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Published May 31 2010

13 vie for West Fargo School Board

Two failed referendums and mounting public distrust in West Fargo have prompted an exceptionally large number of people to run for positions on the school board.

Thirteen people will vie on June 8 for four spots on the seven-member board – the highest number of candidates in recent years.

“A lot of people weren’t happy with the … communication (that) was lost between the board and the community,” Jenny Durbin said. “I think people are ready for change.”

Seven candidates ran for three seats in 2008. Four candidates ran unopposed in 2006, and in 2004, six ran for three seats.

This year, from a custodian to a lawyer, the 13 running for the four-year terms that pay $3,000 a year come from a variety of backgrounds.

“I think everyone in some shape or form is passionate about the district,” said software consultant Rhonda Hawley.

That may have been spurred by two failed referendums, which “raised a lot of eyebrows,” insurance agent DJ Colter said.

“I’m curious to see how many people would be running if we weren’t maxed out on space … and also if we had a stable superintendent that was supportive of teachers,” the 33-year-old said.

A $65 million school building referendum last June and $40 million referendum this March failed to get 60 percent approval.

“It seemed like the plan was even worse,” sales consultant Mark Sahli said of the second vote, adding, “I’m not totally set on a second high school.”

Maintenance worker Mark Akers said the second vote could have passed if the board was more open with the public.

Attorney Jason Loos, though, is convinced nothing would have helped it pass.

“It was a mess,” said the 31-year-old. “The board pretty much has been doing whatever the administration (does) … blindly following them.”

That’s why, he said, it’s not a good year to be an incumbent on the ballot.

Angela Korsmo agreed. For the first time in 12 years on the board, she’s ramped up campaigning.

“We’re at a real disadvantage … simply because there’s a vocal minority who are unhappy with how we’ve done things,” she said. “I think they’re losing sight that we’ve turned things around nicely.”

Board member Karen Nitzkorski echoed that, citing the hire of a new superintendent and business manager.

It’s not enough, though, for Mark Bourdon.

He ran for the board two years ago, when change was also promised; not enough has been done, he said.

“We all feel it’s time for us to make a change,” added Chris McDougall, who started to consider running for the board after the district’s firing of high school newspaper adviser Jeremy Murphy last year.

Retired West Fargo teacher Judy Kvaale wants to be on the board to represent educators.

But Janel Simonson, a Moorhead counselor, said she’s trying to remain impartial on issues, adding, “I’m not running on any kind of agenda.”

That’s how businessman Dave Olson got involved in the election, vocally opposing the two referendums.

“The more meetings I went to, what I observed was a close-minded view on input,” he said. “There are definitely issues with credibility and trust.”

His criticism isn’t all bad, incumbents say.

“He’s galvanizing more interest in schools,” Nitzkorski said, adding she hopes voter turnout is higher as a result. “In essence, all 13 candidates are. They all have their circles of interest.”



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