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Six candidates vie for DL School Board - One incumbent, five others seek three open positions

There are six candidates running for three open positions on the Detroit Lakes School Board this fall: Cyndi Anderson, Mike Bommersbach, Barbara Boyle, Dr. Jeff Leichter, Ladd Lyngaas and Dr. Tom Seaworth (Seaworth is the only incumbent seeking re-election).

During individual interviews this past week, each candidate was asked to provide general information regarding their background, then asked a series of four questions:

Question 1: What qualifications do you feel you would bring to the Detroit Lakes School Board?

Question 2: Do you think the current method of funding for K-12 education in Minnesota is equitable for all districts, or would you support reform efforts such as the "Minnesota Miracle," which would help school districts finance operations without having to resort to operating levy referendums?

Question 3: Detroit Lakes is currently experiencing a shortage of space for elementary classrooms. How would you propose to deal with the problem?

Question 4: Are there any other issues facing the DL School Board over the next four years that you feel are of pressing importance, and how would you propose to solve them?


Name: Cyndi Anderson

Age: 50

Residence: 12932 Timber Lane, Detroit Lakes

Occupation: president and CEO, Mosaic Consulting, DL

Family: Son, Joshua Anderson, 25 (DLHS graduate); mother, Maxine Anderson; sister, Melissa Anderson

Question 1: I feel I would bring an open mind; I'm a good listener, I study issues and I bring a fair and reasoned approach to decision making. I also have the experience of having served on the school board from 2000-03, so I feel I have an understanding of what the duties and responsibilities of school board members are. Most importantly, I have a commitment to education and want to see all children thrive; when our education system is strong, our community is strong.

Question 2: I would definitely support a reform initiative. I think school funding is one of the most unnecessarily complex funding mechanisms in the state, and we need to look at something that does not leave rural districts with fewer resources for the education of students. Regardless of where you live you should have access to a high quality of education.

Question 3: I would take a serious and comprehensive look at the availability of space in all our (district) buildings, and look at our space needs not only today, but 5, 10, 15 and 20 years down the road. That's the responsibility of the decision have a vision of where the district should be, and know how to get there.

In the short term, we need to create the most conducive educational environment we can for the learning of all children, with the resources we have available -- and maybe we need to think a little differently about how we're currently using our space.

Question 4: Economics has to be front and center, on a national, state and local level. It's more imperative than ever that we make sound fiscal decisions.

Another major issue is the disparity between rural and urban school districts...if something doesn't change, it will create an environment where urban children have an unfair educational advantage. Minnesota's commitment to the education of children should know no county or other boundaries.

Locally, it's incredibly important for our school board and all elected officials to have a vision of where they want this community to grow, and recognize how important our educational system is to achieving those goals.

Name: Barbara Boyle

Age: 45

Residence: 1014 Timber Drive, Detroit Lakes

Occupation: Manager, Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, rural Detroit Lakes

Family: Husband, Peter; daughters Sarah, 16, Alyssa, 14, and Laurie, 10.

Question 1: I'm a parent, and I feel I have a familiarity and experience with the government budgeting process (through working at Tamarac). Also, in my current job, one thing we do is to promote and deliver environmental education. My mother was a teacher for 30 years, my husband's a teacher and I come from an education background even if I'm not one (a teacher) myself.

Long term planning and goal setting is also a large part of my current job here and a major requirement of the school board is setting a vision for the future. I've always been very active in civic organizations and youth programs, and I think it's important for the school board to have a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, opinions and interests.

Question 2: I think in general rural districts are struggling with enrollment, so there's going to have to be some alternative solutions to how we meet our funding needs. We've been trimming our belts for a long time. I think we have to explore all new options -- we can't stay static with our budgeting process. There are always new opportunities to explore and strategies to evaluate.

Question 3: I think part of our shortage was due to unanticipated, last-minute enrollments (in the district). That's something that's difficult to plan for, but we have to build some sort of flexibility into our (space) allocations to meet unanticipated needs. The district in general has done some creative thinking with the consolidation of our buildings to help with maintenance costs, both annually and long term -- but with that you also lose some flexibility in terms of space. It's a balancing act. But with (the general trend of) declining enrollment, I don't really think the first solution is to build more buildings.

