward.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

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Bill Palmiscno, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
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Retention of Staff, as well as finding common ground and compromising on issues with so many opinions.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates?

My experience, empathy, budget knowledge and willingness to commit to the time needed makes me a good candidate.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools?

Continue to monitor enrollment at all schools, and case-by-case decisions are made as needed. I don't advocate or oppose, but hard decisions may be needed in the future.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

Yes, Valley Middle School needs to be replaced to provide equal opportunity for all students within our district. The Central Food Service facility needs to be moved out of a neighborhood location and placed in a better location to access all schools.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget?

The School District needs to follow its plan to achieve a sustainable balanced budget with an adequate general fund balance of 15%. The addition of ESSER funds and our 10 mil building fund levee that was just passed will help. The district needs to use the general fund for operations, the building fund and future referendums for large construction projects.
 

Mark D. Peterson

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed?

I want to make sure kids are getting a thorough American education that has a high regard for both the Declaration of Independence & Constitution (Bill of Rights included, of course) along with the North Dakota Constitution & the history of our nation & world. Those concerns along with focusing on reading, writing, math (accounting included), basic science (genetics included) & health/exercise are what really need to be focused on so that kids not only have a great knowledge base, but also an excellent understanding of what being an American is all about. Many Americans are losing their purpose for existence & the fire that our Founders had for our God-given rights should be illustrated & made very clear.

The big divisive issue that has recently been brought into the district by 'woke' forces that needs to be addressed is the focus on running statistics on certain things by skin tone with an underlying assumption that some things must be racist because the statistics are a certain way. We are 1 human race created in the image of God who should be judged by the content of our characters, not skin tone. I will work toward the school district not dividing by skin tone, but focusing on educational progress & achievement. "Dr" Brenda Lewis promoting 'LGBTQ+ Inclusive Schools' in her 1-24-22 presentation, as if we're under the obligation to check a box off with a radical sexualization-of-kids agenda that we've been seeing around the country, is reprehensible. The specific wording in one of the bullet points was "Promote Gender Equity And Support Transgender, Non-Binary And Gender Expansive Students" & another was "Addressing Anti-LGBTQ+ Bias". At the 3-14-22 board meeting, this divisive & perverted sexual agenda was called out by a middle school teacher & Board President Eric Lunn rudely interrupted him, telling him to "wrap it up" 27 seconds before his 3 minutes were even up & then telling him he was "way over your time" only 24 seconds after his 3 minutes. And keep in mind he was the only speaker that night & there's usually a decent amount of leeway with the 3 minutes. But Lunn seemed like he didn't want to hear any more of what the teacher had to say. I wonder why that is? Is it because we have some really sick adults in our school system that want to promote & talk about things of a sexual nature with little kids? That has to end. It's hard enough for parents to avoid corrupting influences outside of the schools. They don't need to contend with it there too, especially from the adults. What's most concerning is that zero board members spoke out against any of this trash being brought forward by Lewis. "Dr" Terry Brenner didn't say anything either, so they're all complicit in this folly. I don't think any of these board members care that they're putting many teachers in possibly very uncomfortable positions, just as they (all but Palmiscno) didn't care when blindly following what the corrupt and/or incompetent CDC/Public Health RECOMMENDED & ordered others to wear masks against their will. Anything regarding masks, shots or anything else of a potential medical nature should be completely optional & I would argue the board has no authority/jurisdiction to dictate anything be worn over people's breathing pathways. It's a School Board, not Medical Board. The other 4 board members who are not up for re-election this year should resign in shame ASAP.

What I outlined are completely unacceptable, inappropriate & un-American decisions by the board & we need to start over with a new majority of God-fearing, Constitutionally minded individuals who want to see kids become solid, critically thinking American citizens & not obedient little subjects of the state, given over to all kinds of sexual confusion. The Bible (the Book of our Founders) tells us from the beginning that there's only male & female & it's confirmed by God's designed genetic code. There should be no discussions of anything of an explicit sexual nature with minor children while in the employ of taxpayers.

Also, YouTube public comments need to be turned on. As of 5-10-22 they are not. The City Council has comments on, so the school board should too.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

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Mark Peterson, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
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Other than what I just wrote in question 1, from what I understand it's the list of building repairs & so forth that have been building up for quite a while now because of neglect & worrying about things like the focus on the garbage Brenda Lewis has introduced into the system. I think her whole salary could easily go toward making various improvements in the schools as her position is not necessary. I would also argue Brenner's position should be re-evaluated & at minimum a decent reduction of the salary of that position is in order, with whatever savings going toward repairs & good teacher performance.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? See question 1

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools?

