Barnum Board candidates make their pitch

Two are vying for open seat

 

October 20, 2023

Tony Newman

It's a sparse election season in Carlton County, where the only electable seats belong to a pair of school boards seeking to fill terms vacated by previously elected officials.

In Barnum, board appointee Patrick Poirier and challenger Tony Newman will vie to fill the remaining year left on a seat that's up for election again in 2024.

Election day is Nov. 7, with early voting already started.

The Pine Knot News asked the candidates to respond to our election questionnaire, and both Poirier and Newman graciously obliged. Next week, we'll look at the race to fill the vacant seat in Carlton between Ryan Leonzal and Steven Schmidt.

What follows are candidates' responses to the questions in the Barnum race.

Patrick Poirier

Can you briefly summarize your personal background, qualifications and any prior election experience?

I had previously served on the Barnum school board for 12 years before being appointed to fill in for a board member that had left midterm. The appointed position was only for six months and another year is left on the term, so there has to be an election.

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

I was appointed in March 2023 to fill in for somebody who left and the passion for student achievement that I thought I had lost came back, so I decided to run again for this one year term. Barnum will also be starting a construction project that I have been active with and would like to see it through.

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

Making sure we stay competitive with our staff's wages. Smaller school districts have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to bringing in high-quality teachers and maintaining that core group. Smaller school districts like Barnum have to be creative with contracts and language to limit the turnaround and keep our teachers here in the district.

Can you elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well recently?

This board has been very active and open to ideas on how to get back to "pre-Covid" days. Some of our students struggle still because of the 2020 pandemic and the year that followed. This board has given teachers and administration the time and resources to get all of our students caught up to where we should be.

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

A school board is the "business" side of the district. These decisions should be left to the administration and teachers as they know best. I'm not a teacher and I would not be qualified to make those types of decisions. Leadership and conduct starts at home; perhaps we should be focusing our attention on educating parents.

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

In order to survive these shortfalls, smaller districts are going to have to collaborate with surrounding districts. Barnum is part of the Barnum, Moose Lake and Willow River (BMW) collaborative that are working together to share resources such as bus drivers, business personnel and classes. It still has a long way to go, but all three schedules should be similar if not exact, which should help give our students more elective options.

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

As I previously mentioned, Barnum is collaborating with other area districts, and it's been working great.

Finally, why should people vote for you?

I bring more experience to this district than anyone currently serving or running against me. I served three terms (12 years) previously and the current board chose me to replace a board member that has moved out of the district and could no longer serve. This board and community have trust in me to make tough decisions that affect the students, community and staff.

Tony Newman

Can you briefly summarize your personal background, qualifications and any prior election experience?

Born and raised in Barnum. Graduated from Barnum High School in 1978. Married to Dawn Newman for 23 years with two kids Skylar (17) and Lily (16). Employed at Minnesota Department of Transportation as engineering specialist in the Survey Department. Previously served two terms on Barnum school board in 2011-15 and 2015-19. Also, a Minnesota School Board Association legislative delegate at that time.

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

My son Skylar is a senior this year at Barnum High School, so I'd like to be more involved with the school community. I also think it's good for people to have a choice on the ballot.

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

Funding has always been an issue for Barnum. As a small district, our tax revenues can't compete with the more affluent metro districts, and referendums create a disproportionate burden for property owners. The solution has to come from the legislature. I've always lobbied our local congressional representatives. I was in favor of investing some of this year's budget surplus in schools, but an adequate and fair funding stream needs to be established. And when the legislature places a mandate on the schools they need to attach a way to fund it.

Can you elaborate on something you think the school board has handled well recently?

I think the current board is trying hard to keep the district within budget. They've been trying new things like block schedules at the high school and sharing administration with neighboring schools. They are also working hard on facilities upkeep and repair.

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

The state of Minnesota has quality educational standards and I trust our teachers to teach those standards. Teachers supply parents with the curriculum, and if they have concerns are encouraged to have that conversation with their child's teacher. I feel if the school board is involved with what books can be read, it all boils down to politics and the school board should be nonpartisan.

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

Good education comes from good teachers. The board and the administration needs to work with teachers and support staff to make the best decisions. Communication is key. Everyone needs to know what resources are available. The school needs to have a strategic plan in place for a long-term vision.

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

Patrick Poirier

When I previously served we had discussions about using technology to allow our students to take advantage of courses available at other schools and vice versa. With today's technology this should be reviewed further. I would always be open to the possibility of consolidation, but only as a benefit to our district.

Finally, why should people vote for you?

My previous service was a very positive experience. I dealt with many issues including budgets, referendums, facilities, personnel and legislation. I am always glad to listen to other people's opinions and concerns. I realize I represent not only parents that have kids in our schools, but also those taxpayers who don't. Thank you.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct the date of the election.

 
 

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