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School board candidates took the hot seat as voters asked questions

Oct. 6, 2008

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

DASSEL-COKATO, MN - Potential Dassel-Cokato School Board members took the hot seat Thursday evening as community members were able to ask what each one could bring to the district.

To start off the meeting, each candidate introduced themselves and gave brief, but informative answers as to why they should be elected to sit on the board.

All of the five candidates were in attendance: Matt Cron, Mark Linder, Tracy McConkey, Jenny Lee, and Irene Bender.

Questions included how the candidates felt about No Child Left Behind, four-day school weeks, and where they feel the district will be in five years.

In regards to the No Child Left Behind, each of the candidates were opposed to it, saying it came with a lack of funding.

Cron said the best way to deal with education is at the local level and not at the federal level.

“If we could withdraw from it, it might not be a bad thing,” Cron said.

Lee urged the public to contact legislators and advocate for changes in the law.

With an unstable economy and decreasing market values for homes, many of the candidates felt it was hard to predict where the district would be in five years.

Bender responded that she is happy the levy passed, and advised the goals of the district need to be realistic.

McConkey would like to continue to see a financially responsible district as the main goal.

On the issue of four-day school weeks, Cron said, “On the surface, I really like the idea,” but, he said more research needs to be done on how it would affect students and teachers with one more day off and longer school days.

Lee said it would be too much pressure on parents having to find something to do for their kids during that extra day off of school.

If, or when, the district would have to make cuts, the candidates were asked by an audience member where their priorities would be.

“The community wants to know their school is running as lean as it can,” said McConkey, explaining cuts would start at the top, and not at the bottom.

Lee said a well-rounded student is important, participation in activities, and whatever would least impact the students would be her goals during budget cuts.

Linder would look for other ways to allocate where revenue could come from.

Current board member Richard Tormanen asked for suggestions as to ways in which the board can better communicate with the community and its taxpayers.

McConkey thought forums such as this were a good way to inform voters, as well as taking polls and listening to what the community wants.

“[As elected officials] we need to do what the [voters] want us to do,” he said.

Cron suggested the board be at each of the school’s open houses and during conferences to have a presence and for the parents to get to know them.

Linder commended the board in what they have been doing to better communicate to the public and said it’s “unrealistic” to get to everyone.

He explained only about 20 percent of the community are “passionate” about what goes on in the district, and many only pay attention when the district is trying to pass a levy.

Lee would like to see more community members join PTA because it acts as a “conduit” between parents and the board.

With the DC PTA hosting the forum, vice president of the volunteer organization, Melissa Weckwerth said, following the meeting, she was pleased with the attendance.

About 50 people were present, with a good mix of community members and school staff.

The issue Weckwerth seemed to see as one of the big issues, one which she would like to see continue, is the improvement of communication between the school board and the community.

Weckwerth added the district has been addressing this and is doing better, but progress needs to continue.

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