I would propose to have a 3-4 hour forum on TV/Radio where parents, teachers, students & administrators would be able to come & ask tons of questions & voice concerns about anything they can think of. We would compile lists of concerns for each school & general concerns for the whole district & try to address them 1 by 1 based off the current budget.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not? 

No. A full audit of the books would have to be done 1st along with performance assessments for everyone & everything. Based off what I've seen, there's plenty of overhead that can be cut. I don't buy that we don't have the money available to make appropriate fixes where needed & to do things at conservative costs that would come in within a balanced budget. If I'm wrong about this, I would publicly admit it. I will always try to do everything possible before asking for even more money from taxpayers, who are being squeezed now with higher gas & product prices because of a lack of national leadership & corrupt, unelected global entities (World Economic Forum, World Health Organization, etc) attempting to take our nation down into their anti-God, fascist, global system.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? See questions 2 & 5

Kelly Schempp

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Schempp, in returning her questionnaire, included numerous third-party citations to verify her responses. Due to formatting and space concerns, those cited works are not included below)

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed?

Grand Forks is a wonderful community that I would like to see become the best it can be, and one of those “structural” pillars is our school system. I have been a part of our school district in many ways: teacher, parent, substitute, and volunteer. Being a school board member would be the next logical step for me to continue supporting our students and teachers, allowing me to broaden my scope beyond my local school. It has become evident over the past few years that we are facing dire issues within our schools including the deteriorating buildings, along with the continual strain placed upon teachers resulting in almost 10% leaving the profession this spring in the GFPS.

I want to bring my knowledge as a (previous) educator to the school board to help address the issues of teacher recruitment and retention in addition to the crippling facilities structures and systems. My personal background would not be the entire basis of my decisions while in office. Open communication with our educators, first-hand observations throughout the year, and student voice should drive the outcomes. We are not the ones in the classrooms or schools daily; we need to have their voices heard and respected as we go forward with their futures in our hands.

There is no way to prioritize one problem over the other; if we solely fix buildings, will we have teachers to teach in them? If we focus on our teachers, will we need to go back to remote learning without functioning schools? There is a symbiotic relationship between the two, so our solutions also need to address both at the same time. Strengthening our school system will help make a stronger and desirable Grand Forks for our current and future generations, and could draw families to relocate here.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board?

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Kelly Schempp, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
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Our school board and district are already facing two huge challenges: dwindling staff and facilities.

As a nation, teachers are leaving the profession in droves, and we’re seeing that right here in our city with a loss of almost 10% this year. We need to come together to assess the demands that are being made of our teachers and subsequently value their skills, monetary worth, mental health, and time. Teachers are a vital part of a functioning society, and it’s time we begin treating them duly. Addressing some major misconceptions needs to be the beginning of this change, so let's talk about a few.

“Teachers get summers off'' is a large response I’m hearing when discussing teacher salary and benefits. While it is technically true that teachers are contracted for only the 9 months of the school year, many teachers are signing back on to teach 10th month reading and math classes or Introduction to Kindergarten in elementary school, or additional summer courses in middle and high school levels. The driving factor behind the choice to work these summer classes is not always due to passion or the love of your job. It’s because teachers have rent/mortgage to pay, student loans, they want to eat, family needs, or they need to pay for additional required/recommended learning.

Did you know that teachers are required to complete 6 credit hours of college coursework for a 5 year teacher license (to be completed during the 5 years of teaching license) 1? Every 5 years they need to take 6 more credit hours (5 years = 6 credits, 10 years = 12 credits, etc.). The courses they pursue should be related to education or the subject matter they teach. Looking at UND, graduate courses begin at $479.28 per credit hour ( 6 x 479.28 = $2,875.68).

Teachers can search elsewhere (Mayville, NDSU, or online if the courses are eligible) this could result in less expensive credits, but the required dedicated time toward the course work remains the same - 2-3 hours of study for every hour they’re in class.

So for a three-credit course, teachers should expect to spend six to nine hours a week to study and comprehend the content. These are typically taken during the summertime because they already have too much on their plates during the school year.

So while teachers are not ‘contracted’ during the summer hours, they are still required or recommended to pursue further education to make sure they continue to stay up-to-date on any new methodologies regarding teaching, review content for the next school year, and prepare their classes for the start of the fall term.

