Rochester School Board, Seat 2 | Elections


Rochester School Board, seat 2.


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Melissa Amundsen mug

Amundsen

What experience do you have that would help you serve on the board?

For the past 20 years, I have dedicated my time to supporting children and education in our community. I have served on numerous education-related nonprofit boards, including Rochester Public School Foundation, GATEway, Aldrich Memorial Nursery School, the Minnesota Department of Education Gifted and Talented Advisory Council, and the PTSAs of all three of my children’s schools — serving as president of many of them. I have participated on various school district committees, including the Budget Reduction Committee, the Superintendent Hiring Committee, and other hiring teams and task forces. I have also served on a number of referendum committees, including the Gibbs building referendum. My experience in these areas directly correlates with many of the challenges our school district will be facing in coming years. I have attended the vast majority of school board meetings since 2005. I am ready to jump in and hit the ground running on the school board with minimal learning curve.

How would you address the Office of Civil Rights’ concerns about documented disparities in disciplinary incidents regarding minority and special education students?

It’s important that we continue to cooperate with the OCR, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, and any other agencies that may interact with the school district about discipline disparities. In fact, I would like the district to exceed cooperation and approach these interactions with a spirit of collaboration. We must remember that ultimately we’re on the same team — we want to do what’s best for our students. Presently, the Community Focus Team is making recommendations to the school board regarding data format. Once the data has been analyzed, we can move ahead in identifying and addressing the causes of the disparities. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to remove any and all barriers to learning that are under our control.

What do you think the board should be prepared to do after consultants wrap up their study on the district’s long-term facilities needs (that may likely call for at least one new school)?

First, the district needs to carefully consider the information that will be presented to them by the Facility Task Force. Multiple options exist to help alleviate overcrowding, including potential boundary adjustments and changes to our district-wide option schools. After all avenues have been explored and feasible adjustments have been made, if capacity analysis and enrollment projections indicate that a new building or buildings would be in the best interest of our community, the school board needs to be prepared to bring forward a referendum vote and fully inform the community about the details and process. At that point, the school board needs to ensure that information is presented to the community that is accurate, transparent, and based on reliable data.


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Castro Vangie mug

Castro



What experience do you have that would help you serve on the board?

I have a B.A. in political science from California State University, East Bay. I’ve been working on completing my masters in public administration through the University of San Francisco. I was appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton to be on the Task Force for the Prevention of School Bullying from 2012 to 2014. Additionally, when I was the education program manager for the Diversity Council, I spent six years partnering with the school district to provide anti-bias workshops for grades K through 8 and after-school leadership and anti-bullying programs for high school-age students. I have spent almost 20 years working with youth programing — namely with at-risk and/or high-risk youths. I was also on the Rochester Public Schools’ Reconsideration Committee, which reviews a parent or concerned adults’ complaints in regards to school curriculum. I have a clear understanding of process and policy, which are two things that school board members are responsible for and required to do.

How would you address the Office of Civil Rights’ concerns about documented disparities in disciplinary incidents regarding minority and special education students?

Board members do not oversee the day-to-day business of the district; that’s the role of the superintendent and cabinet. However, we do have the responsibility of ensuring we create policies and guidelines for the district to follow to stay compliant with the OCR. Three years into the agreement, the racial discipline disparities are still there. They’ve changed how they collect data and it looks like the number of referrals have gone down, but the racial disparity is still there. It is negatively affecting not only students of color, but students with disabilities, too. Our job is to educate all students and prepare them for college or the workforce. Research shows a correlation between discipline and graduation rates. If we want to close the graduation disparity rates, we need to figure out how we are going to realistically fix discipline disparity. We also need to reach an agreement with Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

What do you think the board should be prepared to do after consultants wrap up their study on the district’s long-term facilities needs (that may likely call for at least one new school)?

The board needs to prepare itself to answer many questions the community will have about cost and how new school facilities will be paid for. Destination Medical Center doesn’t just affect downtown infrastructure, bike lanes, or affordable housing. It also means Rochester is growing and so will student populations. The last referendum paid for new iPads for students, and the District made a concerted effort reaching out to the community. They educated folks about the need to pass the referendum. They will have to do it again. What is most important is educating the community about why public education is still relevant and important to the growth and success of Rochester and the DMC. If we want to attract and retain quality talent, then we need to provide a quality educational ecosystem and a reason for people to raise a family here. We can achieve this with better facilities and preventing overcrowding of classrooms.


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Bruce Kaskubar mug

Kaskubar

What experience do you have that would help you serve on the board?

Life. Education. Profession.

I was a student for almost 20 years, helped raise four children, and have plenty of life experience. My formal education includes engineering, product design, system analysis and mathematics. I have led projects and people; been responsible for producing, defending, and living within multi-million-dollar budgets; designed corporate educational curriculum and taught classes. My experience adds up to knowing something about humanity, knowing how to see, understand and solve a problem, finding people to help and applying ingenuity for win-win solutions.

I think the quality of the environment in our schools is important — it should be assured. I’m not talking about room temperature; I’m talking about expectations, respect, orderliness, maybe even fun. Not just for students but for teachers and staff, too. I’m concerned about the students having trouble with achievement. We need to find ways to improve their success and I think we can.

How would you address the Office of Civil Rights’ concerns about documented disparities in disciplinary incidents regarding minority and special education students?

Discipline should be applied consistently based on a single standard. Period. That standard should be defined by our community.

The OCR’s 2014 “Dear colleague” letter officially conflicted with that ideal but it recently announced a plan to cancel that directive. Unfortunately, Minnesota’s Department of Education adopted the 2014 directive. Worse, they’ve declared that unless discipline rates are the same across all races, discipline is unacceptable. Their position is unreasonable (and not explainable in 150 words). Racism may be a problem, but the reported discipline numbers cannot support that conclusion. We can analyze discipline by any categorization we like — race, gender, needs, grade level, teacher age, etc. — and not one will break even. But some people believe the categorization by race should break even or it proves racism.

First, I would discuss their thinking, conclusions and requirements. Then find a middle ground that satisfies.

What do you think the board should be prepared to do after consultants wrap up their study on the district’s long-term facilities needs (that may likely call for at least one new school)?

The board must be willing to understand the details of the consultants’ and other findings, population projections, and of alternative solutions for satisfying our supply and quality of education. With that understanding, it should press forward with a proposal and explanation for what it believes is the best solution, which may be new building.

However, understanding the details and considering alternatives cannot be taken for granted. A recent proposal to contract with an energy efficiency firm, a good idea, was approved with no significant questions. Why must that contract be for five years? Could it be three or four? After the five year term, do we have to renew or are we on our own to receive 100% of the energy savings (instead of giving up 50% as during the contract)?

Uncritical approval such as demonstrated for the energy contract is less than should be expected for new building.





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