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Candidates want better school funding

Only four of seven Park Rapids school board candidates showed up to discuss education issues to a sparse crowd Thursday night attending a candidate forum.

Park Rapids school board candidates
Candidates Sherry Safratowich (from left), David Otterness, Roger Marth and Gary Gauldin discussed a variety of educational and funding topics at a candidate forum Thursday night. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Only four of seven Park Rapids school board candidates showed up to discuss education issues to a sparse crowd Thursday night attending a candidate forum.

"I'm disappointed in you," said candidate Roger Marth during his closing remarks. The retired businessman said he hoped for a larger turnout from the community, since education and funding should be high priorities for all citizens.

About 30 people, including League of Women Voters members and school employees, attended the forum. Incumbents Sherry Safratowich, Gary Gaulding and newcomers Marth and David Otterness discussed school funding, No Child Left Behind, community involvement in the schools and what the Legislature should be doing to help local districts. They offered an array of articulate opinions on the audience-submitted questions.

But they all admitted to being stumped on the question foremost on all the attendees' minds -- how the state can step up to provide more funding for local districts.

"I don't mean to pass the buck but that's something you should be asking Brita Sailer," Safratowich said, referring to the region's state representative.

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"We're not politically active enough," Gauldin said. "They need to hear us loud. They're not funding our schools. They need to quit diverting these (educational) funds to special interests. The money is there for K-12 schools."

Otterness, a pharmacist making his second run for office, stressed fiscal responsibility and being a good steward of the taxpayers' money, while providing kids with the most opportunities possible.

"We need to use our limited resources and prepare them for success" whether it's college, vocational education or the workplace, he said.

Safratowich, a board member for 14 years, admitted she doesn't have all the answers and neither do educators and students.

"It's OK not to know everything," she said. But she added that good educators and learners know "where to find it."

All four candidates expressed concerns about the state of school funding and implementing the federal legislation called No Child Left Behind.

"It does not have to be as complicated as the state of Minnesota makes it," Safratowich said. "The concept was great; the implementation has been difficult."

"This night is not long enough to talk about No Child Left Behind," Gauldin said.

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The candidates were asked how to better involve the community, especially senior citizens who don't have children in school any more.

"I'm one of those seniors," Marth said to laughter. "I don't regret spending my tax money in support of good schools turning out good kids." Marth has spent the past 16 years working with various schools districts and students mediating disputes. He said he was willing to learn and offered his life expertise in support of his candidacy.

"If you want to impress me, don't give me a winning football team," Marth said. "Show me a good school."

When asked about rigorous science and math standards, Gauldin admitted doubts about 8th graders' universal ability to master algebra. "If it's not a priority at home it won't be a priority when they walk in the door," he said. "Every 8th grader will not be ready to take algebra."

Otterness, the parent of an 8th grader taking algebra, praised the teachers his son has. The candidate said both he and his wife help their son with his studies at home.

He said he doesn't view science and math difficulties in school as educational failures, but more of a "family values" issue.

Otterness, a grade school vounteer, brought some sympathetic laughter when he told the audience "now that my kids are older," they're not so keen on having their parents show up as school volunteers. Nevertheless, he's active in booster clubs and other school activities, he said.

Safratowich told the audience the board will likely be asking them for a levy referendum in the near future to boost the district's operating expenses. She said she hoped the community would support it.

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Candidates Dan Wagner, Keith Bastian and David Francis did not attend the forum.

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