Did you know, teachers are contracted from 8 am - 4pm? Even on “late start days” teachers need to get to the school ASAP - and do not get a 2-hour delay. Those times your kids don’t have school, neither do theirs (if they have any) and they can’t have them in the classrooms - they too need to pay for before/after school child care.

Did you know teachers only get a 25-minute lunch break? For elementary teachers, this time includes walking your class to and from lunch, so it could come out more like a 15-20 minute break. According to the contract revisions for the ‘21-’23 years, “each full time teacher shall be guaranteed a minimum twenty-five (25) minutes each day without supervisory or classroom responsibility for the purpose of a ‘duty free lunch.’

”It is common for teachers to forgo lunch to call parents, prepare lessons, finally go to the bathroom, or assist with student issues so it can not always be “duty free.”

Did you know, teachers don’t get bathroom breaks often throughout the day, because students need to be monitored? So that hour of prep time (sometimes broken into 30 minute chunks) includes their bathroom break, calls to parents, helping students with behavior issues, meetings with special education teams, meetings with principals about their biannual reviews (pre/post meetings), catch up with emails, and maybe, they get to prepare for the next lessons, grade papers, find supplemental materials for struggling/enriched students, and have discussions with team members.

Did you know teachers work at home and on weekends? It is common for teachers to come into schools on weekends (a lot of times with their own children), or work at home, after a full day of school, to catch up on the work they couldn’t get completed during their contracted times. Teachers are sacrificing their “out of work” time so our children can continue to learn in an engaging, organized, caring environment.

Did you know if a teacher is sick, they still need to write up a detailed lesson plan for the time of absence? This sometimes requires teachers to go into the classroom in the middle of the night, while sick, so our children will still be able to learn without them present. Sometimes between bouts of sickness, they need to make sure everything is detailed and laid out in their classroom for whomever is able to cover their day - if there is coverage (substitute).

These are the stresses that teachers are facing on a daily basis, when we add growing student behaviors, recently constant criticism from parents, lack of materials, and additional demands placed upon them because of canceled courses (this year, we required elementary teachers to teach art instead of having an Artist in the classroom and additional demand of enriching high performing elementary students due to the cancellation of the Enrichment program); it is no surprise they are leaving the profession. These cancellations have been championed by some community members because “they show the district is trying to save money,” but is it saving when we are further overwhelming our vital resources - teachers?

If we don’t find solutions to reduce our overworked and overwhelmed teachers, parents and community members should be prepared for (possibly) more remote learning to compensate for lack of staff, overcrowded classrooms, and potentially ineffective teachers (due to the additional demands that the lack of staff will place upon them). I implore voters (parents and business owners) to remember the beginning of the pandemic; the stress that it caused families in search of child care, or places of employment that needed to allow employees to work from home/modify schedules, or trying to figure out the coursework in order to assist your child(ren) with their assignments. In addition, if the quality of our schools dwindles, families could leave our city in search of better education for their families. This is not an issue that only affects teachers, it affects the community as a whole.

The second challenge we are facing now is our deteriorating facilities. Maintenance has been deferred for so long that we placed ourselves between a rock and a hard place. Like driving with our engine light on, our schools are having huge issues that we can no longer ignore. Valley Middle School is the perfect example of this; students and teachers go into school each day concerned if this is the day something stops functioning and requires the building to be closed. We are past the band aid phase where we can create a quick fix. A new facility needs to be created, the alternative could be remote learning for those students when the buildings become unavailable.

In addition to the needs of aging systems, we have needs of students which are not being met with the current facilities. We have students at Schroeder Middle School with disabilities that need modifications to their classroom. These are students who require assistance with the bathroom facilities or changing after they’ve soiled themselves. At this time, they need to walk across the busy hallway to get to the student bathroom and a closet, which is doubling as a changing room and storage. We are trying to create a safe and supported learning environment, but here we are requiring our vulnerable students to move through their peers while soiled. A remodel to this classroom to provide direct access to the bathroom and designating the closet space would increase the students’ dignity and sequentially their confidence. Additional modifications to this space would allow teachers to better assist students in learning valuable life skills.

We need to find the funding to fix our buildings and support our teachers. What we can’t do is to expect students to continue to wear winter coats in classrooms because the heat is not functioning, canceling classes at the start of the year because classrooms are too hot and unsafe, and shifting special needs classrooms throughout schools because they don’t have space to fit the requirements of their students. Nor ignoring teachers “cries” for better working environments.

