School board seat 6 candidates spar during forum
Two candidates faced off in a rescheduled forum Sunday for an open seat on the Rochester School Board.
Greg Gallas and Cathy Nathan are vying for seat 6 on the board, which is vacant as Anne Becker steps down.
Gallas characterized himself as an outsider with “new vision and a new set of eyes.” Nathan, a longtime school volunteer, has served on volunteer boards and committees, including as Minnesota PTA Advocacy Commissioner.
The two took turns answering questions submitted from the crowd, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce and The Post Bulletin in the Rochester Public Library’s first-floor auditorium.
Asked whether redrawing school boundaries would better distribute low-income and ethnic minority students, Gallas said doing so would be the wrong focus.
“Arbitrarily making boundary changes because group ‘x’ lives here is a travesty,” he said. “You’re segregating the community.”
Nathan said comprehensive boundary changes are likely in the next few years and ethnic and income makeup of student bodies of the schools would be part of multiple criteria she would consider.
“We need to make sure resources are allocated where they’re needed most,” Nathan said.
The two touched on standardized testing, with Gallas saying they are a good measure of student progress and competency. Nathan said they take too small of a picture.
“It is one day, one test,” she said. “It isn’t really the measure of a climate or a particular school.”
Commenting on Rochester students’ performance on Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, Nathan said little is done districtwide to analyze scores to help school leaders know where to allocate resources.
“We need to evaluate decisions we made last year about programing and people,” she said.
Gallas added the school board and administration don’t appear to have measures of success on the tests. He said it should fall to the school superintendent.
“What measures, what goals, what policies is he taking to the table,” Gallas asked.
On transportation, Gallas cautiously backed discussion of plans to use Rochester city transit to transport students to school, adding he wouldn’t support such a measure for middle school and kindergarten students. He added some doubt about what would happen should the plan overrun budgeted costs.
“Who’s going to pick up that bill?” he asked.
Nathan said the district could look to St. Cloud, which has implemented such a plan. Sharing transit likely would help the district push back start times for middle and high schools, she added.
In school safety, Gallas said he would consider arming teachers. Nathan did not specifically advocate for that position.
Discussing school discipline and disparities in the rates low-income and ethnic minority students are disciplined, Gallas said the district shouldn’t focus on those categories but on the students who make up a majority of the disciplinary actions.
“I think we turned this into wholly a race issue,” he said.
Nathan, who is a member of the Community Focus Team, a group created by the school board to help address discipline disparities, said the district, has entered into an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. She said she would make sure the board adhered to it and added the district needs to be more forthcoming with discipline data.
For seat 5, incumbent Jean Marvin had a brief statement read on her behalf before the seat 6 forum. Marvin’s challenger, Dwight Ferguson, has suspended his campaign and no longer is vying for the seat.
The forum was part of a series hosted by the League of Women Voters. The forums are streamed live from the Rochester Public Library auditorium and will be available on the library’s website for future viewing.