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Menahga School Board candidates sound off at forum

Six Menahga School Board candidates fielded questions at a League of Women Voters forum Tuesday. From left are Ernest R. Huhta Jr., Jon Kangas, moderator Lu Ann Hurd-Lof, Mel Lockhart, Al Peterson, Joyce Skoog and Thad L. Usher. Amy Massie has also filed for school board but did not attend the forum. Julia Kicker said she has withdrawn from the race. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Menahga School Board candidates fielded questions Tuesday evening at a Park Rapids League of Women Voters forum.

Eight candidates filed for three, four-year terms on the Menahga School Board. Since the initial filing Julia Kicker said she is no longer seeking a spot on the board due to other obligations.

The remaining seven candidates are Amy Massie, Tadd L. Usher, Al Peterson, Ernest R. Huhta Jr., Mel Lockhart, Joyce Skoog and Jon Kangas. Massie did not attend Tuesday's forum.

Huhta said there are some pressing issues on the table as far as education funding. He previously served on the school board and has several children still attending school in Menahga.

Kangas is running for school board because he wants to make sure the public is getting all the facts. He cited several instances during the last year where he couldn't get correct information from the district. He didn't attend Menahga School and doesn't have children attending the school.

Lockhart has lived in the Menahga area for around 29 years and has had children and grandchildren attend school in Menahga.

"I care about the school," he said.

Lockhart said past school boards have done an excellent job keeping the school district in the black.

Peterson has five kids attending school in Menahga. He works as a Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.

"I'm open to different options" regarding shortness of space and increasing enrollment, he said.

With the uncertainty of state funding, he said the school board will need to be creative.

Skoog is a 1980 graduate of Menahga School and has two children attending the school.

She has worked on committees regarding proposed building projects with the school.

Usher is also a Menahga School graduate. He now has two young children attending school in Menahga.

Many the candidates cited funding and budget challenges as being top priorities.

Lockhart said the Menahga School District needs to continue conversations with Sebeka about sharing programs and creating efficiencies.

Huhta agreed and said down the road there might be a need to consolidate those two districts as well.

Funding continues to be an uncertainty, they said.

Skoog was concerned with increasing class sizes.

"We also need to do something with the handicapped accessibility issues," she said.

Peterson said he has a lot of experience working with people to solve problems, which makes him qualified for the position.

"We need to look at all the facts and opinions stay separated," he said.

Kangas said he would continue to look at building options.

"There are many different ways to build," he said. "We could look at fundraising, see what we could raise that way."

He was opposed to the referendum question posed to voters earlier this year.

Usher said that the space issues are still a concern and the board will need to look at things a different way.

"We'll need to figure out how to create more space" so first graders won't have to share gym space with high schoolers, he said.

All candidates said the district needs to work on gaining the trust of the public after the proposed building project caused a split in the community.

"Communication is key," Usher said.

Each of the candidates thought positively of the school and want to see it continue to thrive.

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