Students and teachers should have a safe, clean, healthy, and caring environment to foster learning. It is our job as a community to provide that for our future generations. If we neglect these issues, we will have resonating effects on our community for decades to come.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates?

I have had a unique life which allows me to be empathetic while striving for the best. I was raised in a single parent home, struggling with poverty and homelessness. These early years helped shape my view on the world, left me with impactful experiences (good and bad) with the education system, and helped drive me to graduate from UND (B.S. in Elementary Education) with honors. Finally, starting my own family, becoming a teacher, and an active community member. This experience allows me to understand, empathize, and communicate with board members, educators, students, and families over the forthcoming years as we try to best meet the needs of our district.

In addition to being driven, I’m also analytical, creative, ambitious, critical thinking, and efficient. These traits were honed during my teaching years to help me be an effective teacher.

They have continued to serve me while on the PTO at my children’s school, and will do so on the school board as well. We need to have ‘fresh eyes’ and ideas when it comes to finding solutions to our current problems. Having an uncommon upbringing helped foster the skills needed to analyze our current strengths and weaknesses from multiple viewpoints, ask relevant questions to help derive needed evidence-based facts, and formulate a cohesive plan.

I’m going to be honest, I don’t have all of the solutions, but I will be ready to listen to teachers and students with an open mind, root out the different struggles they’re facing, and be ready to brainstorm to find answers. In turn, create comprehensive dialogue with the community members, including those without school-age children, for transparency and justification of outcomes.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools?
One quality I love about Grand Forks is the small-town feel with benefits of a larger city. This community feel is one of the driving reasons why my husband and I have decided to stay and raise our family here. Our neighborhood schools help foster that feeling and relationships with local families, and allow students to create lifelong friendships.

We do have many aging schools that are at capacity while in need of repairs or updating to meet ADA compliance. Eventually we will need to look at an addition being built upon an existing elementary school or a new facility being built. At this time, I think we should focus on the upkeep and repairs of our neighborhood schools. It is not a shock that we are being inundated with failing systems and structures, they haven't been fixed in decades - like buying an old house, they need TLC to bring them back to life to serve our future generations.

A majority of our elementary schools feed into Valley Middle School. If the referendum passes, it would make sense, to me, to continue to maintain and upgrade the current elementary schools that would feed into the brand new middle school. However, the data and numbers would dictate the final decision. A struggle we are dealing with when we look at renovating our current schools is it is more difficult (therefore costly) to remove existing systems and subsequently replace the new system in the old footprint. Looking at adding an addition to expand and fit the current and future growing capacities, we are lacking green space in which we can expand.

Eventually we will need to build a new school as our city continues to expand south, but with our current issues I don’t think this should be on our radar at this time. One concern would be: do we need to purchase land for future development or is there a way to place a ‘hold’ on it while houses are planned around?

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?
Yes, I will be supporting the referendum for a new Valley Middle School. If it is not supported, the building will continue to deteriorate, fall apart, and completely stop working for educational needs. Should this be the outcome, there is no clear next step. It could be remote learning for these students or dividing students and busing to South or Schroeder (which are already full). Neither of these outcomes can be a lasting solution; eventually now or in the future a new middle school needs to be built.

Passing this referendum will not only address the deteriorating building and systems, but we are replacing a “junior high” building layout with a “middle school” design. Even though the same subjects and grades will be taught in the new building, a few areas will change: layout, focus, and behavior.

Middle school layout is divided up by grade level, not by subject. You can see this in action at both Schroeder and South middle schools. Each grade is grouped together and further divided into teams. These teams have teachers for each content area (language arts, science, history, and math) which all share the same group of students. Instead of students traversing the school and multiple floors, they will be located in one area - a hallway, or a pod (group of classrooms with a central open area). This change would provide students with a sense of familiarity or family because they continue to see the same kids in all of their classes, and they all share the same teachers. In addition, the classrooms they pass are the ones they use.

Currently students will pass many classrooms and teachers, some completely unknown to them.

When we create these teams in a middle school setting, teachers are able to foster relationships with their students in and outside of the classroom when they pass in the hall. “According to the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), students in the middle grades need strong connections with peers and adults for academic and personal success.”

Transferring from elementary school to middle school is already a time of vulnerability for our students; this change will create an atmosphere of trust and alleviate a portion of the added stress for our students, while allowing teachers to work collaboratively towards student success.

