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ELECTION GUIDE: Cloquet School Board - Five candidates

 

October 21, 2022

Left to right. Top row: Sarah Buhs, Ted Lammi; bottom row: Dave Battaglia, Jamie Graham. Not photographed: Gary "Hawk" Huard.

There are a total of five candidates vying for three seats on the Cloquet School Board, and there are profiles of all five of them within this file. So please read all the way to the bottom before you make your decision.

Sarah Buhs

Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications.

I am a lifelong Cloquet resident. Along with my children, I have nieces, nephews and friends in Cloquet schools. I serve on the Washington PIE as president, Cloquet Education Foundation Board member and am on the Parks Commission in Cloquet. I have lots of experience working in the public sector.

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

Representation is important to me. There's only one female on the school board currently and two females in school administration, with over 75 percent of the staff being female. With more diversity in all areas of our school I believe we can make better decisions for our district's staff and students.

What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed?

ISD 94 is seeing the same struggles as many schools in Minnesota. Decreases in state funding, increases in hostile threats and working to move forward after the pandemic are the top issues for Cloquet, in my opinion. Sustainability will be a major challenge in the near future. With our neighboring districts struggling, staffing challenges and open enrollment being major issues, a strong plan is needed to ensure our system is sustainable and can meet the needs of students and staff.

Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years.

The school board has handled the pandemic well. I was on the front lines in the fire service during the pandemic and know first-hand how information about COVID was constantly changing. The schools had to quickly shift to distance learning without a lot of time to prepare. Communication to caregivers and parents was done well, and being the first occurrence like this they did an amazing job!

Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position?

I believe it's important for our kids to learn an accurate account of history. District staff should ensure our students learn our history so that they can understand where we come from and not to repeat our mistakes. History cannot be erased just because some may not like or agree with it. I believe the district's curriculum should be inclusive, especially the cultures that are prevalent in our community.

If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions?

I think if the pandemic surges, it will look a lot different next go round. There is a lot more information about the virus and a large population is vaccinated and boosted. This seems to be significantly reducing the levels of extreme illness and death. We now know that distance learning can have serious impacts on our students and staff. This should be strongly considered before using again rather than it being a default scenario.

How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence?

The school board's top priority for students and staff must be their safety. Preparation, planning and training is the only way to mitigate these incidents from the school perspective. Ongoing planning, training and input from experts will help us prepare. We must include counseling and resources for students to try to eliminate the occurrence before it happens.

Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming?

It is the board's duty to take a close look at the budget and how they can adapt and make changes as shortfalls continue. This may mean considering new options such as consolidation with area schools, possible collaborations with outside entities, or possible new grant funding. It is a difficult balance to keep class sizes manageable for educators so that students have the attention they need to be successful.

Why should people vote for you?

This community is my passion. I spent 23 years in the fire service working on community risk reduction and prevention. More recently as the Executive Director of the United Way of Carlton County. I serve through my work and I'm proud to help create a strong and forward-thinking community.

How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts?

I believe it is always best to keep an open mind for continued growth. With that said I would not be opposed to exploring consolidation or collaboration to see if it would be a benefit to our district, staff and students.

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Ted Lammi (Incumbent)

Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications.

I am a retired pilot from Northwest and Delta Airlines, a UMD graduate and an 8-year veteran of the Air Force. I filled a vacancy on the board in 2013 after a resignation and I faced the voters in 2014. If elected, this will be my third full term

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

I want to give back. All three of my kids graduated from Cloquet. My goal is to offer to all our students the same great education. This is a turbulent time in politics and I offer stability, dedication, and high standards. We have great schools and I want to help lead.

What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed?

The top issue is the same as always: The mission. Our job is to educate kids and promote, encourage and demand everything toward that end. We do it by setting high expectations for our learners and making sure all our people are working toward that goal. That means high standards for everyone we hire and retain. With all the turmoil in our society, It is easy to get distracted. I will keep our attention on getting the kids educated with superior programs and top-notch personnel. Everything, including sports and other extracurriculars, must be focused on this effort.

Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years.

I think our response to the Covid outbreak was very good. When ordered by the state to start online learning, Cloquet schools got things going quickly and efficiently, despite the incredible complexity of the changes required. I liken it to turning an aircraft carrier around on a dime. And that was just the beginning. I marveled at the can-do attitude that existed among our people throughout the critical periods including split classes, masking and quarantine.

Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position?

