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Menahga School Board candidates

Three Menahga School Board positions are on the 2016 election ballot. Incumbents Curtis Hasbargen and Brad Goehrig are seeking re-election. Julia Kicker, Jon Kangas and Robert E. Smith are also vying for a seat.

The Park Rapids Area League of Women Voters hosted a Menahga School Board candidate forum Oct. 13. A video of the event is posted at LWV's blog (

All" target="_blank">lwvparkrapidsarea.blogspot.com/2016/10/menahga-school-board-candidate-forum.html).

All

of the candidates responded to a short questionnaire from the Park Rapids Enterprise:

What prompted your decision to file for office?

Goehrig: I was a teacher and coach in the Menahga School District for 34 years from 1971-2005. I am currently ending my second four-year term on the Menahga School Board. In the very near future, the Menahga Board will have to make some very important decisions in regards to space issues and student numbers in classrooms. I feel I have the experience needed to help the board make these important decisions for our community to be prepared for the future.

Hasbargen: I enjoy the challenge. Having lived in the school district my entire life, I have a unique understanding of my constituents. An effective board member's role is to make policy and engage stakeholders, all with the ultimate goal of improving student achievement. Being on the Menahga School Board is a privilege and a responsibility I take seriously.

Kicker: Some of the issues our school faces and has been facing for some time, I hope I am able to bring new ideas. I hope I am someone who can bring the communities ideas to light and let the community know that their ideas have merit, that I am not just asking their opinion to fill space I really do want to know what they think, and their opinion matters (and, yes, I know we can't make everyone happy) but if the administration would have listened the last time we were looking at a building referendum, maybe we would not have failed at it three times.

I am also a parent of 13 children and I will be part of this community for quite some time. I have ideas. I'm a good listener. I am easy to talk to. I am not an afraid to say anything, so here I am!

Smith: I am concerned about the education that our children are receiving and the far reach of the federal government telling school districts what they can and can't do or teach. I believe this should be left the the state and local schools.

Kangas: Six years ago when I first ran for school board I was concerned about the decreasing "shop" class options and preparing students for careers in lieu of college. With Minnesota Department of Education now pushing the "World's Best Workforce," I realize I was not alone in my thinking. The other reason I decided to run for office was the biased and misleading information coming from the school district while not clearly addressing community concerns or exploring more affordable options. My reasons for filing this year have not changed. Additionally, I feel parents are not clearly being made aware of all the opportunities for their children, including post-secondary and home schooling options and support with part-time and full-time options.

Define your background, including experiences you bring to the school board.

Goehrig: Being a teacher, coach, athletic director, and having been on the school board for eight years has given me two perspectives—from both an employee of the district and as one of the six board members who authorize when, where and how the school district's money is spent. We have made some important decisions in the areas of academic achievement and technology that have helped our students and school become a leader in these areas.

Hasbargen: I live on a farm west of Menahga with my wife, Gwen. We have two daughter that attended and graduated from Menahga High School. Megan is a high school math teacher in Whitewater, Wisc. Kristen is a physician's assistant in Chicago.

I graduated from Bemidji State University with a teaching degree but chose farming as my lifelong occupation. I have been both an employer and an employee. In the private sector, I have managed a turkey farm, later a dairy farm and more recently, I have been a crop farmer. In the public sector, I worked as a substitute teacher and bus driver. I have been on the Menahga School Board for several years. These life experiences have helped prepare me by developing collaborative decision-making techniques and money management skills necessary to be an effective board member.

Kicker:

• On city council for almost 7 years, stepped down due to moving out of city limits

• Policy council representative for Head Start for two years

• Liaison between Head Start and Ottertail-Wadena Community Action

• Coordinator for the Menahga 4th Grade "Hooked on Fishing Not on Drugs"

• Started the Cal Ripken League baseball team in Menahga

• One of the first "High School Boys Basketball Boosters" board members

I am not afraid of hard work. I am energetic. We have about 1,000 children and their families are looking to us to make good, responsible decisions about their futures and the futures of their families. These children will be making important decisions about futures some day; let's give them a solid foundation to build those decision on.

Smith: I am new at this. I have never before ran for any state office, although I have been involved in education all my life as a pastor in Christian education and for the past 30 years I have worked in the education system as a bus driver, sub teacher, coach. I am a novice to the kind of work that the school board would be involved in, but promise to work hard for the people of the Menahga School District. I will apply myself to learn and work at being a quick study. As well as working with the other board members, I'll be learning from them as well.

