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School budget at issue

Candidates differ on ways to solve problems

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

Candidates for the Rochester School Board on Tuesday tackled issues ranging from attendance boundary adjustments to a looming state budget deficit in a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

The candidates include Ann Lynch and Chris Miksanek for Seat 2; Jim Pittenger and Tom O'Hanlon for Seat 3; Mohamoud Hamud and Mechelle Severson for Seat 4; Trent Fluegel and Fred Daly for Seat 5; and Kim Norton and Don Williams for Seat 6. O'Hanlon was the only candidate not at the forum.

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Miksanek, a Seat 2 candidate, began his opening statement attacking the notion that more money necessarily means better education.

He said that a year after the district passed an excess levy measure, "test scores at my neighborhood school actually dropped. I don't believe that money will improve education," he said. The largest contributor to a child's success is parental involvement, he added.

Fred Daly, a candidate for Seat 5, portrayed the district's budget as being virtually insatiable. "We can't get enough of it," he said. It was imperative, he said, for the district to get its budget under control or face the possibility of another referendum.

Daly said that while studying the district's budget he counted 40 programs the board should consider as candidates for budget cuts. "We may not cut them but we ought to at least look at them."

Trent Fluegel, running against Daly for Seat 5, took a more expansive view of the district's role. He said some of the district's finest programs are not necessarily K-12-based programs but come out of Community Education. He also noted that life-long learning is the district's mission.

Don Williams, a candidate for Seat 6, also pointed to the state's looming $3.2 billion deficit as the biggest challenge facing the district. Williams, a persistent critic of the board, said the district's fiscal challenges demanded a "fresh perspective" and stressed his experience in the Baldridge process of continual improvement. "We must learn to do more with less through progressive quality management and system changes," he said.

The district's efforts to redraw attendance boundaries -- an effort that has brought an outpouring of criticism from parents -- took center stage at Tuesday's forum. Some have suggested that a decision be delayed, so the issue can be studied further. But Ann Lynch, a Seat 2 candidate who serves on the district's boundary committee, said there was "no merit in delaying this decision."

Mechelle Severson, a candidate for Seat 4, agreed. "There will be boundary changes made whether we do it based on the recommendations of this group" or the mandate of the state.

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Jim Pittenger, a candidate for Seat 3, seemed to voice support for a slower approach, "unless there are definite reasons that the district is forced to make a decision …; immediately."

Other candidates talked about their motivation for running.

Mohamoud Hamud, a candidate for Seat 4 and a native of Somalia, said even as a resident of the United States for the past 30 years, he still has difficulty "getting the right words." He said immigrants face challenges in going through a new school system. "I can be the one who can remind you of their needs."

Kim Norton, a candidate for Seat 6, referred to her experience. She said that if elected, she would be the only member who has completed a term. "I believe this kind of experience and perspective will be important for a new board and I'm the one that can provide that."

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