School board candidates: no easy answers to space, money crunches

Minot Public Schools’ space and money crunches are issues candidates for the school board say are among the district’s greatest challenges.

Incumbent candidates Steve Velk and Laura Mihalick as well as newcomer Miranda Schuler responded to questionnaires from the Minot Daily News regarding their thoughts on issues facing the district. Michael Carswell, who also is on the ballot, did not provide responses. Voters will elect two to the board.

Candidates indicated they are aware of the district’s tight budget but also of the impacts being created by increased student enrollment.

Velk said a previous, failed bond issue to build a second high school doesn’t remove the need.

“The board continually monitors and discusses potential solutions to meet our growth projections,” he said. “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 said she expects voters will have another bond issue request before them in coming years, and they will have to decide.

“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,” she said.

Mihalick said 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,” Mihalick said.

With the talk of a new high school building comes discussion on two separate high schools, rather than the current split with freshmen and sophomores at Central Campus and juniors and seniors at Magic City Campus.

Velk said a two high school model would be beneficial in many ways, including smaller class sizes, greater access to programs and more opportunity for participation.

“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,” he said.

Schuler said she supports the current split of the two high schools.

“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,” she said.

Mihalick said the current split has worked for years but she doesn’t believe it’s ideal.

“Two 9-12 high schools would provide many more opportunities for our students, both educational and extracurricular,” she said. “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.”

The school board’s concerns about the district’s financial situation in terms of operations contributed to impasse during teacher negotiations.

“MPS clearly values its employees and has a proven history of providing very good compensation,” Velk said. “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.”

“I don’t believe this is a school board vs. teachers issue as much as it is a budget issue,” Schuler said. “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.”

“The educators in our district go above and beyond,” Mihalick said. “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.”

Mihalick said she is seeking re-election to continue to be an advocate for Minot Public Schools.

“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,” she said. “If given the opportunity to continue serving as a board member, I will continue being a fiscally responsible steward of our taxpayers’ 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.’ “

Schuler said she enjoys public service, and as a parent with two students in Minot public schools, she wishes to be a voice for parents, students, teachers and other residents.

“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,” she said. As someone involved in community through roles on various boards, she said, “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.”

“I would like to contribute to the continued success of the MPS in providing the highest quality of education for our students,” Velk said. “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.”

Full responses from the candidates to the entire Minot Daily News questionnaire can be found online at minotdailynews.com by selecting the Election 2018 link. Scroll down the right-hand column on the home page for the link.

Minot will have a single polling place on June 12 in Minot Municipal Auditorium. It will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting will take place Monday through Friday, June 4 to 8, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Rooms 106 and 108 in the Ward County Administration Building.