School board candidates discuss CRT, surplus funding and more
Voters will pick three candidates in November
DETROIT LAKES — Critical Race Theory, surplus funding from the state and more were discussed by Detroit Lakes School Board candidates during a public forum by the League of Women Voters on Wednesday, Sept. 28, and at an in-house interview with the Tribune.
The top three vote-getters will win seats on the six-member school board. Incumbents Jennifer Pedersen and Tom Seaworth did not file.
Filing was April Thomas (incumbent), Susie Felt, Ashley Schoenberger, Mickey Okeson, Mary Rotter, Ethan Walz, Erica Marquis and Del Jaskin. Candidates Marquis and Jaskin were not at the forum and attempts to arrange an in-person interview were unsuccessful.
The candidate's answers to questions during the in-house interview/public forum appear in this article in alphabetical order using the candidate’s last name.
Susie Felt, 41, resides in Detroit Lakes with her husband Zach and their three children, all of which are school-aged.
They own LumBros Building Solutions. Felt is also a member of Rotary and worked at the Lakes Crisis Center. She ran a day care for five years and has been a substitute in the school district. She noted her love for children and the various perspectives provided by her work make her a good candidate.
If elected, Felt sees her role as a school board member to be determined (as far as committees she is assigned to).
Michelle “Mickey” Okeson, 66, is a resident of Detroit Lakes and a 1974 Detroit Lakes High School graduate. She and her husband Charlie own Okeson Offtrail Sales and have a crop farm. The two have five children and 13 grandchildren, with one more on the way.
Okeson has been active in community service as a 4-H volunteer and then as the program coordinator. She also worked as a secretary for community education when the program began.
She is running because she wants to be an advocate for children, celebrate the successes of the district and address concerns. If elected, she sees the role of school board member as being a liaison for residents in the district.
Mary Rotter, 43, is a resident of Detroit Lakes and a 1997 Detroit Lakes High School graduate. She and her husband Eric have two school-aged children.
They own three day cares in the city that have an enrollment of 85 students. Rotter also has a K-6 elementary degree and was a K-12 reading specialist, she taught for 10 years in the St. Paul School District.
With her background in education, Rotter believes she would be a good fit for the job. If elected, she sees her role as a school board member to collect input, be a cheerleader for the district's success and address issues.
Ashley Schoenberger, 37, is a resident of Detroit Lakes and a 2003 Detroit Lakes High School graduate. She was a child care provider for 13 years. Last year, she and her husband Jeremy adopted the last three of their 11 children (ages 2-17).
Schoenberger is running for office because education is a big part of who she is, and she offers insight into various avenues of education, from regular instruction to special ed to homeschooling.
If elected, she sees her role as a school board member to be a voice for families of all kinds, a communicator and to serve on committees.
April Thomas, 48, resides in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dave. They have two children in the school district. She is a stay-at-home mom who is active in the community, serving on various boards, including the school board the past four years.
Thomas is running for re-election because she enjoys listening to input and being a connection between the community and the school district. She also enjoys addressing concerns and being an active member of board committees.
If elected, she sees her role as a school board member to hire the superintendent and offer guidance on things the board is responsible for. She noted she felt the board made an excellent choice with the current administration.
Ethan Walz, 22, is a resident of Detroit Lakes and a 2018 Detroit Lakes High School graduate. He works for Anderson Bus Garage as the director of safety and training, and drives a school bus.
Walz wants to be a representative for the community, students and district employees.
If elected, he sees his role as a school board member to be a bridge between the district and community. He will offer an ear and provide that feedback to the board as well as gather information requested from constituents.
- Q: The state has projected a large surplus for the upcoming budget, how would you like to see the funds used for public education?
Felt thought better funding for the paraprofessional positions would be wise.
Okeson and Rotter said additional funds should be to retain and employ quality teachers.
Schoenberger and Thomas would like additional funds to help aid the special education programs.
Walz said he would like to better fund technology.
- Q: What do you see as the biggest issue facing public education, not only locally, but statewide?
Felt, Rotter and Walz thought the biggest concern was teacher retention.
Okeson said her biggest concern was ideology or agendas being introduced that might not line up with a family’s beliefs.
Schoenberger said her concern had to do with the need for more input from parents and better connecting parents with their child’s learning.
Thomas saw mental health as a concern, as well as providing a welcoming environment for all students.
- Q: Explain critical race thoery as you understand it.
Felt noted the theory is in regards to how a student should view racism. She noted she doesn’t totally understand it, but “It seems that it is a way of viewing how history is taught and if racism has been included in many things like public policies and legal systems.” She added that she supports teaching the truth, but sees no value in teaching something that would pit people against each other.
Okeson explained her understanding of it is to push concepts that teach a natural bias toward a race. She does not support teaching it.
Mary Rotter noted she is not an expert on the topic, but would be open to discussing it, just not in an interview. She noted difficult topics should be talked about face-to-face with an open dialogue.
Schoenberger does not believe it should be taught and sees it as a line of thought where some feel a need to overcompensate for past race relations.
Thomas said she would like to have a conversation on the topic with those who are interested, so definitions of CRT could be discussed. She noted the school’s curriculum is set at the state level, but the district gets to decide which learning targets to focus on and how they will be taught. She did not believe CRT is something that should be taught at the high school level.
Walz believes it to be indoctrinating kids with a history that is not true. He added as a board member he would watch new curriculum and textbooks coming into the district, and make sure it is not embedded in the curriculum. He does not support teaching it in school.