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Published June 09 2010

Fargo School Board: Voters elect 3 challengers

Challengers made a strong showing on Tuesday in a tight election for Fargo School Board, where three new faces will turn up in July.

In complete but unofficial results, newcomers Linda Coates, Rusty Papachek and Kris Wallman snagged three of five seats up for grabs on the nine-member board.

Incumbents Dinah Goldenberg and Rick Steen will serve another four-year term. Board President Dan Fremling and fellow incumbent Don Faulkner lost their seats.

Coates led with 3,993 votes, or roughly 14 percent, followed by Steen (3,794 votes, or 13.5 percent), Papachek (3,435, or a little more than 12 percent), Goldenberg (3,248, or 11.6 percent) and Wallman (3,189, or 11.4 percent). Trailing them were Fremling (3,146, 11.2 percent), Faulkner (2,826, roughly 10 percent), Jon Offutt (2,756 votes, 9.8 percent) and Michael Jablon (1,593, 5.6 percent).

In the buildup to Tuesday’s vote, most challengers weighed in on an issue that seemed to propel John Strand, the lone challenger in 2008, onto the board: They argued that the board should put major building projects, such as the $44 million Davies High School, to a public vote.

Coates, a former Fargo city commissioner and the head of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra, said her outspoken support for direct public involvement in new construction decisions might have given her an edge.

“My feeling was the public sentiment has parted ways with the School Board,” she said. “There’s a real desire for the public to weigh in again on these major decisions.”

Wallman, who called for more conservative spending, echoed the sense that the outcome reflected a desire for change on board.

“My priority is more accountability and more transparency to taxpayers because it’s their money, not mine,” Wallman said, adding it’s Davies price tag, not its existence, that has her concerned.

Incumbents stood by their decision to launch construction on Davies, slated to open in south Fargo in fall 2011. Steen said he was happy to embark on another term but added he feared potential division on the board.

“I have concerns about some of the viewpoints of the challengers,” he said. “I hope the district will continue to move forward rather than taking steps backward.”

Fremling and Faulkner could not be reached Tuesday night.

Papachek, longtime manager of the West Acres Regional Shopping Center, said his experience at the helm of the mall will come in handy.

“Fiscal responsibility is near and dear to my heart,” said Papachek, who hopes to act as a consensus builder on the board. “With flat enrollment, we really need to watch how we’re spending our money.”

Brenden Torkelson, a Fargo resident who voted at south Fargo’s Robert Johnson Center, said he came out to support fresh faces on the board. He felt the district should have entrusted the Davies decision to taxpayers.

“The School Board needs a new vision, a new direction,” he said, adding, “Sometimes they get ahead of themselves. They need to be kept in check.”

Beth Grahn voted for a mix of incumbents and challengers. The board, she said, needs both fresh ideas and experience.

“If they feel we need new schools, that’s fine,” said Grahn, whose daughter starts kindergarten this coming school year. “But I think it’s really important to keep neighborhood schools where they are.”

School board members in Fargo make $12,000 a year.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529