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Candidate forum shows voters have clear choices in LP-A school board race

Does Lake Park-Audubon really need a new school? Who truly cares about the students? How can academic programs there be improved?

Candidates for the Lake Park-Audubon School Board discussed these and many other issues at a candidate forum Wednesday.

Incumbent Dale Binde is joined in the race by challengers Bryan Anderson, Dan Hughes, George Kohn, Monica LaPoint, Darrel Pederson and Carmen Walter.

The top three vote-getters will win four-year terms on the school board.

The 150-seat high school theater was packed for the event. Some tidbits from the two-hour forum, sponsored by the Lakes Area League of Women Voters:

Bryan Anderson, on why he supports the $19.5 million building bond referendum: "As a farmer and landowner, I don't want my taxes to go up either, but there are times they must go up to sustain the school district. Working with the staff and kids on the summer rec program the last four years has given me a wonderful insight into the kids -- they may not pay taxes, but they know a lot more about what's going on at the school."

Dan Hughes, on the referendum and hard economic times: "It's not a good time for the board to put it on the ballot. It's driving a bigger wedge between the 'yes' and 'no' voters. We (the Cormorant Four) would have had it on the ballot next year or the year after, if it takes two years to work it out, so be it."

Monica LaPoint, on why a new school isn't necessary: "My household is overrun by kids. The school board needs to remember our main purpose is to educate kids. We have an excellent preschool program. We need to make sure kids are getting a well rounded education -- sports, excellent teachers -- then make sure the facilities are adequate. I don't want the roof falling in on my kids, but I don't think we should push education aside for facilities."

Darrel Pederson, a fourth-grade teacher at Perham, on academic improvements he'd like to see at the LP-A school:

"I'd be a real advocate for kids. Every morning, I tell my own kids 'be a leader, and do your best.' I'd like to see accelerated reading, accelerated math and more AP (Advanced Placement, college-level) classes. Do you know how much you parents out there could save (in college tuition) if we had more AP classes?"

Dale Binde on the building bond referendum: "I'll be voting yes on the bond issue. The board has looked at all the options and this bond is the most cost-effective way to go. Now is the time to do it. Even though the economic times are not real good, now is the time to do it."

George Kohn, longtime school board watchdog, on why he opposes a new school: "The voters have never been given an option to repair facilities. I find it strange they are able to drop the repairs at Audubon from $7 million to $2.5 million and that's good for 20 years. We can't just keep going on the assumption of building a new building. We have buildings free of debt, we need to be keeping them going. We don't know what will happen in 4-5 years. Kids could be home-schooled by computers."

Carmen Walter on why parents with young kids should keep them in the district, even if the bond referendum is rejected again: "I can't control how the vote goes, but your 5-year-old will get an excellent education here. I get upset when someone leaves a school district because of a building. Our teachers and administrators have done so well, they should continue in our school district."

Dan Hughes on attending extra-curricular activities: "I attend school board meetings. I haven't participated at Lake Park (extracurriculars) because I have three granddaughters at Fargo North. It's hard to tell them 'I'm not going to your activities because I'm going to extracurriculars in Lake park where I have no family.' But if the operating levy fails next year, the first place they'll cut is extracurriculars."

If the building bond levy passes this year, the operating levy may fail next year, Hughes warned.

"Bricks and mortar do not teach kids, teachers teach kids," he said.

Bryan Anderson, on doing the right thing for students: "I've always been an advocate for kids -- it's an easy catch phase (for candidates) to say 'we're all for the kids,' but staff and kids at Lake Park-Audubon are limited by the facilities issue, plain and simple. It's not always 'can we afford it," but 'do we want to afford it.' That's two different things. Yes, these are hard economic times, As a farmer, I've watched commodity process (for crops) drop faster than gas prices. But things are cyclical, and we have to look to the future."

Dale Binde on the future of the district: "I agree with Bryan -- If we don't do something with our building issue, we're holding our kids back. If we don't do anything with these buildings, the open-enrollment is going to snowball on us ... we'll lose the kids, we'll lose the money that goes with the kids, and we'll have to cut programs. If we don't do something with facilities, I don't know where we'll be in a few years."

Carmen Walter, recently retired longtime community education director for LP-A, on her priorities: "I really believe we want to keep our school -- that's top priority. If we are fiscally sound, we will keep our students. The first thing we should address are our teachers and student programs. In community ed, we always looked at programs that would help the students."

George Kohn on district finances: "My main concern is finances. I'm not so sure everything is hunky-dory ... you put me on that board, and I will come to meetings early or stay late to answer questions."

Monica LaPoint on a new high school: "The answer to our facilities is not just to build a new building. We need to make sure it's not a possibility to remodel. If it's not possible, we need to make sure people understand that, because I'm not sure people are getting that picture."

Darrel Pederson, on working with kids: "My philosophy is to give back -- on Sunday nights, I teach kids basketball. I've been asked by many towns to work with their kids, but I have roots here and I chose to do it here. My philosophy is, God has given me a gift -- if I don't use that gift, I'm cheating myself and cheating him."

Helen Foltz of the League of Women Voters moderated the forum.