School board candidates face off in League of Women Voters forum

October 5, 2018
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Candidates for two Rochester School Board seats squared off in a League of Women Voters forum at the Rochester Public Library on Wednesday evening.

Candidates took questions from the crowd, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce and The Post Bulletin in the first-floor auditorium.

Seat 2

In the vacant seat 2 of the board, Melissa Amundsen, a community volunteer and substitute preschool teacher who serves on various school committees, faces Bruce Kaskubar, a retired Mayo Clinic IT analyst in the Nov. 6 election.

The two clashed on discipline, pre-kindergarten and student achievement.

Asked how they would measure district efforts to reduce disciplinary incidents and address disparities in discipline rates among minority and special education students discipline, Amundsen said she would look for reductions in referrals and suspensions. Keeping kids in the classroom is the priority, she said.

Kaskubar said he would remove students from the classroom.

“If they’re the misbehaving type, they’re probably not going to be learning,” he said. “If there’s a recalcitrant student in there, I want them out of there.”

Amundsen said she took exception to labeling students as “misbehaving type.”

Instead, addressing the root causes of misbehavior should be the school and district’s task.

“Those things go far beyond categorizing students as a type,” she said.

On the discipline disparities, Kaskubar said the term was “loaded.” He noted discipline differences exist along gender categories.

“We’re fixated on race in discipline,” he said. “We’re fixated on race in achievement.”

Amundsen said clarifying definitions of infractions in the student handbook and cultural competency training and other behavior training has been put into place to address the discipline disparities noted by officials.

“I would like to see (the administration) focus on data to see if those interventions have been effective,” she said, adding she wanted to have the school board’s community focus team work to address the problem as more of a partner than a separate entity.

The two also differed on policies to encourage students to read at grade level by third grade. Kaskubar said he would hold students back who weren’t at level, saying social promotion could help push students falling behind.

“Don’t move them ahead until they’re up to snuff,” he said.

Amundsen said expanded pre-kindergarten targets students who might otherwise start out behind.

Kaskubar called universal pre-kindergarten a waste of money, saying a small percentage of students actually need the assistance before kindergarten.

On school facilities, Amundsen noted the school district has been examining facility needs since 2014 and that two new buildings would more than likely be needed.

Kaskubar didn’t dismiss the notion, but called the solution the “most expensive option.”

Should the school board’s facilities committee recommend it, Amundsen it won’t be up to the board to approve the plan.

“The community gets to decide,” she said. “With a vote.”

Crowd-submitted questions touched on hot-button national issues. Kaskubar said he would support teaching intelligent design — an alternative to teaching the scientific theory of evolution. Amundsen said she didn’t know what intelligent design referred to and declined to answer the question. On school security, Kaskubar said he would support allowing people trained to carry concealed weapons to have firearms on school grounds.

Seat 4

In the seat 4 forum, incumbent Julie Workman and challenger John Eischen exchanged views.

Eischen did not dismiss the notion the district may need new school buildings.

“It’s a matter of time,” he said. “We just need to make sure it’s the right time.”

Workman noted five elementary school are above 100 percent capacity, five more are at 95 percent to 100 percent capacity and another five are at 90 percent to 95 percent capacity.

“I really think we do need new facilities,” she said.

Eischen said his focus is to create an environment for students to learn a post-school pathway that might not involve college.

“We need to get young people to talk about what they want to be and not where they want to go to college,” he said.

Eischen also balked at the discussion the school partner with city transit to transport secondary students to school.

Workman, seeking her third term, said sharing transit could save the district money and help the middle and high schools accommodate later start times.

“A later start time has been shown to reduce car accidents and improve test scores,” Workman said.

The forums was the first in a series hosted by the League of Women Voters. They are streamed live from the Rochester Public Library auditorium and will be available on the library’s website for future viewing.

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