ISD 623 candidates take part in wide-ranging forum

The League of Women Voters-sponsored candidate forum for those running for the Roseville Area Schools District Board was a study in contrasting styles the evening of Thursday, Oct. 22.

The four candidates for three seats — Todd Anderson, Erin Azer, Mike Boguszewski and Bob Murray — differed in tone and verve throughout the event, moderated by LWV's Florence Sprague in the Roseville City Council chambers at City Hall.

Anderson has been involved with a number of school-related organizations, including the Roseville Area Schools Foundation and PTA.

Azer, the only board incumbent in the mix and also its current chair, is an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Skyview Middle School in Oakdale. Azer said she was appointed to the State Board of Teaching by Gov. Mark Dayton. She said she has two children attending Falcon Heights Elementary.

Boguszewski, who said he chose to move to Roseville a quarter-century ago because of the schools, is the current chair of the Roseville Planning Commission and took part in what he termed the "fight" to bring Harambee Elementary School into the district.

Murray, a Vietnam veteran and the retired owner of a commercial cleaning business, said he has experience with finances and budgeting, and that he's running "because we need to make some changes" in how the district is run.

Achievement gap and other issues

Asked early on about the achievement gap in test scores between white students and students of color, the candidates' different points of view began to emerge.

Anderson and Boguszewski said there are socioeconomic forces at play in the achievement gap, and that closing it would be a long-term effort.  Boguszewski said it would be helpful to look at what's worked elsewhere, while Anderson said the district was moving in the right direction.

Azer recognized the widening socioeconomic status in the gap, adding, "I believe there's systematic racism in play ... we need to call it what it is."

She said the district should work towards staffing more teachers from diverse backgrounds and working towards creating curricula that are relevant to kids from different cultures.

Describing his difficult childhood, Murray passionately said that all student need to be told they can make it.

"My parents told me I could succeed and didn't make excuses," he said, at one point forcefully describing himself as a former janitor in order to illustrate the variety of ways that people can make a successful living.

Wide-ranging questions

All four candidates said they hoped to have cordial relations with the teachers union. They also said they would be open to investigating changing school start times to accommodate secondary students' biological sleep patterns, while seeking input from families in the district.

With that input in mind, Azer said the board needed to be cognizant of whose needs it was considering.

"Our schools are sometimes set up for the convenience of adults," Azer said. "They need to be set up for kids."

When it came to a question regarding capital improvements, Boguszewski touted his work as director of growth and development at HealthPartners.

"My career has been in strategy and long-term planning for hospitals and clinics," he said, echoing Anderson in his call for a comprehensive plan to update district facilities.

Anderson and Azer mentioned the district's iPad initiative with respect to capital improvement, discussing its importance, which appeared to hit a nerve with Murray.

"I don't agree that technology is always a solution," Murray said, using an anecdote about improperly programmed calculators to show the shortcomings of technology, punctuating his point with a actual calculator and reference books that he'd brought to the forum.

On a question regarding special education and early childhood learning in the district, Azer and Boguszewski both extolled the values of starting children learning as early as possible. Murray said he sharply disagreed.

"I'm not in favor of early education," he said, mentioning his abusive father, before wondering emphatically, "What are we doing with the students we've already got?"

Following Murray, Anderson told a heartfelt story about how one of his daughters benefited from the district's special education programs, underscoring his support for them.

Wrapped up in books

After what was likely the forum's emotional crescendo, Sprague asked the candidates what they were reading.

Boguszewski said he's been reading through the Mary Poppins children's book series — the Ramsey County Library in New Brighton houses an especially rare edition, he said — adding that as a young man he enjoyed Kurt Vonnegut.

Murray mentioned reading political theorist Thomas Paine and detoured back to the achievement gap while discussing a biography he recently read about Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball.

Andersen self-deprecatingly described himself as both a "sports rube" and a "science fiction nerd."

Azer detailed reading at home to her children, as well as reading aloud "The Outsiders" — for roughly the 43rd time in her teaching career — to her eighth-graders, something which, she added, is resulting in amazing test answers.

Regarding their No. 1 priorities, the candidates were succinct. Murray stressed the benefits of grammar and reading proficiency; Boguszewski spoke of easing back on the reliance on standardized tests; Azer said she'd focus on the achievement gap; Anderson said he was all about equitable student achievement.

Sprague's final question of the forum asked the candidates to describe in one word what they would bring to the board, and they answered in quick succession.

Said Azer, "Experience;" Boguszewski, "Capability;" Anderson, "Collaborative;" Murray, "Passion."

 

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3. To find your polling place head to www.pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us or call Ramsey County Elections at 651-266-2171.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

 

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