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Published May 11 2010

Fargo School Board candidates discuss student safety

A proposed city law prohibiting sex offenders from residing near parks and schools was at the center of a discussion Monday.

However, it wasn’t city officials responding but rather nine candidates vying for the Fargo School Board.

“The best research that’s available to us right now suggests that there’s no correlation (between) where a sex offender lives and where these incidents occur,” candidate Kristen Wallman said, “but I do understand the sentiment of people all over the city worried about our children.”

She’s one of five candidates challenging four incumbents for a seat on the nine-member board. Five spots will be up for election on June 8.

Incumbent Rick Steen called the proposed law “far-reaching” while others agreed tactics outside restricting residency need to be done to ensure kids’ safety in the community.

However, candidate Rusty Papachek challenged that, asking, “Do we want it in our backyard?”

“I think there needs to be some boundaries,” he added. “I don’t think any of us would really want that in our neighborhood.”

Incumbent Dan Fremling added, “I don’t really care what research says. If it’s something that’s going to help protect students, I’m going to support it.”

Candidate Linda Coates had the last word, adding, “It’s important to let facts be the guide and not emotion.”

Controversial topics didn’t end there.

Paying teachers for performance had the support of all candidates, with most stressing, though, that it’s based on multiple factors, not just student test scores.

“I definitely think we need to do some things to continue to inspire our teachers and to get the ones who are already going above and beyond – give them some incentive and extra reward,” incumbent Dinah Goldenberg said.

When asked what the biggest challenge the district faces in the next four years is, the nine candidates’ responses were nearly unanimous: finances.

“There is some challenge we will face in the future … that would possibly limit the opportunities of our students,” incumbent Don Faulkner said about finances.

Other candidates, such as Michael Jablon, called for the district to be sustainable, and candidate Jon Offutt voiced concern for the district’s excess mill levy, which needs to be approved by voters by 2015 to continue.

“I’m confident we’ll be able to do this, but it is going to take some more community outreach,” he said. “We need to do that reaching out to the community.”

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