Minot Public School Board Candidates Questionnaire

Steve Velk

Miranda Schuler

Laura Mihalick

Michael Carswell

(Carswell did not submit answers to the MDN questionnaire)

Q: Teacher negotiations with the school board are at an impasse. As a board member, how do you believe the board should balance the need to provide teachers with fair compensation and to balance the budget?

Velk: MPS is facing a very challenging budgetary climate entering the second year of a significant deficit. MPS clearly values its employees and has a proven history of providing very good compensation, when funding allowed to include an excellent benefit package. The greatest percentage of our budget is staff. Fair is defined as “….just or appropriate given the circumstances….” Last year we reached agreement with MEA, and offset the deficit, in part only, by cutting spending a number of categories and dipping into reserves to balance the budget, which is not a sustainable model. There are only so many sources of revenue, therefore we will continue to manage expenses through attrition, consolidation and monitoring expenses in all areas and do the best we can to balance the budget, while remaining focused on quality of education. In one word, our teachers are “Awesome.” MDN had it right “….there are no bad guys in negotiations…..”

Schuler: I believe the fact-finding commission will be instrumental in coming to a resolution. I’m thankful that there is a process in this instance. I don’t believe this is a school board vs. teachers issue as much as it is a budget issue. At a time when many residents in Minot are generally not seeing increases in their personal income and are feeling the weight of the recent property tax increases, it’s exceedingly challenging to approve increases in pay. The board has a duty to work with all sides to stay within budget and likely, both sides need to make compromises to come to a resolution. My understanding is there are other requests local educators would like to see that involves use of paid time off. I do support a more flexible and less intrusive use of those allotted days.

Mihalick: It is my opinion, the salary and benefit package, Minot Public Schools (MPS) offers our teachers, is fair compensation. Honoring the salary schedule, allowing both experience and education increments, and paying the increased cost of the employer’s share of health insurance for our teachers, will be an estimated cost of $1.05 million for the 2018-2019 school year. The educators in our district go above and beyond. As a board member, I would love nothing more than to be able to approve a raise, above the salary schedule, as we have in years when there has been new money. That being said, MPS is operating with a deficit. The MPS board needs to be fiscally responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. The decrease in state and local revenue has had a definite impact on the MPS budget. Difficult decisions, which may include eliminating programs, enlarging class sizes, and eliminating positions, may have to be made in the budgeting process.

Q: Anticipated overcrowding at the middle schools and high schools in coming years has been raised as an issue at past school board meetings. Do you believe that the school district should push for another bond issue and an increase in taxes to fund the construction of new facilities? If so, how would the board persuade voters of the need for a bond issue? What should the district do to address overcrowding if voters decide to reject any proposed bond issue or increase in school property taxes?

Velk: Enrollment numbers continue to be strong, to which the board has responded, by adding one new elementary school and expanding/improving many others. A failed bond issue to build a second high school did not remove the need. The board continually monitors and discusses potential solutions to meet our growth projections.

At this time, based on current projections, we will need the full support of all MPS employees and the public to meet the needs for our district’s increasing enrollment. This is a difficult environment to ask for a bond issue from the taxpayers. Therefore, it will be extremely important for us to educate the public in order to maintain the quality of education they have come to expect.

Schuler: I believe there will be another bond issue brought before the voters in Minot in the coming years. The outcome of that bond is solely up to the tax payers/voters. It has been shown that we are in need of an additional high school at the very least in Minot. The board’s duty is to fully vet the options and present the best one to the citizens. I don’t believe it is the duty of the board to “persuade” voters one way or another. My hope would be that a group of citizens with concerns on both sides would come together and help build a proposal that we can all support. After that, it’s up to the community to take a responsible look at what is being proposed and vote accordingly.

Mihalick: Jim Hill Middle School IS at over capacity and Erik Ramstad Middle School IS on the verge of over capacity, which causes anticipated overcrowding at Central Campus and Magic City Campus. With Minot Public Schools being the only large school district in the state without a building fund, a bond issue would have to be something the school district would need to consider. Community forums and input from community members would be a vital part of the decision of going to the voters to approve a bond issue.

