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Candidates: Board must communicate

Hopefuls for school board speak out

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

A bevy of candidates facing primaries for the Rochester School Board used a forum Monday to introduce themselves and talk about issues they say are critical for maintaining a healthy district.

A theme touched on repeatedly by candidates, especially those running for the first time, was the need to improve communication between the board and the public.

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"I think the district needs to make a point of getting the information out and needs to make a point of getting feedback from people using their services," said Jim Pittenger, who is running for seat three.

"I believe the communication perhaps could have been better between the board and the community," said Darla Little, a candidate for seat four. "Some people have expressed concern about the school board and the way things are run."

The debate, sponsored by the local League of Women Voters and the Post-Bulletin, allowed candidates to make opening and closing statements, as well as field comments from panelists and the audience.

The candidates facing primaries are: Pittenger, April Gonzales-Moeller and Tom O'Hanlon for seat three; Little, Mohamoud Hamud and Mechelle Severson for seat four; and Kim Norton, Don Williams and Lynn Keeler for seat six. Hamud and Norton were not present and pre-recorded their comments prior to the forum. Gonzales-Moeller did not participate.

The two top vote-getters in each race will advance to the general election on Nov. 5. Altogether, five of seven board seats are up for election, making it an election with the largest number of open seats in recent memory.

Communication was not the only topic of discussion. Candidates offered their views about beverage contracts, the board's role, diversity issues, and the impact of budget cuts on programs.

"I'm very concerned with the budget cuts, especially in the area of music and the arts," said Keeler. "It bothers me that we don't have after-school programs any more and yet we let our (middle school) kids out 45 minutes earlier than the high school kids and we don't have anything for them to do now."

Although candidates all talked about ways to improve the performance of the board, none were as critical as Williams, who called a vote for his candidacy a vote for a new direction.

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"There seems to be a lack of objective leadership, accountability and communication with the public," said Williams, who was one of three voters to force a recount of ballots of last fall's levy election. "It troubles me that when citizens ask questions of the board, they are criticized as unsupportive of children, education and the community."

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