Shifting the design from a junior high to middle school allows teachers to shift focus from
subject based to students focused.

By grouping by grade/team teachers can work together more easily because they are in close proximity and educate the same children (understand the individual student learning styles, required academic assistance, and student dynamics).

Teacher teams will be able to cooperate on cross-curricular projects (i.e., students can work on projects that will include writing an informational paper about the experiment they are creating in science) to further increase student engagement through project-based learning.

Students could also have input when designing lesions based on interest that cover the required standards. “The AMLE’s analysis of successful middle schools determines that high-performing schools are more likely to engage in student-centered instructional strategies such as collaborative projects and inquiry-based and project-based teaching than the random comparison sample of middle schools.”

Understanding the needs of each individual student allows teachers to brainstorm solutions to academic or behavior issues that may arise within their team.

“Middle school focuses on social, emotional, organizational and personality development
along with all the general subjects.”

“The goal of middle schools is to give sixth-, seventh-, and eight-graders opportunities to work in a collaborative environment that is more socially and academically challenging than elementary school.”

Students would see the same teachers when they pass through the hall, alongside the same kids. This familiarity allows for adults to identify behavior and academic concerns within their team, brainstorm solutions with other team members, and subsequently monitor the situation throughout the day, week, and year.

In conclusion, this referendum would allow us, as a district, to address the structural concerns, but along with the redesign many positive outcomes follow. The focus will further shift to student needs and involvement, and away from solely subject matter. Teachers will be able to collaborate together with much more ease creating an engaging environment for our students to flourish. Mental and emotional stressors upon students can be identified and diminished before they become an overwhelming obstacle resulting in academic struggles.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget?

There is no simple fix to our district’s deficit budget, but it needs to begin with transparency and communication with teachers, students, and community members. Back in ‘97, the horrific devastation highlighted the fantastic trait of our city - the strength of our community in times of need. We are in another time of need, but the evidence is not as obvious to the whole. A narrative needs to be shared of the struggles our students and teachers are facing and the future possible outcomes so all members of the community can understand the precipice we are standing on. The district cannot solve this alone, we need all hands on deck if we’re going to make it through these new rough times. Thinking outside of the box with creative fundraising, grant writing (currently utilized by the district), and possibly partnering with local/national stores we could offset funds required by the community.

Creative fundraising could include color runs, carnival (did someone say “dunk a principal”?), teacher and/or student battle of the bands, auction and dinner, etc. We have seen great success these past few years with the Greenway Takeover, art walks, and farmers markets; the district could follow suit with small goals to help offset the monetary requirements from the community. Grand Forks and surrounding towns want to have fun, enjoy the nice weather, and especially like to champion a cause.

There are companies that currently partner up with organizations and schools to help fund-raise. One such program is Amazon Associates. Our district could create an account with the program, and would be provided a link to share, think of it like a pathway. When/if our community members (or families across the country) access Amazon through this link and make purchases the district would receive 1%-10% of the sale (depending upon what department the items were purchased from - no one can see the names of customers nor the product types). Based on the number of Amazon boxes that can be seen around town on recycling day, this would bring in some funds (no guarantee on amount) and at this time, every little bit helps.

No matter our solution, we need to come together as a community to help save our school district by updating our existing facilities that are breaking down or not meeting ADA compliance and therefore not meeting student needs, and reducing the demands being placed upon our teachers. We are North Dakota strong, together we can!

Marie Stewart

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed?

I have always been passionate about education, especially for children. We must ensure every child receives the best, foundational, education we can provide. We need to equip our youth with the knowledge and the skills they need to become successful adults. In our district there is room for improvement. I am willing to dedicate my time, use my creative ambition, and put in work to move the district forward and improve the educational opportunities for all students. As our children continue to grow and evolve we must continuously refine our approach and focus on current needs. The best interest of our kids needs to be at the heart of every decision. The board makes decisions that affect the day-to-day operations of the district and that directly affect every child's outcome.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board?

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Marie Stewart, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
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The most obvious challenges our board faces will be managing a fiscal budget and deciding how to move forward with facilities plan and current building needs.

As for the future I feel we need to rethink our current instruction and operation method. I am concerned that with the amount of new online and distance education, the opportunities for a more personalized and innovative learning style our schools will struggle to maintain enrollment numbers adequate to fund schools.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates?