History has to be taught in the way it actually happened: that means our kids learn about the achievements and the mistakes of the past. If we don't learn the mistakes, we can't avoid them. School libraries should be filled with a broad range of topics and unpopular views must be included. Attacks on books come from both sides. Duluth took Mark Twain out of the curriculum. That won't happen here if I can prevent it.

If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions?

We will do whatever has to be done to ensure learning takes place. Distance learning is something we need to avoid if possible. Sanitation protocols, selective quarantine and masking are tools we could use to safely keep the schools open. The next epidemic is likely to be different and we will need to respond differently, but I won't shrink from making those hard choices.

How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence?

Our schools are safe. However, we have to form a broad partnership with police and other agencies and be proactive in confronting threats. Our schools have used referendum money and other funding to make our entrances more secure while we put plans in place for the various scenarios, including the rare yet severe ones. We should also consider special training and tools for certain carefully screened employees.

Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming?

Cloquet is less affected by declining enrollments than other districts because of our geography and industrial base. By offering the quality programming that we possess, we attract enough kids through open enrollment to allow stable class numbers. Budget shortfalls occur because of the decline in state funding which has been a trend over the past 20 years or more. This year's state budget surplus - which was not shared with schools - is a dereliction of duty by our legislature. So far, Cloquet still manages to attract excellent teachers and administrators. If current trends continue, that will be harder.

Why should people vote for you?

I offer experience, broad perspective and a deep sense of responsibility. My focus is on all the kids. I hold employees and contractors to high standards. I read every resume and transcript for every teacher we hire. I examine every contract I vote on. I know budgets and I know kids.

How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts?

Consolidation is out of the question for us. A merger with Carlton would require us to layoff teachers and combine seniority lists for seven unions. A better solution was the senior high tuition plan where Carlton's top four grades would come here. Rejected by Carlton, but I think it's still possible.

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David Battaglia (Incumbent)

Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications.

I'm a retired educator who spent 34 years in public education as a teacher and principal. My wife (Nancy) and I have lived in Cloquet for 44-plus years. We have three adult children who are Cloquet graduates and grandkids currently attending Cloquet schools. I'm completing my third term on the board.

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

I feel that my years on the school board have been productive ones, with significant improvements being made in district facilities and programs. I hope to continue lending a voice to keep Cloquet moving forward. I want to help maintain the quality education we offer in Cloquet.

What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed?

In my opinion, the "budget" is the number one issue facing our district. Providing a top quality education with limited dollars is a challenge. We need to continue lobbying the state legislature to improve per-pupil funding and better subsidize special education. At the same time, we need to be fiscally responsible with our money: carefully balancing our needs and our wants.

Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years.

Over the past 2 years the school board has been very proactive lending their support to improving our vocational offerings. We have vastly upgraded our career and technical education (CTE) facilities and curriculum. Remodeled classrooms at the high school are furnished with "state of the art" equipment. Apprenticeships / internships with local trades and Sappi are now a reality. Cloquet is now a leader in CTE in the area.

Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position?

I have no interest in micro-managing the curriculum offered (or books to be read) in Cloquet. We have well educated administrators and staff who have the expertise to lead and recommend when, or if, curriculum changes need to be addressed.

If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions?

If the pandemic surges again, I will make my decisions re: masking, online learning, etc. based on the guidance we receive from state and local health experts. My number one goal is to educate students in their building, while providing all (students and staff) with a safe and healthy environment.

How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence?

As a school board member, I feel the safety of our students and staff is of the utmost importance. In the past few years we have provided secure entrances to all our buildings. We have a full-time police liaison officer on duty daily. We provide trainings to staff to help them deal with numerous emergency situations they may encounter. The district is continuously assessing what we can do better to provide the safest buildings possible.

Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming?

By providing high quality educational and extra-curricular opportunities we can keep the vast majority of our students in Cloquet. Keeping student numbers up helps alleviate budget shortfalls. Winning the battle with open-enrollment (more students coming to Cloquet than leaving) has greatly helped us supplement our budget.

Why should people vote for you?

I'm an experienced, knowledgeable school board member who still has the passion to work to provide quality education for the students of Cloquet.

How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts?

I'm all for consolidation &/or collaboration with other districts as long as it's a win-win situation. I don't want it to have any negative effects on our students or staff. If it can be beneficial to all parties involved, I'd be willing to seriously consider the options.

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Gary "Hawk" Huard (Incumbent)

Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications.

I am a lifelong resident of Cloquet. I was employed by the Cloquet School District for 30+ years in the custodial department. I am currently serving my fifth term on the Cloquet School Board. I care deeply about the school system and our children's education.

