Four of six candidates for the Willow River school board appeared in a forum last Thursday in the school auditorium to help citizens decide on whom to elect November 6.
Incumbent school board members David Kliniski and Roger Else are running again but were unable to attend the forum. Also on the ballot is Nancy Banta who emailed she is no longer running for the position.
Moderator Becky Lourey posed 11 questions to candidates Greg Bennett, Kristin Louzek, Tabitha Zimmer and Tia Grutkoski and invited candidates to give opening and closing statements. Questions came from the sponsoring organization Parents for Kids (PFK) and the audience. Those in attendance also received a packet prepared by PFK of questions and responses from each candidate.
Candidates generally agreed in their responses to questions regarding making themselves accessible to the public, attending training for the school board position and doing research to obtain the knowledge for adequate decision-making.
Differences emerged when candidates were asked how important it is to keep a K-12 school in the community. Louzek was the first to respond, saying it is definitely important to keep at least the elementary school but the issue should be researched to determine what is best for older students who are able to handle a longer bus ride.
Next Zimmer claimed she did not yet understand all the ins and outs of why they should or shouldn’t keep the school in the community. However, she did say the bottom line for her was what benefits the kids. She posed the question, “Why not the elementary in one area and the high school in the other?”
Grutkoski answered next, stating it was extremely important to keep a school but not necessarily a K-12 facility. “At what educational expense to the kids do we keep it K-12?” Grutkoski asked.
Bennett followed, saying it was imperative to fight for a K-12 school in Willow River because a school brings life to a community.
Later, candidates were asked how they feel about the letter from Moose Lake School inquiring about interest in discussing consolidation and how they might pursue the possibility.
Grutkoski wanted to discuss the possibility with the understanding that discussion did not equate with action. “Boards should talk about how to share,” she said.
Bennett said he wanted to see the letter first but went on to say that consolidation is beyond marriage and needs a bulletproof reason. “Study others who’ve done it,” he said.
Louzek brought up the point grant funding is available to consolidating schools. She said, “If schools do consolidate, each should keep its elementary.” She said the board should look at everything to be educated, then educate the community and bring it to them.
Zimmer expressed the desire for her daughter to be able to take college classes if she wished, and if consolidation would bring more options, she would be for it.
No further issues differentiated the candidates present. All were in agreement on the future of cooperating with area schools, praising the successes of the current cooperatives in place for sports and band.
They all saw the need to use tax dollars to support both administrators and teachers, recognizing teaching staff needs to be adequately supported with other staff members. Each candidate was also willing to at least discuss the possibility of sharing administrators with other schools.