As a parent and lifelong resident I have a vested interest. I am eager and willing to participate in meetings and decision making. My strong desire for stewardship to others motivates me. I bring a unique and fresh perspective to the board. Some of my relevant strengths are my willingness to learn and understand. I have the strength to shoulder many responsibilities and hold myself accountable. Having watched the last 5 years of school board meetings religiously, I feel I am qualified and familiar with almost everything. I have a good attitude and a positive mindset. My ability to manage emotions and stress in a calm and empathetic way shows self discipline. I always present myself in a creative yet professional way. I strive to be proactive, productive, and forward focused.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools?

I am in favor of keeping neighborhood schools. Many families purchase homes near schools they hope their children can attend. I think it would be worthwhile to get a second opinion on current building needs. As of now all buildings in need of massive repairs are currently serving our students. Under ESSER, all HVAC projects were eligible for funding using the $28 million awarded to GFPS. A plan for biannual routine building inspections and maintenance checklists should be required for every facility. There should never be a deferred maintenance list. The people of Grand Forks want functional, comfortable and safe schools to send their kids. A white paper published by SSC states, "After four years of studying small schools closely and developing the largest library of small schools research in the world, we now understand that small schools are no more expensive than today’s consolidated schools. Our findings show there are additional costs to large consolidated schools that small schools avoid; small schools are safer, have higher teacher retention rates, have higher parent involvement, greater academic success, and produce more active citizens. Therefore, there are many cost advantages to small schools that are of interest to educational stakeholders, including students, teachers, families, administrators, policy makers, and taxpayers."

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

The current school board made the decision to hold a special election on September 27th for the $55 million referendum. The voters will decide the fate of Valley Middle School.

In March, I attended the public forum where we discussed 4 questions regarding the future facilities plan. Information gathered at the forum led to the board holding off on their asks. The first question was the $55 million for VMS, the second question was how we felt about a $76 million dollar referendum (the $55 million for VMS, plus an additional $21 million) to reinvest in Schroeder Middle School, stating roof problems and the need for a medically fragile suite.

It is peculiar that the approval for a $55 million dollar ask came at the same time as the board declared a state of emergency to address problems at Schroeder.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget?

Of course I have ideas but to make any changes it would take a majority vote by board. To be brief, we either need to increase funding or decrease spending. I do not support a tax increase but do favor a total budget evaluation. We can increase funding by enrollment growth or per pupil funding, in order to do this we need to give families a reason to educate their children here. The other option is to decrease spending. To do this effectively we must audit, evaluate and make cuts where it is needed. Limiting outside consultants and hiring efficient district employees that are multi-skilled (at least in the building and grounds department) would be ideal. Also the number of administrative positions continues to grow, while most are making over $100,000.

Brad Sturlaugson

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed?

My reasons for running for the GF School Board is that I think the school is not teaching our children basic knowledge they need to succeed in adult life. Not all children are being taught spelling words, I think they are relying on computer spell check too much. Some middle school students are unable to write or even read cursive. These issues concern me.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board?

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Brad Sturlaugson, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.

I think the school board has a problem with managing money, I don’t think the taxpayers need to give them more money if they are unable to manage what they already have.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates?

I would bring back accountability. I will make the school administration accountable for the money they receive. They cannot defer repairs to the schools until it’s too late. I am the current president of the South Forks Lions Club and am able to work with people in a leadership role. Being involved in other community organization, I am able to work with people with differing ideas.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools?

Buildings age and they need required maintenance and sometimes reconstructive maintenance, eventually they need to be replaced but that can be done in sections and over several years with planning and budgeting. We need schools in neighborhoods, because children need to learn in an environment they are familiar with.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not?

The proposed referendum is not needed with the proper budgeting of the tax dollars the GF School receives from the state and federal government.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget?

I think there are items in the budget that can be cut or reallocated to make the funds the schools receive work.

David Waterman

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed?

