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School board hopefuls weigh in on election issues

From pop and snack machines to referendums, candidates running for four seats on the District 833 school board weighed in on various issues at a candidates forum on Tuesday night, Oct. 13.

The candidates that participated were Alberder Gillespie, David Kemper, Laurie Johnson and Edward Nowak, from Woodbury; Katy McElwee-Stevens of Newport; and Walt Lyzsak and Tracy Brunnette of Cottage Grove. The forum, held by the Woodbury and Cottage Grove League of Women Voters was held at St. Paul Park City Hall.

Candidates Marsha Adou, Gina Taft and Mike Thissen did not attend.

None of the candidates said they support removing pop and snack machines from schools. Most said they favor educating students about healthful foods and drinks.

Gillespie said schools limit the time of day machines are on. "Not all the choices are unhealthy," she said.

Kemper said more healthful choices, such as granola and green tea, should be offered.

Moderation and balance should be taught, said McElwee-Stevens.

Kids should learn to make good choices, but revenue from pop and snack machines pays for band uniforms and choir robes, Lyszak said.

In a related question, candidates were asked how often students should have physical education, considering that childhood obesity is a problem.

Kemper said some studies show there is a positive link between achievement and fitness.

More physical education will not solve obesity, Nowak said, and students should get information on healthy lifestyles in classes.

They were also asked to comment on separate academic programs in the district's high schools such as International Baccalaureate at Park, Project Lead the Way at East Ridge and advanced placement at Woodbury and if students should be allowed to choose schools.

McElwee-Stevens said students should have home schools but be allowed to go to other district high schools for some classes. The district should offer transportation, she said.

Switching schools is going to cause disruption, Nowak said.

Lyszak said the district doesn't have different curriculums, even though there are programs "on the fringes." The district has a solid base of study at high schools, he said.

Candidates were also asked if the board should extend existing operating referendums, and if they favor going to voters for more money to support classroom education.

All, but Johnson, who said using more technology solutions should be explored, supported extending voter-approved referendums.

Others, such as Lyzsak, want more information before supporting a new referendum.

Nowak said he would go through district budget "line by line" before deciding.

Considering that the district expects money will be left over from recent construction, candidates were asked how they would spend it.

Brunnette and Gillespie favor getting advice from a citizen task force, although Gillespie is considering putting the money toward debt retirement.

Nowak favors saving the money for "a rainy day."

"This isn't a good time to go looking for ways to spend money," Johnson said.

Considering that the district offers half-day kindergarten at no cost and the remainder of the day for a fee, candidates were asked whether they support having all-day for every child with no fees.

"Not now," Johnson said. "It's an alternative to day-care."

Lyszak said the program "is good for parents," but would want more information before making a decision.

McElwee-Stevens, who said children definitely benefit from a full-day program, would work to achieve it at no cost to parents.

"The benefits outweigh the costs," Kemper said.

The other half of the day is day care, Nowak said, and the district should charge for it.

Candidates were asked about the future of Mandarin Chinese language classes. All candidates agreed the program should be continued.

They were asked if they had ever been lobbyists at the Legislature. Although some said they've participated in volunteer groups at the Capitol, none had ever been paid to do so.

They were asked to elaborate on the biggest challenge for the district, its strengths and what is the most important factor to assure a quality education.

All agreed students should get the tools they need to be well-rounded and successful and identified the future of state funding as a challenge.

The Oct. 28 print edition of the Woodbury Bulletin will feature full profiles of each of the candidates for the District 833 School Board. Video interviews with the candidates will be available online at

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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