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

I feel there are important issues that continue to need attention involving student safety and overall maintenance of all district buildings. I also want to ensure that all children residing in the district continue to receive the high quality education that my three children and six grandchildren were provided here.

What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed?

My top concern is that we prioritize the safety and learning environments of our students, faculty, and staff. Proper maintenance that supports safety will continue to be my top concern.

Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years.

I am very pleased with how the Cloquet School District handled the COVID-19 pandemic. I credit the administration, faculty and staff, and our district nurse for ensuring a safe and healthy learning environment to all students while effectively communicating the many uncertainties to their families.

Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position?

In this kind of situation, I would be open to listen to anyone concerned about a specific curriculum or topic being taught. I also have confidence in those delivering the curriculum and topics and would be open to learning their side too. I feel these situations always involve two sides and both sides must be heard.

If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions?

If the pandemic surges, I will once again rely on the professionals that continue to lead us through the current times. I have complete confidence in their ability to make the appropriate decisions based on the CDC and the medical professionals regarding masking, distance learning, and other recommended precautions.

How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence?

I feel continued education that addresses school shootings and mass violence is the best approach to address these concerns. This education should prioritize student safety through continued use of practice drills. The district currently uses the ALICE program. I also feel that to maintain safety in our district, access to all buildings is only allowed to authorized personnel. We are also fortunate to have a school resource officer and I feel this position should continue.

Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming?

The concerns of declining enrollment and budget shortfalls can be addressed by considering consolidation with other school districts and greater collaboration among those districts. The district continues to allow for open-enrollment which does generate state aid. I will continue to recommend that the district be transparent with expenditures and be more fiscally responsible as these concerns are impacting all districts.

Why should people vote for you?

My goal is to continue to ensure all students have access to a quality education in the safest environment possible. And that all district employees are treated fairly and feel comfortable voicing their concerns. The district needs to be transparent about spending. I am always available to listen to taxpayers.

How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts?

Regarding consolidation and collaboration with other school districts, I believe the needs of our students who reside in our district remain the priority. If consolidation were to occur, I believe that thoughtful long-term planning regarding facility capacity and overall funding should be required.

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Jamie Graham

Briefly summarize your personal background and qualifications.

Cloquet Community Member for 13 years, a mother of two children in the Cloquet School District, President of Churchill PIE for the last 4 years along with being involved in other community organizations such as CYBSA.

What made you decide to run for school board this year?

I decided to run for school board because I feel parents' concerns are being heard but not addressed in a timely manner after attending a number of school board meetings. More individuals on the board who are in touch with issues that our students and teachers are facing is needed.

What do you think is the top issue facing the school district and how would you like to see it addressed?

​I think staffing is always going to be an issue with any district as there is a shortage of applicants. One way that this could be addressed is to work with the colleges who send student teachers to our district to complete that portion of their education.​​​

Elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well over the past two years.

Over the past two years I think what the board did well was responding to community members' emails, along with attending Coffee in the Community. It's appreciated to have dialogue with board members and not just one sided conversations.

Across the country, school boards are making curriculum decisions about what can be taught and what books can be read. What's your position?

If we eliminate curriculum and literature that contains pieces of history whether good or bad, how will our children learn to do differently? Battles were won and lost, lives we lost for equality. If anything, I would rather parents be able to opt out of a lesson rather than the school opt out of teaching.

If the pandemic surges, what's your position on masking, distance learning and other precautions?

Distance learning and masking is not conducive to the education of our students and should be used as a very last resort. Students learning in the classroom hands on with the teacher is of the utmost importance, not only for their education but also their mental health. If distance learning is needed, then students should follow the same schedule as they would in the classroom. Health decisions should be left to parents.

How should the board approach protecting students and staff from school shootings and mass violence?

While I know this would come at a cost to the district, I would love to see officers in our schools during the school day, not just outside during drop-off in the mornings. ​​

Declining enrollments in small districts and budget shortfalls are a growing issue. How can schools both remain solvent and provide good education and programming?

Schools can remain solvent by carefully monitoring the budget and limiting unnecessary spending so funds can be used to pay teacher salaries, hire new teachers, and keep pace with the ever-growing need for technology in our schools.

Why should people vote for you?

People should vote for me because I will take into consideration all factors and make the best decision for our children and teachers. I don't know everything, what I do know is that I am willing and eager to learn to do what is best for our schools and children.

How do you feel about consolidation or greater collaboration with other school districts?

Collaboration with other districts can be a great avenue to approach if it's beneficial to our district, but also the communities in which it will serve.

 
 

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