There are multiple problems that are not being addressed, and even worse, additional problems have been created by Superintendent Terry Brenner and the existing school board. Over the past two years, parental autonomy has been undermined while a dictatorial atmosphere has been created. Parents have effectively been locked out of making decisions that affect their children in profound ways. To site just one example. I along with numerous other experts in science, medicine, and mental health have advised Superintendent Brenner, and the existing school board to allow parents and children to make their own decisions about mask-wearing in school, citing an abundance of credible scientific and medical evidence that forcibly masking children provides no benefits to the children or to the teachers, but in fact puts them at risk for social, mental, emotional and physical harm. The school board scoffed at the information presented to them, and as a result some Grand Forks schools proceeded to kick children out of school even though these children had verified medical conditions that prevented them from wearing masks. (Those children are now being homeschooled.) Making children suffer because adults are too lazy to educate themselves with the facts is inexcusable to me.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

I believe the most pressing challenge facing the board today is a complete lack of true leadership. As I listened to one speaker after another give testimony about why they should be implementing different policies in school to protect and not harm the children, the consistent response was, “We’re just following CDC guidelines.” Guidelines are not rules, or laws. They are guidelines, and they should be evaluated based on individual need, pre-existing medical and emotional conditions, and fitness or the individual, not shoved down people’s throats, especially if those people are children. That is not leadership, that’s “followship.” The school board needs to be comprised of leaders who know how to think, evaluate, and act according to the facts available to them, not to act as rubber stamps for bureaucrats.

The lack of leadership is also very evident in the boards adherence to, and concurrent denial of major issues like “Critical Race Theory” and the LGBTQ agenda. They ignore the pleadings of both parents and teachers seeing the devastating consequences of forcing such nonsense on our children. This is not a problem in Grand Forks alone, it is being implemented in public schools across the country, with disastrous consequences. At least two girls (in Louden County, VA) have already been sexually assaulted and sodomized by a boy wearing a dress who was allowed by the school to use the girls bathroom. This is complete insanity, and yet that’s what our current school board wants for Grand Forks public schools. I find the idea of using our public schools as a testing ground for the most radical gender theory experiments to be reprehensible, destructive, and grossly immoral, and as a member of the school board I would resist it at every opportunity, and fight to make our public schools safe havens for reality, not bizarre experiments on children.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

I have been married for 28 years and raised three children in Grand Forks. In addition, I have started and run three successful businesses in Grand Forks. But more than that, I actively study the issues that are facing our children today. Childhood is the most impressionable time in a person's life. We need school board members who actually know what’s going on, who is trying to influence our public school policy and why they are doing it. Based on what I’ve seen and heard over the past two years, I don’t think any of our current school board members understand any of those things. I do.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

Neighborhood schools are very attractive to most neighborhoods and most parents. I believe neighborhood schools should be encouraged and supported, not abandoned.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not? 

I will not support any additional funding mechanisms until our current ones have been thoroughly examined and reviewed. I believe there is great waste in our current system that needs to be addressed first.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

(see my answer to question 5)

Emily Wros

1. Why do you want to serve on the Grand Forks School Board? Is there a particular issue or problem that you believe is not being addressed?

I am running for school board to do my part in supporting an important community resource. Good schools are essential in keeping Grand Forks a great place to live. I will defend students’ freedom to learn and partner with teachers and staff to keep Grand Forks Public Schools a rewarding place to work.

2. What is the most pressing challenge (or challenges) facing the board? 

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Emily Wros, 2022 candidate for Grand Forks School Board.
Submitted

The most pressing challenge facing the board is a looming shortage of qualified teachers and staff. A close second is the weak financial position of the school district.

3. What strengths would you bring to the board and how do you differentiate yourself from other candidates? 

I work as a librarian at the University of North Dakota, and libraries face many of the same challenges as schools, such as budget constraints, communicating with the public about policy decisions, and balancing competing community needs. I serve as the Intellectual Freedom Committee chair for the North Dakota Library Association and understand how the First Amendment applies to children and educators, which could prove useful in today’s political environment.

4. It’s been said Grand Forks has too many aging schools that require extensive and costly repairs. What are your views on the number of schools in Grand Forks and, particularly, on neighborhood schools? 

Neighborhood schools are an asset. They raise property values and encourage community spirit. Unfortunately, it’s often more expensive to renovate an old building than to construct new, or to run several small buildings instead of a few large ones, and I expect that it will be necessary to consolidate.

5. Will you support the proposed $55 million referendum? Why or why not? 

Based on my current understanding of the situation, I'll support the referendum. I have concerns about how we came to be in this fiscal situation in the first place, but here we are. Buildings don’t fix or build themselves, and construction crews won’t work for free.

6. Do you have ideas to address the school district’s deficit budget? 

First, we’ll need a clear goal of what we want to achieve financially, and why. Then, I would start by asking the state legislature for more funding, since state revenues look like they will be on the rise for the next few years. There may be untapped federal resources available. Fundraising from foundations or large private donors is another avenue worth exploring.

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