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FiredUp: Groton students lead question-and-answer with candidates

FiredUp: Groton students lead question-and-answer with candidates

Groton’s senior seventh-hour government class hosted the first school board cracker barrel session April 2. Photo by Char Telkamp/Groton Independent


Want to get students involved in politics? Put them in the driver’s seat—or, in this case, the moderator’s chair.

Groton’s senior government class, and the community, got a first-hand look at the candidates running for school board during the first-ever School Board Cracker Barrel on April 2. The seventh-hour government class, instructed by Scott Thorson, hosted the event. They developed several questions to ask the candidates and then took some questions from the floor.

“The event was very well attended,” Thorson said. “The kids were impressed by the community support and turnout.”

Four of the senior class members—Eric Milbrandt, Marah Smith, Shane Haskell and Brandon Stanley—acted as the moderators during the event.

The three candidates running for two positions on the school board were Marty Weismantel, Roger Rix and Kelly Kjelden. Weismantel and Kjelden won the election on April 10.

The full story was published in the Groton Daily Independent (subscription required).

Some of the questions and selected candidates’ responses included:

  • What are your objectives and goals for your time on the school board?

Finances were a top concern for all three candidates. “We need to watch every dollar we spend and try to get the maximum return on those dollars,” Weismantel said.

  • Do you think last year’s budget cuts were justifiable?

Weismantel and Rix both said yes, that board did what they could in a difficult situation. Kjelden had a slightly different take: “Its hard to call it justifiable. Unfortunate may be a better word. … A lot of time and meetings were spent discussing the problem. Hopefully the money will come back, where it can do some good.”

  • Do you think students should have to fill all seven blocks or should they be allowed to have open blocks (more study halls)?

Kjelden said he had had a chance to talk with some of the students about this question and understands that by taking more electives, students may lower their GPA. However, “While it may be nice to have more free time, while a student is here, they are here to learn. These are the best years of your life. It’s a good idea to pick up these electives while  you can for free from the public school system.”

  • Would you be willing to change from a five-day to a four-day school week?

None of the candidates were in favor of this change.
“The savings to the school district is not good enough,” Weismantel said. “Also with the size of the school district, we already have some busing issues. By lengthening the school day, it would be too much for some of these young students. It’s just not possible at this time.”

“The board has looked at this the last 4-5 years,” Rix said. “We have rejected it each time, even though with holiday and other time off, we are close to having a 4 day week now. If the whole conference changed over to a 4-day week, with activities happening on Friday afternoons, it might work, other wise it just doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m also not in favor of a 4-day school week,” Kjelden said. “Unless we’re forced into it, by funding or something, but the savings are not that great. Being a distinguished school district the last two years means we’re doing something right.”

  • With one or two meetings a month, all school boards are limited to what they can do. How does/should the board decided what is most important?

“Certain things need to be done at every meeting,” Rix said. “Our first meeting is a general business meeting and the second one is used for program reviews and other business. We proceed by necessary, as issues come up, we deal with them. In all the years I’ve been on the board, I’ve never been to a meeting where we didn’t have time to discuss an issue.”

  • How do you view the future of our school?

“Groton has a great future, and a great staff,” Kjelden said. “Things are going well, that said, we need to keep a close eye on funding, so we don’t suffer in the future.”

“Groton is a solid school,” Weismantel said. “Groton doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone, Groton is the leader.”

“Groton is a large school district,” Rix said. “The area of the district dictates capital outlay funds. We’re very solid there. The problem is in the student count, we have declining enrollment and will have to see the state funding all shakes out.”

  • Instead of making cuts, why not use a pay-to-play system?

“It would put unnecessary burdens on some people,” Kjelden said. “There are better ways to figure things out then this and still keep things the same.”
“Too many problems in caring it out,” Weismantel said. Not mention the discrimination in doing it. Would be creating a whole new can of worm. Need to take a look a the overall package, and make it work.”
Not only is this a bad idea,” Rix said. “It is also against state law. While some of our neighboring states allow it, they have structures in place to help finance it. Even if the state would allow it, it would take a lot of study and time to implement it.”

  • How do you feel about the governors plan to pay bonuses to math and science teachers?

“I’m not in favor of this plan,” Weismantel said. “I don’t see a lot of teachers sticking around and taking a pay cut after five years. We’ll be training a lot of teachers for other states. There is a petition to put this on the ballet this fall to over turn this bill.”
“I don’t see how this is going to work,” Rix said. “If we had enough funding from the state to pay our teachers, it would solve the problems. Teachers want to stay, they just can’t afford to, state funding needs to be changed. This is not a workable solution.”
“I also don’t see this happening,” Kjelden said. “Teamwork is a big factor in education. Giving bonuses to select few will hurt that teamwork. Bonuses need to be everyone, not just math and science teachers.”

The government class plans to continue having cracker barrel sessions in the future, based on how well this one was received.

“The feed back has been very positive,” Thorson said.”The students felt it turned out better then they expected and the parents appreciated the opportunity to learn more. It has proven to be a good project for us to continue and maybe even expand.”

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