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Vicki Ericson, candidate for GF School Board

Interview with Vicki Ericson, one of seven candidates for four seats on the Grand Forks School Board. Q. Tell us about yourself why you decided to run for school board. A. My name is Vicki Ericson. I'm an agent for State Farm Insurance in Grand F...

Interview with Vicki Ericson, one of seven candidates for four seats on the Grand Forks School Board.

Q. Tell us about yourself why you decided to run for school board.

A. My name is Vicki Ericson. I'm an agent for State Farm Insurance in Grand Forks. I'm a small business person. I have three children who graduated from the Grand Forks School District.

My husband, Tom, is a member of the insurance agency staff.

I was one of the individuals asked to sit in as a community representative on the interviews for the new superintendent As a result, I started thinking about the future of the district and what it has given to my children and my family. And I decided it was time for me to take part in the administrative or leadership side.

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Q. How did you get selected to take part in that interview process? Did you have to apply?

A. No. I've been a volunteer for a number of years. We've lived in Grand Forks for 10 years. I have volunteered for Junior Achievement, teaching classes, Summer Performing Arts and the Community Foundation.

As a result, I was selected because of what I've been able to contribute as a volunteer.

Q. Where did you live before you came here? Where are you from?

A. I'm from Colorado originally, then I lived in Wyoming before coming here to Grand Forks.

Q. Any big differences in the schools between here and there?

A. Yes, definitely.

There is a true commitment to education in this community. I feel that needs to be continued. The reason we're in Grand Forks is because of the educational opportunities for our kids. At the time we made the commitment, our daughter was interested in the aviation school at UND. That, with the combination with having a chance to visit with former superintendent Mark Sanford for an hour and a half, convinced us that we needed to choose here versus a number of other opportunities we had, including California, back East and several other states out West. We chose here strictly because of the educational opportunities.

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Q. Was your oldest daughter in high school at the time?

A. Yes. Our middle son was interested the arts, and our youngest daughter was interested both in education and the arts. All three of them graduated and have been able to succeed in their various levels of interest.

Q. You're a SPA parent?

A. Yes, I'm a SPA parent.

Q. Since coming here, has your experience lived up to your expectation?

A. Yes, it has. In fact, in Colorado, we were seeing a reduction in all the extracurricular activities -- sports, music, arts, orchestra -- all of the things that, I think, that create the quality of life that people need. The dollars weren't there, and the people were not willing to support the programs.

We had one teacher in the elementary school who was supporting five different schools' music programs. Students don't get much attention when you have that kind separation between the teacher and student and limited time.

So, we saw a real difference in the schools; and as a result, they've also seen an increase in student to teacher numbers. It wasn't unusual for a classroom to have 40 to 50 students for one teacher. We experienced the negative side of funding in our school.

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Q. Colorado had passed a TABOR law -- the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. Was that before or after you were there?

A. It started right before we left, and we saw it limit the dollars that the districts could collect.

It had a terrible impact. We don't want to see that happen here. I understand the need to make schools more cost-effective and to look at the mill levy, but I don't support decreasing programs for the sake of decreasing programs.

Q. Some in North Dakota note that while the money going to the school district has gone up, often above the rate of inflation, enrollment has gone down. Are property taxes too high? Do we need a TABOR law in North Dakota to bring things under control?

A. I haven't served on the board, so I don't have all the facts relating to the budget. I do have some general knowledge, but my feeling is that everything should be looked at consistently -- and if we're not spending dollars appropriately, then we need to reevaluate.

I think with the new superintendent coming in and a new group of board members, all of those things will be reviewed. But as far as just saying, "Let's limit how many dollars can be used by the school district," that is just too detrimental.

I think we can work together to improve where the dollars are being spent, but I'm not sure that looking at it on a pure pupil-to-dollar basis is really going to get us to where we want to go.

Also, in talking to former and current parents, they're satisfied with the education their children are getting. In talking to people who've graduated from here and gone on to various industries and colleges, they're very pleased with the base that they received.

It is fine to think of reducing property taxes. I pay substantial property taxes, and I also pay business taxes. But we can't just cut taxes and destroy the potential economic development that we need to sustain our standard of living.

Q. The threat of that happening -- is that what prompted you to run for office?

A. That, but more important, just the fact that I've been a business person and had a varied background in business.

I was in banking for 10 years. I was a department head for a city; I have been in the insurance industry; I'm a small-business person. And, I'm a parent.

So, I have a background that would let me bring some things to the school district. I want education to be excellent, and I want our future to be sound.

I was recently traveling and walked through an international airport, and every fifth person was from China. I know we have to compete internationally, and we have to start in Grand Forks to do that.

I want to be a part of that. I want to make a difference.

Q. Are there places you would like to see the district grow?

A. When we arrived in North Dakota, our daughter had taken German for three years and was not able to continue that here. She was very disappointed because it was a language she truly appreciated, enjoyed and wanted to continue. So: Foreign languages are definitely important.

My daughter is in college right now and is living with an individual who has taken nine years of Spanish. She is going to be able to use that as her second language, and with our population shifts, we are going to need that kind of background in our students.

So, languages are one area.

And I am truly committed to the arts. That is because I feel it rounds out an individual. Our ACT scores in Grand Forks are some of the highest in the nation; and the students who test well tend to have a combination of the arts, music, theater -- all of those things that round out a person. It helps them excel in their test scores.

So I think we have to continue to contribute dollars to those areas.

Q. Have you heard about the new expansion at Red River that will include a theater? What are you thoughts about that?

A. It's my understanding that the existing theater at Red River was initially designed as a multipurpose room. It wasn't truly designed as a theater.

And after having seen performances in Fargo, Bismarck and Minnesota -- seeing some of the facilities our students must use versus our competition -- I think we seriously need to look at it.

Q. You had a youngster who went through SPA?

A. I had three children who went through SPA. It was the first program our kids were introduced to when we arrived.

My son is working in New York City in the film industry but also working for Apple Computer. His background and his time in the theater, music and all of the programs here helped him land the job he's in and succeed in the industry.

Our youngster daughter has a double major in theater and elementary education. She has been on stage and excelled in the theater. Our oldest daughter, because of her time in SPA, was able to excel in her self confidence -- her self-esteem.

Another of the things that SPA brings is the mentoring involved. There are kids for whom this is their life. This is where they find their friendships and where they gain interests.

I just have been amazed at what we in Grand Forks have been able to offer. We have been very blessed.

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