Question 4: New issues crop up every year. My involvement (in running for school board) was because I think I should give back to my community, not because of any burning issues...I think this school board has done an excellent job when faced with some difficult issues.

One of the reasons I wanted to get more involved was to have a better appreciation of the scope of issues facing the district -- whether I am elected and become a board member, or not, it's making me a more informed citizen.

Name: Mike Bommersbach

Age: 32

Residence: 18210 Willow Springs Road, Detroit Lakes

Occupation: Supervisor of supportive employment at Blue Sky, Inc., Detroit Lakes

Family: Wife Julie; son Brody, 6; daughter Ella, 2

Question 1: I was a teacher in this district for eight years, and have nine years' experience in teaching altogether, so I've been in the trenches, so to speak. I know what actually goes on day to day.

Question 2: Our operating levy is up soon; if we renew it, that would give us another $10 million (in funding), and the taxpayers would not see a change (increase or decrease) in their taxes. If it (a reform in school funding) doesn't affect the taxpaying community (with a tax increase), then great, I'm all for it. But I think it's going to be very difficult, with the economy the way it is, to push people into (voting for) a raise in taxes.

Question 2: Thank goodness, they (the school district's management) looked ahead a little. There is room at Roosevelt (Elementary) -- teachers know it as the pit. There would be room for six classrooms there -- but Roosevelt is not the only building with (space) problems ... the big question is whether enrollment would remain stable enough to justify a building addition.

Question 3: I think our school board members are doing a fabulous job, but in the eight years I taught (in Detroit Lakes), I had one school board member enter my classroom. That really bothered me. They're making decisions, but they're not really visible. They need to be more out there in the public eye -- get into the schools, walk around, see what the teachers are doing.

Also, I don't think the location of the (school board) meetings is conducive to the public attending. It's a small room -- to get the public more involved, they need to make it more inviting to attend. The public just isn't informed enough, that's one of our problems.

If I'm elected, I'm going to be the public's voice. You can feel free to talk to me -- I want our school board to be approachable, so it's not stressful for people to ask questions.

Name: Dr. Jeff Leichter

Age: 47

Residence: 26838 230th St., Detroit Lakes

Occupation: Psychologist, Meritcare Clinic, Detroit Lakes

Family: Wife Lori; son Kyle, 18 (2008 DLHS graduate); daughter Kira, sophomore, DLHS.

Question 1: I've never run for public office, but I think I bring integrity, passion and commitment to anything I do. I'm very much a team player, and as a psychologist I think I understand human behavior, how organizations are run, and I very much understand the value of education.

Question 2: It's my understanding that about 80 percent of the cost of public education is paid for by the state, 6 percent is federal, and another 8 percent comes from local property tax. In other words, the vast majority of funding comes through the state.

In rural communities, there is quite a bit more poverty, and the value of property is considerably less than in places like Minnetonka and Edina. The current system makes it not a level playing field (financially), because in rural areas there is less property value collectively to contribute (to the tax base).

I would be in favor of any type of reform that would level the playing field between rural and urban school districts.

Question 3: I'm aware of the shortage, and that enrollments this year were higher than expected, by about 120 students -- which is a good thing on one hand, because it does mean increased revenue. But on the other hand, it leaves us with inadequate space to teach our kids. As a psychologist, I can tell you how children best learn, and it's not in a classroom with 30-35 kids. More individualized attention leads to greater success in the classroom.

As a board, we would need to look at a variety of solutions, from as simple as leasing some space or staggering class schedules to utilizing spaces not currently designated for classrooms -- or if it looks like the trend is going to be toward higher enrollment in subsequent years, we may need to look at whether it makes sense to make capital expenditures to increase classroom space.

Question 4: I think this district has many strengths -- excellent teachers and support staff, very competent administration and good relationships between the district and the community as a whole...but in terms of challenges, there are several.