Portables, a word MPS would like to delete from their vocabulary, are being used at Jim Hill Middle School. Locations for portables at Erik Ramstad have been discussed. IF, in the future, the district would go to voters for approval of a bond issue, to deal with the overcrowding in the middle schools and the anticipated overcrowding at the high schools, and it was rejected, I would venture to guess the district would look into purchasing more portables in order to continue educating our students. Portables are to be used as a temporary “fix” for overcrowding, not a permanent solution.

Q: During teacher contract negotiations, some teachers have said that teachers in the district have been hit, bit or scratched by students and others have had their personal property destroyed. What actions can the school district take to ensure that teachers and other students have a safe work and learning environment?

Velk: In recent years MPS has dedicated millions of dollars to school expansion and safety upgrades, which go hand-in-hand. As a school board member, I am concerned that employees feel they may be subjected to retaliation, threat of reprisal, discipline or penalization. I believe the best answer to these issues comes from staff and administration working together to address these concerns. If we have a situation where people are in fear of retaliation, I hope the employee would access our policies that deal with employee complaints. Safety is a definite issue, and something we all need to be concerned about. I believe the district, working together, will be able to meet this challenge . . . We have great people to work on this!

Schuler: This is a very complex issue that requires parent support and collaboration. Whether we like it or not, the responsibility lies solely with the student who makes these decisions. With that said, many times behaviors such as the above mentioned are an outcry for help. Simply ignoring these issues can cause more harm than good. Now, keep in mind, I’m simply a parent, not a psychologist. From a board standpoint, I’m not certain what authority we would have to address this issue. I’d need more information to give a complete answer.

Mihalick: Minot Public Schools does their best to provide a safe work and learning environment for the its faculty and its students. As a public school, MPS is required to educate all students. Incidents occur, almost daily, in classrooms in the district. During teacher contract negotiations, there was discussion of forming a committee, made up of educators, administration, and a board member, to address the concerns of safety issues.

Q: Some members of the public have said it is difficult for them to attend school board meetings because they are generally scheduled for 4 p.m. on Thursdays and they are not sure how to make their concerns heard by the board members. Do you believe that board meetings could be scheduled at times more convenient for the public? How would you encourage more interaction with school district residents?

Velk: We welcome and encourage participation in school board meetings. If a time change would contribute to better serving our patrons, I would certainly consider a time change. I am always open and invite questions and concerns from the public. Each year, the district publishes a school calendar, which Includes contact information for board members when residents has an issue or concern they wish to discuss.

Schuler: I agree, 4 p.m. is a challenging time to attend a meeting. However, depending upon the personás work schedule, that statement could be said about any scheduled time for a public meeting. The reality is, public meetings are fairly poorly attended in Minot. I would support a similar format to the one the City of Minot is using. Meetings are live streamed, cataloged and archived on a You Tube channel. This could easily be a project for an existing class to put together and maintain. I would love to see this challenge posed to a group of high school students as a project. Social media platforms are something the younger generation is immersed in and this concept could be a very gratifying and an innovative way for the students to be more involved in the work done at this level. As for concerns being heard, I would encourage phone calls, emails and letters to all school board members.

Mihalick: For years the school board meetings were held at 4:30 p.m. This past year, a board member had issues with the 4:30 p.m. meeting time, so the board approved moving the meeting time to 4 p.m. to accommodate the board member. I, myself, would not be opposed to a meeting time of 5 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. Knowing that the current meeting time is a public concern, would warrant discussion on this matter. Public concerns can be addressed by going to the MPS website, by reaching out to a board member directly, as stated in the Minot Daily News, or by contacting a MPS administrator.

Q: Why are you running for the board? What strengths do you/would you bring to the board?

Velk: I would like to contribute to the continued success of the MPS in providing the highest quality of education for our students. For the past 32 years, I’ve been active covering a broad spectrum of community affairs and feel my financial background and general knowledge of Minot issues provides a solid foundation, as we move forward with managing the many challenges facing the district.

