School Board forum brings topics to light (2024)

School Board forum brings topics to light (1)

Minot Public School Board candidates, from the left, KayLee Bourquin, John Carey, Mike Gessner, Lacey Laudenschlager, Scott Louser and Darrik Trudell listen to moderator Mark Lyman’s preamble during the candidate forum held Thursday.

The Minot School Board candidate forum was dominated by discussion over issues ranging from the ongoing budget deficit, expanding opportunities for students and improving engagement and communication with the public.

A number of the candidates voiced concern for the ongoing budget deficit experienced by the district and the difficult decision by the current board to close two elementary schools in an effort to mitigate it. Candidates John Carey and Lacey Laudenschlager, in particular, highlighted the school closures as the inflection point that inspired them to become more engaged and seek a seat on the board.

“I think it was a bit short sighted. If you think Minot Public School is the only school that hasn’t had deficit problems, we’re not. There’s plenty of templates out there and solutions to get schools out of debt while still not sacrificing the quality of care, cutting staff or closing schools,” Carey said. “I was going through some of the older school budgets because I’m a data person. I just went back four years. In four years we’ve been $14.6 million in the hole. The first thing is getting the budget in control. You can’t do all the things you want to do if your fiscal house is not in order.”

Current board president and lone incumbent, Mike Gessner defended the decision to close the schools, saying that while it was a hard pill to swallow, “I think we’ve done the right thing for this time.”

Gessner and the other candidates were hopeful that the deficit could be mitigated organically in the coming years after the opening of the new Minot North High School and Central Middle School to attract more students to the district. However, Laudenschlager felt greater communication was required with families whose children have transferred to other school districts to better understand why they are seeking their education elsewhere.

“Open enrollment has really hurt our district. Right now we have over 300 students that are currently open enrolling to other schools in the area, and that’s millions of dollars that’s leaving the district. We don’t even ask them why they leave.” Laudenschlager said.

Candidate Scott Louser, who is also a state legislator, noted the district is nearly maxed out in regard to the mills available for property taxes in Minot. Louser said he planned to introduce a bill at the next legislative session that would provide funds to cover the 60 mill levies mandated on property taxes.

“If that were to pass, there would be about a 43% reduction on the school mill levy portion of property taxes, with a cost of $680 million per biennium, which is something I believe can be sustained by the legislature,” Louser said.

Carey also brought up the possibility of hiring a budget consultant, and candidate Bill Irmen speculated that selling or renting property owned by the district could be a possible revenue source. Gessner felt the next board should follow the district’s current path to continue to balance the wants and needs of staff, students and various stakeholders.

“Yes, we have expended an excess amount of money and we are trying to get back in balance. At the same time we’re trying to provide an education to our public’s children. Education is to be essentially free. We know that we as taxpayers, that doesn’t make it free, but it’s not costing an extra amount when we send our kids there. What our school district is about is growing our community and to educate our citizens so they can be contributing members of society.” Gessner said.

Candidate Darrik Trudell countered that educating students and compensating teachers should be a priority for the board, and that certain wants may have to take a back seat for the district to right the ship.

“We have to provide an education and a safe environment for the kids. We have to balance that with paying the employees. They have to be compensated fairly. After that things get prioritized. I love sports. I love football. I love basketball. But that doesn’t come before educating our kids if we only have so much money. If the money’s gone, all that other extracurricular things, they go away. We have to maintain our budget and be responsible.” Trudell said.

Candidate KayLee Bourquin responded saying the board should seek out engagement from the stakeholders and not assume what their wants and needs are, and to be innovative with the district’s allocation of funds. In addition, Bourquin advocated for improvements to the school website and the possible hiring of a public information officer.

“We should have more opportunity for parents, teachers, whoever, to get in front of us and tell us what’s important to them and their opinions on certain decisions,” Bourquin said.

The candidates also echoed each other around possible reforms to how school board meetings are scheduled and conducted to make them more inclusive and accessible to the public.

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School Board forum brings topics to light (2024)
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