C.T Marhula: Examining The Grand Forks School Board Candidates


School Board elections and mill levy votes have been the subject of much news this year around the state.  Fargo and Mott have rejected board proposals.  In Grand Forks, 21 people are seeking 7 seats that are up for election in June.  There appears to be a clear split between the incumbents, who raised taxes and approved $40m spending without a public vote for new buildings and some of the challengers who want a vote on the mill levy and new building.

I have visited with and know many of the candidates.  Below is thumbnail sketch of their answers provided to the Grand Forks Herald with my commentary in italics.  Sadly, the answers of many provided no help for the voters.  You can see their complete interviews here.

A two part series on Grand Forks School will follow in the next several days that will demonstrate to Grand Forks and the state how the system currently works in Grand Forks.

Justin Berry:  Mill levy cap vote:  “I would be against having a public vote, as it would fail.”

Wow, the public cannot be trusted?

Brown,  Anderson, George, Hoffman, Loh, and Rydz:   Let me know if you can find where they actually said anything of value to voters in the Herald article.

Ward Johnson: “I think the board has failed to justify…budget issues…has acted where a public vote…better decision….Major spending decisions should be voted on by the public.”  Supports public vote on levy, major building projects.

Tim Lamb(incumbent): “The fiscal situation is complicated…next legislative session will address many issues the district suffered from last session..”  Complicated Tim?  LOL, (brackets) around a number means deficit.    Still blaming it on the state despite, according to district documents, the legislature provided “approximately $13,872,524 in new state revenue. Of this number, $8,150,000 represents the 50-mill buydown (this offsets the reduction of local property tax revenue) and $5,722,524 of new state aid.”  And no, the district did not provide the full buy down.

Pamiscno(incumbent): “We must work with state representatives to provide funding for current-year students.”  A version of the Lamb position, $13.8m in new state revenue is not enough to cover the state measured enrollment increase of 29 students.

Burin:  “The district should eliminate wasteful spending and invest in innovative programs.”  LOL.  A very brave position.  He will lose all the voters who support wasteful spending and programs that don’t work.

Carpenter(incumbent):  “the board needs to consider reducing the mill levy.”  While I disagree with Carpenter on nearly every school issue he has opined on in Herald letters, he deserves credit for above.  Carpenter, Ferguson, Johnson, Kuntz, Sande, and Solem are the only candidates who advocate a mill cut and/or public votes on levy.

Grandstrand(incumbent):  I have played a vital role in balancing the budget and will continue my work on the Finance Committee.”  This might persuade voters if true.  According to documents on District website the Building Fund started with a $5.7m deficit which will increase to $5.9m at years end. The Special Assessment fund will end the year with a $975,000 deficit, and the approved General Fund budget had a deficit of $1.1m.  Grandstrand might know this if she actually attended the Budget Committee meetings.  Both her St. Onge were absent from the very important April 8, 2014 Finance Committee meeting.

Kuntz:  “There should be a public vote on all major building projects.”

Sande:  “I believe there should be a public vote on any infrastructure expenses greater than $5 million.”

Shabb(incumbent):  “I would continue to seek efficiencies without affecting quality education. The state funding formula does not account for growing districts.”  She bravely joins challenger Burin in opposing wasteful spending and programs that don’t work and incumbents Lamb and Palmicno in claiming $13.8m in new state revenue is not enough to cover the state measured enrollment increase of 29 students.  In another forum Shabb actually stated, “I fully supported trying to get as much as we could from the taxpayers this year.”  Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

Solem:  “The top issues are that after the school district is built in the 2017 school year there will be 1,000 empty seats in the District….the building of a new school should have gone to the public”  Actually, Solem is wrong.  Even without the new school; according to district documents, there will 2,500 empty seats in 2017-18.  I do give him credit for at least knowing there will be excess capacity.

Spivey(incumbent):  Another brave person who, along with Shabb and Burin, stated, “I want to ensure excellence in education while maintaining a fiscal responsibility….top issues facing District…Measure 2.”  Measure 2, really?  There is no Measure 2 on the ballot.  I have visited with Spivey.  He is actually much sharper and engaged than indicated by his answers in the Herald.

St. Onge(incumbent):  “The district is financially stable with adequate reserves and funding secured for projects such as the new school.”  LOL, what he means.  We have secured funding by not passing on the 50 mill buy down, taking on debt that will mandate a building fund levy increase, and budgeting to keep the full 11+% increase in total property valuation next year.

Before the “tax and spend crowd” skewer me, while the election is very serious, this piece is intended to provide real information with some humor.  The serious pieces that are not funny will follow over the next several days.