by Theodore Tollefson On Tuesday, October 5, the Hastings Chamber of Commerce hosted a public forum for the candidates who are running for election to the ISD 200 School Board for Hastings Public …
by Theodore Tollefson
On Tuesday, October 5, the Hastings Chamber of Commerce hosted a public forum for the candidates who are running for election to the ISD 200 School Board for Hastings Public Schools.
The six candidates, Kelsey Waits, Tashina Miller, Scott Gergen, Carrie Banaszewski Tate, Jessica Dressely and Mike Reis, all attended the forum and had answers prepared for the six questions that were submitted by Hastings community members to the Chamber of Commerce a week prior to the forum. The forum was moderated by Dietrich Nissen, a 13-year visual storyteller and digital communications expert who is currently based in Edina.
Prior to Nissen asking the submitted questions to the candidates, each candidate gave an introduction on who they are and why they are running for Hastings Public Schools Board. The first question for the candidates was ‘What do you feel is the biggest challenge ISD 200 is facing and what role does the school board play in solving it?’ Gergen was the first to answer this question and stressed the most important issue for ISD 200 currently is the local tax levy and funding received from the levy.
“We know that declining enrollment in Hastings is happening and our growing demographic is age 55 plus. This is going to drive less revenue for our schools,” said Gergen.
With the tax levy once again being up for review in December for the school board, the current board is preparing for the decline in enrollment reported from September to cause a decrease in funding for Hastings Public School.
Although they did not talk specifically on the upcoming levy, Banaszewski Tate, Miller, and Reis agreed that declining enrollment is the largest issue that Hastings Public Schools is facing right now.
“Without higher enrollment we are losing the funding for our schools and the way that we as a district can make that happen is by working and communicating with our community and possibly opening up jobs and housing,” said Miller.
Waits spoke on a different issue being the biggest challenge to Hastings Public Schools right now, that being the divisiveness happening over issues that come to the school board, specifically to COVID-19 over the past year and a half.
“In attempting to address these challenges we need to find ways for the board, our administrative team, and our community to work together to support our students. Because that teamwork, those relationships, that’s how we handle any challenge that’s coming our way. And right now things are incredibly divisive. We have all seen it, and how do we come together as Hastings to support our students,” said Waits.
Dressly shared that she believes the biggest issue Hastings Public Schools is currently facing is learning students lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dressly said the inconsistencies of hybrid, in-person, and at home learning caused disruptions to kids’ learning that has put them behind significantly.
The following question from Nissen to the panel continued a focused discussion on the upcoming levy changes that are set to expire in 2024 and 2026.
When it came time for Reis to speak on this matter, he said that around $40,000 had been spent by the board on the new solar garden that had been installed two years ago for ISD 200 and said that it would take six to eight years for the board to recover from this spending.
Waits fact checked Reis as he had been sharing misinformation with this comment. Waits confirmed that the district was actually paid to join the solar garden program, and did not have to pay for it. Waits being on the board when the district joined the program, confirmed the district has saved $100,000 a year by being paid to join the solar garden program.
The third question for the panel was ‘Is equity an important part of school curriculum and or culture? Why or why not?’ Reis and Banaszewski Tate spoke on equity not being a necessity in Hastings schools, as they believe that everyone has equal opportunity if they set their minds to things and put forth.
Banaszewski Tate also stressed her distaste for the potential of racial education taught in equity such as Critical Race Theory. Banaszewski Tate believes that all equity education lies in Critical Race Theory. As equity education as defined by the Minnesota Department of Education does not include any language in relation to Critical Race Theory.
The MN Department of Education defines equity education as “Creating equitable opportunities is dependent upon having inclusive policies and practices that represent all students, and providing each student increased access to and creating meaningful participation in high-quality learning experiences where each student realizes positive outcomes.”
Waits too fact checked Reis and Banaszewski Tate on what currently exists on equity education not currently being curriculum at Hastings Public Schools.
“Equity is a value and a commitment to helping each and every child succeed. Although equity has been a buzzword lately, it is not new. In fact the most successful and largest equity in our schools is special education. Equity is about getting each and every student the support that they need to succeed in school,” said Waits Gergen also confirmed with Waits that equity is a value and commitment and not a curriculum that is in place for any students at Hastings Public Schools. Equity has been a large focus of policy rework during recent Hastings School Board meetings as the board has worked to update policies that have not been updated since the late 2000’s.
“Educational equity means raising the achievements of all students while narrowing the achievement gaps between the lowest and highest performing students and narrowing the opportunity gaps between all students and eliminating our racial and cultural disparities,” said Gergen.
Miller, who is a member of the non-profit IDEA, which helps people in the BIPOC and LGBTQ plus communities and help bring awareness and educate the community on inequities people face.
“Equity is an important thing in our schools just to make sure that every child feels they’re accepted no matter what,” said Miller.
As the forum wrapped up, all candidates made their closing statements on why they would be one of the best three choices to be elected to the ISD 200 School Board next month on November 2 on voting day.
The candidates all have websites where further information on their individual campaigns can be found and will continue to campaign throughout the month of October to make their cases known to the Hastings community on why they should be elected to the ISD 200 School Board for the next four years.