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Published May 07 2010

School board candidates hold forum

Six candidates vying for spots on the Fargo School Board sounded off Thursday on everything from budgets to building referendums.

The latter issue divided them.

“I think the days of making decisions without completely and fully engaging our community are probably over,” candidate Linda Coates said. “The onus is going to be on us.”

It was one of the issues discussed at Thursday’s public forum. There are five open spots on the nine-member board on June 8.

Coates, a former Fargo city commissioner and another candidate, Kristen Wallman, voiced opposition to building schools without voter approval.

“Maybe we have burned some bridges with the community,” said Wallman, a community volunteer, adding that the district may have lost some of the public’s trust.

Incumbents Dan Fremling, Dinah Goldenberg and Rick Steen defended building the district’s third traditional high school without a referendum.

“The voters go to the polls to elect people they trust to make the best possible decisions for the community,” Goldenberg said. “I’m not against it if that’s the way the community somehow tells us that. But right now, I feel the board (are) the experts.”

All three incumbents said if re-elected, they’d still work to gauge what the community supports.

In fact, each candidate affirmed Thursday the strengths they’d bring if voters elect them in June.

Coates, the executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra, said she’d advocate for arts and collaboration with community organizations.

Fremling said that, after 11 years on the school board, he has the experience, commitment and “the willingness to understand the whole issue, and bottom line, what’s best for kids,” he said.

Goldenberg said that, after four years on the board, she has the ability to listen and collaborate.

Michael Jablon, one of five challenging the incumbents, said he’d engage the community in decision-making, make “smarter investments,” and collaborate more with West Fargo.

“I’m willing to challenge the status quo but hopefully also appreciate and be willing to listen,” said Jablon, who’s helped build and start local high-tech companies.

Steen, who’s served on the board for eight years, said he’d continue to advocate for state funding, teacher compensation and reducing the mill levy for taxpayer relief.

“I’m proud of what the Fargo School District has accomplished,” he said, adding that the district is “second to none.”

Wallman said she’d advocate for programming for special needs students and scaling back “extravagant spending.”

The other three candidates – incumbent Don Faulkner, artist Jon Offutt and West Acres mall General Manager Rusty Papachek – did not attend.

Offutt’s wife, Marie, gave a statement for him about his advocacy for arts education and support for at-risk students.

The Davies High School PTA is also holding a public forum with candidates at 7 p.m. Monday at Discovery Middle School.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kelly Smith at (701) 241-5515