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DL school forum brief, insightful

Though brief, the Detroit Lakes School Board Candidate Forum held Tuesday night at the Minnesota State Community & Technical College conference center gave those attending a good look at the six candidates seeking office this fall.

All the candidates -- Cyndi Anderson, Mike Bommersbach, Barbara Boyle, Dr. Jeff Leichter, Ladd Lyngaas and Dr. Tom Seaworth -- were present for the forum, which took place immediately following the Detroit Lakes City Candidate Forum held at the same location earlier in the evening.

Though the school board forum was hosted jointly by the Roosevelt and Rossman Elementary Parent-Teacher Organizations, the Lakes Area League of Women Voters did have a presence at the event, which was moderated by League member Terry Kalil.

"I'm not Sharon Josephson," Kalil said at the beginning of the forum, noting that Josephson, who works in Congressman Collin Peterson's office, had been called back to Washington, D.C., and was unable to moderate the forum as originally scheduled.

When asked to list what past experiences would best qualify each of them to serve on the school board, Seaworth, the lone incumbent seeking re-election, and past board member Cyndi Anderson (who served one term from 2000-2003) highlighted their past board experience as well as their extensive years of service with various community organizations.

Lyngaas also discussed his work with various community organizations, and mentioned his financial acumen as president of Wells Fargo Bank.

Bommersbach talked about the insight gained from his eight years of working as a teacher in the DL school district (he currently works for Blue Sky, Inc., helping workers with disabilities to rehabilitate and find employment).

Boyle, who is the manager of Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge, spoke of her years of government service with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that helped her work cooperatively with others, as well as her volunteer work with the Detroit Lakes Soccer Association and Minnesota Flyers Gymnastics program, as the parent of three daughters.

Leichter spoke of his training as a psychologist, as well as serving on the executive council of the Minnesota Psychological Association and past work with various community service organizations including the Lions and Kiwanis.

When asked what two issues each of them felt were priorities for the district, and what they would do to solve them, the federal No Child Left Behind law -- specifically, its punitive aspects and what failure to comply with its standards would cost the district -- came up in the discussion several times.

But there were other issues mentioned as well.

Lyngaas mentioned how class sizes in DL schools were "pushing the limits" of what was necessary for educational excellence, and that the district needed to prepare itself better for a possible influx of new students such as that experienced this year.

"Finances and resources are the biggest challenges right now," he added.

Seaworth expressed similar concerns, noting that while the district has a 'great staff, great students and great schools," it is the school board's responsibility to make sure that they have the space and the resources to do their jobs effectively.

Anderson noted that with the current economic situation, both locally and nationally, school funding needs to be considered "on a variety of levels," not just local tax levies and state aid.

Leichter, meanwhile, talked about how public schools have become responsible for so much more than just a child's education over the years.

"The responsibility needs to be spread around," he said, adding that a child also needs support from his parents and community to be successful.

"My priority issue is communication," Boyle said, adding that she wants to get out into the schools and find out what's happening with the students and staff.

Bommersbach also listed communication as a top priority, noting that he would like to make the school board "more approachable," so that the decisions they need to make will have more community input.

Other questions at the forum included the importance of extracurricular activities in education and how the mandated testing required by No Child Left Behind can be used to benefit local schools and students.

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