Schuler: It’s simple really. I enjoy public service. Not everyone finds it interesting or worthwhile; I’m not one of those people. I have 2 children in MPS currently and wish to be a voice for parents, students, teachers and the citizens of Minot. I also enjoy a challenge and feel this position will be one of the most challenging elected seats in the years to come. My leadership style is one that is best categorized as Meta-Leadership. I believe the best solutions to problems come from those closest to the source. I believe in collaboration and open lines of communication to achieve goals. As for my background, much of my current time is spent serving on several non-profit boards. I was previously elected to Minot City Council in June 2014-2017. During that time, I served as chair of the Public Works and Safety committee, Vice President of the Council, and chaired several instrumental ad-hoc committees. In addition, I served on Ward County Planning commission and All Season’s Arena Board. It was this previous service that has helped develop my understanding of the political subdivision structure. I have found a passion for serving our community and strive to be the best role model for my kids and young women who may have an interest in serving in a similar capacity someday.

Mihalick: I truly believe Minot Public Schools is a “top-notch” educational system, with highly qualified educators, administration, and faculty from top to bottom!

I am an advocate for Minot Public Schools. It has been a privilege to serve on the MPS board. My previous experience on the board will be helpful in guiding the MPS district as we face the exciting and challenging times in our future. I am committed to being a dedicated member of the MPS board. If given the opportunity to continue serving as a board member, I will continue being a fiscally responsible steward of our taxpayer’s dollars, supporting safe and quality educational and work environments for our students and staff, and supporting the vision of MPS to “Empower all learners to succeed in a changing world.”

Q: Do you support the current 9-10, 11-12 split high school? If so, explain why this split is beneficial for students. If not, explain why it would be more beneficial for students to have two 9-12 high schools.

Velk: As a board member, my first thought in answering all questions is to ask myself “whatever is in the best interest of the students….” Now comes the hard part in determining a viable and fiscally sound approach as to HOW we accomplish the task, which is what we are facing at this time. Having stated the above and given our current growth projections, (in perfect world) I believe a two 9-12 high school model would be beneficial in many ways, such as, smaller class sizes, greater access to programs, more opportunity for participation, to name a few.

Schuler: I’ve given this question much thought. For our community and the current circumstances I do support the current split. My reasoning for this is solely parking. Central Campus has far more limited space for parking for student drivers. Many students in grades 11 and 12 drive themselves and MCC has more abundant available parking for additional drivers.

Mihalick: Minot High School, is unique in being the only split HS in the state. It has worked for years, but is it ideal? In my opinion, NO.

Two 9-12 high schools would provide many more opportunities for our students, both educational and extra curricular.

There would need to be community discussion and input on how, when, and where, before the reality of two 9-12 high schools is possible.

Q: What changes would you want to make in regards to Minot Public Schools’ curriculum?

Velk: A few years ago, Common Core was displaced by ND Standards. MPS, like many others, prioritize these standards. Groups of teachers review and set the standards based on the greatest benefit to our students. I like this process, which allows local control and puts our teachers in forefront. MPS teachers are leading the way in regard to prioritizing standards. I appreciate the work our teachers do to ensure our students are successful at their current level of instruction and are ready for future learning.

Schuler: I don’t think this question is best answered by me, or any board member for that matter. I would look to the students and teachers for their input on what they would find beneficial.

Mihalick: I am very proud of the curriculum Minot Public Schools offers. Updating the curriculum is done on a regular basis to ensure our students are afforded a wide variety of educational opportunities, beyond the subjects needed to meet graduation requirements.

MPS has prioritized ND State Standards and has developed scales in Kidspeak and personalized learning. The nationwide initiative for personalized learning is supported by Governor Burgum.

That being said, I can’t think of any changes I would make to the curriculum, at this time.

Q: What current policies do you believe need to be revised/removed and why? What policies do you believe need to be implemented and why?

Velk: There are numerous policies and procedures that Administration monitors on a regular basis. I can only say these matters are fluid and are adjusted as necessary to meet current situations, such as, safety issues, which have been outlined in paragraph 3.

Schuler: Again, this question is best answered by open dialogue with those whom these policies impact daily. My understanding is that many of the policies are reflective of state and federal education standards. While a local board has influence, changing state and federal level policies that are implemented in our schools needs to be achieved collaboratively with our State and Federal delegation.

Mihalick: The policies of Minot Public School are reviewed by the NDSBA on a regular basis and updated as needed.

Implementing a policy that addresses safety concerns for our teachers and students has been in discussion.