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Menahga School Board candidates face off at debate

Candidates for Menahga School Board include, from left, Brad Goehrig, Curtis Hasbargen, Al Peterson, Daniel Rippentrop, Tim Ellingson and Durwin Tomperi. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Menahga School Board candidates each said they are running to make sure students have the best education possible.

The League of Women Voters of Park Rapids sponsored a candidate forum Monday night for the six candidates running for school board.

Incumbents Brad Goehrig, Curtis Hasbargen and Al Peterson, along with challenger Daniel Rippentrop are vying for three, four-year spots. Incumbent Durwin Tomperi and challenger Tim Ellingson are running in a special election for a two-year term that opened when board member Mel Lockhart passed away.

Goehrig is a retired Menahga School teacher, coach and athletic director. His number one reason for being on the school board is to do what's best for the students.

Hasbargen has served on the board for seven years and said that during his tenure on the board the district has been progressive yet been fiscally responsible.

Peterson said he views a position on the school board as carrying out the will of the voters. He said he will strive to keep a balance between what's best for the students and what taxpayers can afford.

A number of teachers are a part of Rippentrop's family. He is a local businessman and wants to do the best he can to work for the students and parents of the district.

Ellingson grew up and attended school in Menahga. He's interested in getting the "best bang for the buck" as a taxpayer and preparing the students for the real world.

Tomperi was born and raised in Menahga. He has two students currently attending North Dakota State University, which he said gives him a clear idea of what the district needs to do to prepare kids for the future.

Candidates were asked several tough questions submitted by the audience.

First, they were asked about teacher negotiations, which are still ongoing, and what, if anything they would do to reach a resolution.

Hasbargen is on the negotiating committee and said that he thought the current deal was almost settled but when it went to the teachers the deal was turned down. The negotiating committee is waiting for another proposal from the union.

Peterson agreed that it seemed like an agreement was close. The committee is motivated by shared sacrifice, he said. Other employees in the district have had freezes or very small raises. With a down economy, the school district is working with what taxpayers can afford, he said.

Tomperi said that people need to recognize that teacher contracts are continuing contracts. The district needs to be fair and balanced with its employees, he said.

Ellingson said that while he hasn't been at the negotiating table the most logical thing is to be fair and balanced.

Rippentrop said he knows everyone would like a raise but that it's not always possible.

Goehrig has seen negotiations from both sides as a teacher and board member.

"It's tough not having a settlement when it goes on this long," he said.

Another question addressed shop classes and whether board members planned to add more classes "so kids can learn to build things."

"The biggest thing is space," Peterson said. He doesn't think there is any opposition from the board and said shop and ag space need to be on the agenda.

Ellingson said that those courses are very practical for students in the Menahga area and the board needs to look at modifying classrooms to accommodate those courses or look at having some classes outside.

"We have tried to pass a referendum three different times," Tomperi told the audience.

Because a building referendum wasn't passed, the district went a different route to renovate the school and some space was taken away from the ag/shop area.

"Once we get past the next project those are the next priority," he said.

Goehrig said there is a possibility to share space and a teacher with Sebeka School, which has room to offer those classes.

Hasbargen agreed that sharing a position and space with Sebeka was a possibility. Also, he added, more space is needed for other things in the district, such as computer labs and Project Lead the Way, a science and technology initiative.

"We need to be progressive in this area," he said.

Rippentrop said he was disappointed to hear that ag courses were downsized a couple years ago.

He came from a farm himself and said those courses are important for teaching lifelong skills.

"I would like to see some things like basic electric, plumbing," he added.

Candidates were asked about their thoughts on allowing a yearbook memorial page.

The question stemmed from a recent controversy involving students asking to include a memorial page for classmate Kyle Kenyon, who committed suicide.

Tomperi said that the board decided at its last meeting to develop a subcommittee with students, parents, board members and school staff to determine the best policy for the district.

"We will find a solution," he said.

Ellingson said he was surprised that the school didn't have a policy in place. He recalled having a memorial page in the school's annual for his brother. He thinks the district should have a policy and plan ahead.

"This is a controversial one," Goehrig said.

There are differing opinions about whether to include a memorial page. He did note that the issue erupted into a firestorm and the chain of command should have been followed. He is willing to listen to the request.

Rippentrop said he thinks the student should be recognized.

"I don't see why it's such a huge issue," he said.

Hasbargen also said it was a very controversial issue.

"Some schools say no, others say yes," he said.

The board is following the steps with the subcommittee.

"Personally I'm not for or against it but we need to be careful," he said.

Peterson said that he didn't think the request seemed out of hand. A photo and the dates of birth and death would be an appropriate page, he said.

"I'm sure we can find some common ground," he added.

In closing, Tomperi said he wants to continue to be part of the team and complete some of the tasks started during the nine years he has been on the board.

"We've been progressive yet conservative," he said.

Ellingson would like to bring some new and innovative ideas to the table.

Rippentrop said that the district has some great needs and he would like to see more offerings in the industrial arts area and online classes to give students the best education possible.

Peterson said the biggest challenge as a board member is that there will always be differing opinions and ideas coming to the table.

"As long as we can support the decisions made and move on" the board can work well together, he said.

Hasbargen stressed that improving technology is a top priority for the district, while remaining fiscally responsible.

"A board member is one of six," he said. "We must work together."

Goehrig said he felt his years as teacher, coach and board member bring experience to the table.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
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