How is the district going to deal with the federal No Child Left Behind law? DL is on the warning list for not making adequate yearly progress, and the consequences are fairly severe for not complying. I think the law is a good idea that's gone wrong. It's an enormous problem that would require working with our legislators. It's not something that can be solved at the local level.

Another problem is that 80 percent of the funds for our school come from the state, and the state is looking at a major budget shortfall. We're going to see a direct impact on school funding in the coming years. We have to work with our local community to come up with local solutions on how we're going to stretch our budget. These are going to be some very difficult decisions.

Name: Ladd Lyngaas

Age: 42

Residence: 1841 Aspen Drive, Detroit Lakes

Occupation: President, Wells Fargo Bank

Family: Wife Denise; children Ben, 18, Jackson, 12, Trey, 11 and Molly, 9.

Question 1: I have a passion for kids, and my financial expertise gained as part of my educational and professional background would help bring me up to speed quickly on school finances. I've also been on boards before, so I'm familiar with how they work -- the dynamics and interaction (of serving on them). I am involved with several community organizations.

Question 2: I think in the challenge of these lean times we need to always be looking at different ways to reform things. We need to keep our eyes open -- if there's a better way of doing things, we always want to be looking at (implementing) best practices. At the same time, I feel it's always a community's responsibility to support their schools and the education process.

Question 3: I think there's two ways to look at it. The most important thing is to get the administration's view of whether it's a short term need or a long term situation. If it's a short term need, there are some things you can do that don't require a lot of capital (expenditure). If the projected enrollment would indicate a long term increase in students, then we would need to invest in additional, permanent space.

Question 4: One issue facing the district is the federal No Child Left Behind mandate. Unfortunately I'm not sure there's a short-term resolution to it. In visiting with our administration, the recommended continuing to meet with legislators and advocate a change in the current process of accountability. Short of that I'm not sure there are many options we can deal with.

Another thing is that one of my goals is to continue to build and maintain bridges amongst the business community, private sector and school district, because I think working together makes us all stronger.

Name: Dr. Tom Seaworth

Age: 56

Residence: 20411 Oakland Beach Road., Detroit Lakes

Family: Wife Mary; four grown children: Erin McBriar, Katie Seaworth, Kelly Seaworth, Michael Seaworth (all DLHS graduates).

Question 1: I have the experience of having served three terms on the Detroit Lakes School Board, and prior to that I co-chaired the committee for a successful district levy referendum and a committee for a successful bond referendum (for remodeling at Roosevelt and Rossman schools and a building addition at the high school). I'm also very active in the community, serving in several organizations including Rotary, United Way and Dollars for Scholars.

Question 2: I would support reform to improve funding for our public schools, but the Minnesota Miracle includes additional funding for metro schools, with the reasoning that it's more expensive (to maintain them), but there's no evidence of that. I understand that the proposal would improve funding for schools so we don't always have to go to the taxpayers, but I don't believe they've shown the need for more funding for metro schools is based on fact.

Question 3: When we did the bond issue in the 1990s we were able to include some extra foundation space, which can be converted to eight classrooms right now. The area known as "the pit" (at Roosevelt) had been used for storage. It would require some costs for remodeling and an extra air handling unit, but that's one of the possible solutions.

The other thing is our present tax support is at $315 per student, and that bond issue is going to be paid off within the next couple of years. I would propose continuing (the levy) at the present funding level, with no increase in taxes, which would free up about $10 million, with which we could do some remodeling to solve our present space crisis. It could also position us to add any extra space needed to handle additional students in the future.

Question 4: We have the dilemma of the No Child Left Behind Law, which was not funded properly, and it's ambivalent with regard to standards from state to state. It's also a rather punitive law for schools that don't meet the required standards. The punishments are not based on facts or studies, but simply the whim of politicians.

Another problem we face as educators is that more and more of the responsibility for not only educating our children, but also feeding and raising them, is falling on our public schools...though our teachers are seldom given the authority sometimes necessary to effect change, and often times they are given mandates to do more without adequate funding. In hard economic times like this it makes it even more difficult to continually go back to our communities asking for more funds.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454