Kangas: I'm 57 years old and have worked in multiple fields of building construction along with 14 years of government service. I also designed and developed a small, residential subdivision near Menahga. My construction and development background helps in understanding zoning laws, land surveys, blueprints and building options. I served as a Menahga School Board member from 2010-2014, so I know the roles and responsibilities of board members.

I fully understand the poor economic conditions and high taxes facing our community. This requires full financial disclosure and careful consideration before increasing levies and then making sure the taxpayers are getting the best value for their tax dollars for any improvement projects. I do not support the practice of levying the max just because "we can."

The Menahga School District is facing a space shortage. What courses of action do you think the school board should take?

Goehrig: As most people know in our community, we are and have been facing a shortage of classroom space for our students. In the last eight years, we have had our student population grow from approximately 700 students to now 1,000 students. We are currently out of any extra space for classrooms and will be one to two classrooms short for next year.

We are just completing a 10-year strategic plan and have just had a facilities study done by FJJ, a company that helps schools with space shortages. This study will be made public to our community within the next two to three weeks. Then with a strong input from our community, employees of the district and the school board, we will make the important decision on what plan we will come up with to eliminate our space shortages. It will be a plan that will rely on ideas from our community that will be the most cost effective for our taxpayers, but also solve the needs of our growing student population that will hopefully level off in 2022 at around 1,150 students.

Hasbargen: The last bond issue to pass in Menahga was in 1992. We replaced the 1922 addition with a new high school. At that time, we had 730 students. Our student numbers slowly grew to 772 by the 2009-10 school year. Due to an increase of 230 students in seven years, we now have 1,000 students. In four more years, our numbers will increase approximately 120 students. This is a total increase of 400 (54 percent) since 1992.

Because of the overcrowding, the board initiated bond issues in 2009, two in 2010 and one in 2014. They varied from $4,350,000 to $15,710,000 and all failed to pass. We are now in crisis mode for space. Reality is that we have not passed a bond issue for a quarter of a century. It's now at a point that it impairs our present curriculum and impedes future plans. We are currently working with Foster, Jacobs and Johnson, Inc. to help determine our facility needs. This will give us solid data for decision-making. We now have 1,000 individuals in our school who expect and deserve the chance to reach their full educational potentials.

In our board's code of ethics policy, it states that board member must "attempt to appraise and plan for both the present and future educational needs of the school district and community." Our inadequate facility problem has been evident for years. For the sake of the children of this community, I hope you will join me in supporting plans to improve the facilities of the Menahga School.

Kicker: Build, but responsibly, an addition that works for the long haul, for everyone, what Menahga needs.

Smith: I believe that the school is growing and the future is hard to figure out 100 percent. So we will look at all the opinions that come before us. I do believe that we can't just keep adding on. In the future, we may have to build and that will mean looking at the economy and the tax base and if this is something we can do without being a big burden on the taxpayers of Menahga School District as well as open enrollment. Nothing will be overlooked.

Kangas: The current space shortage has been defined as "self-imposed" because it is directly related to the 25 percent (+/-) of the student body that come from outside of the district through its open enrollment policy. One of my concerns is the district's biased and seemingly misleading information which implies that we are profiting from open enrollment and more is better. Their financial "facts" often don't make sense when scrutinized.

Open enrollment is a good option for students in some cases, but when it causes overcrowded conditions for resident students is it still a good thing? Filling open seats can be a financial benefit in some cases, but when classes are crowded creating a need for building expansion, any benefit turns into a deficit and needs to be clearly explained to the voters. The forgotten side of the open enrollment is the losing district. Our district often touts the additional dollars it brings in; however, where is the concern of how it affects the neighboring districts that are losing those dollars? It can turn into a battle of offering more to try drawing students back and forth? This makes it difficult for long-term planning as we could also experience a sudden shift of students to another district.

Before taking any action I feel the number one goal is to put all the facts on the table, not just the ones supporting a large building referendum. Then the district needs to openly and clearly respond to all concerns raised by community members, not just listen for public perception. Then let the resident voters decide. There are more affordable options as have been shown in the past but ignored with an all-or-nothing approach. We need to restore openness, accountability, trust and honesty.

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