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Board newcomer is top vote getter

Three of five candidates were going to be elected to the Cloquet School Board on Tuesday. Sarah Plante Buhs didn’t have the faintest idea she’d be the top vote-getter.

“I’m very appreciative, and I was very surprised with what the outcome was,” she told the Pine Knot the next day. “I was not expecting that much support. It’s nice to see; we have a great community.”

Plante Buhs won 3,196 votes (25.9%) followed by incumbents David Battaglia, with 2,706 votes (21.9%), and Gary “Hawk” Huard at 2,367 (19.2%).

Battaglia was “appreciative” of the fourth consecutive term, and Huard called it “gratifying” both to win a fourth term overall and for the community’s willingness to step up.

“In the past we’ve been lucky to get one person to file to run,” he said. “This is promising and I hope this trend continues.”

Board chair Ted Lammi finished with 17% of the vote and challenger Jamie Graham accrued 15.2%.

Lammi expressed support for arming trained teachers and staff to combat the threat of school violence during an October candidate forum. He forecast his defeat in a discussion with the newspaper afterward.

“I’ll probably be dis-elected for saying this, but America is unique in even having this problem,” he said of school shootings. “All I can do is protect the school, so we have to consider a number of possibilities.”

New and returning board members wouldn’t go that far, even in light of two school lockdowns in 2022 resulting from hoax threats.

“I’m personally against arming staff,” Battaglia said. “If we ever had a situation and had to get law enforcement into the building it’d be hard to tell the good guy from the bad guy if you have teachers running around with guns.”

Huard called Lammi a good school board member and said the school already has “a program in place.”

“I hope to God something like that never happens,” he said.

Plante Buhs is closely familiar with emergency response following her former, 23-year career with the Cloquet Area Fire District.

“I prioritize the safety of the school’s students and staff as No. 1,” she said.

Now executive director of the United Way of Carlton County, Plante Buhs wasn’t ready to make the leap to adding the use of firearms to in-school duties.

“Arming teachers and other staff members is not something I would consider at this time,” she said.

Teachers and staff already have roles, she said, and diverting their attention from keeping kids safe could elevate the chaos and disrupt the authorities’ response, she added.

“I don’t want to put anyone in that position,” she said. “They signed up to teach and educate kids, not carry guns.”

Plante Buhs suspected the support for her candidacy was the result of her dedication to community involvement. She’s been a board member with the Cloquet Education Foundation, former president of an elementary school parents group, and a member of the city parks commission.

But winning an election was different than anything before it, she said. She wasn’t interviewing with a board, or gaining quick approval from an organization.

“This was people in the community voting for me, and putting their trust and faith in me to do what’s in the best interest for the school and community,” she said. “There’s a big difference with that.”

Regarding the sorts of issues she expects to confront, she said keeping class sizes manageable was a priority. Additionally, the district is in a healthy financial position. It’s something not all surrounding districts can say.

“Schools surrounding us are feeling the pinch,” she said. “We might have to start looking here in the near future at what consolidation looks like with Cloquet.”

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