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School Board Candidates for District 318 - Grand Rapids Scotty Puglisi and Mark Schroeder

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Today we welcomed the candidates for School Board in the Grand Rapids area - School District 318 - Mark Schroeder and Scotty Puglisi.

Transcript of our conversation (edited for clarity)

Heidi Holtan:

Whether it is Brainerd or Ely or Grand Rapids or Bemidji or anywhere across the country - right now school boards are seeing more and more people getting involved as parents in the community question and want to get involved in how schools are run locally.

In Grand Rapids, there are two people running for school Board voting is now open and takes place on November 2nd. The candidates are joining us via zoom this morning. We welcome Mark Schroeder and Scotty [inaudible]. Thanks so much for being here.

Mark Schroeder:

Thank you very much for hosting this conversation this morning.

Heidi Holtan:

You're welcome and welcome Scotty.

Scotty Puglisi:

Hi, thanks so much

Heidi Holtan:

A the end of this conversation, you each get to ask each other a question. If you would like to. We've also been receiving questions from our listeners and we may have time to get some of those in as well. Are we ready to begin?

John Bauer:

We are ready. So we're just going to start off with the basic question. Why are you running for the school board?

Scotty Puglisi:

I am running because I think there's a large group of people like myself who would like to see some changes. You know, I'm not part of the school board yet. I do have some experience in being on a board, but I think that we would, we, I - to be honest, a lot of the parents, the big reason is - we don't like mandates.

We don't want our school board and telling our kids what's what they need to do for their health. And we really want to have that freedom back as parents to decide what's best for the health of our children after all they, God gave them to us to raise and not to the school.

Their job is really to focus on education. So I think I think I could do a good job just coming to give some perspective from maybe some grassroots perspective. So that's kind of it in a nutshell.

Mark Schroeder:

My answer is maybe a little bit simpler than Scotty's. My passion is for students in public education. My commitments to student safety, student opportunity and students I've worked in public education for 32 years as a teacher and principal served 6 years active duty military. So that's 38 years of public service. I very much enjoyed that time and I would like to continue to serve the public in the role of school board.

Heidi Holtan:

Second question -How has the district handled the pandemic?

Mark Schroeder:

I think it's been a little rocky. I mean, nobody's going to deny that… I think the district is trying to be flexible and I think the primary goal has always been to keep kids in class.

We’ve seen a lot of that in the past couple years where kids are out of class, kids are in class, they're online. That's been very, very disruptive. I really think that the district has approached this from three directions. One is from the students staff safety standpoint. I think there's a pretty flexible policy in place that includes masking when necessary social distance,testing with parent permission once in a while to keep kids in class quarantines if necessary. I think there's some bigger parts of this that have been put in place.

We know we've had some academic achievement gaps that happened in the past couple of years. The district has been using FastBridge star testing and EduClimber to track student progress and fill in those academic gaps. That would be the second part academic achievement, but I think there's also been some focus on bringing in some revenues to this district that can help. For example the district recently applied for money to do rapid testing. And of course that's with parent permission, but a rapid test in 30 minutes can keep the kids in class instead of having them send them home with symptoms. And there's also been some COVID money in the districts been out there asking for input from the public on what would be the best ways to use those dollars

Scotty Puglisi:

Well, to be totally honest, I'm pretty disappointed. For one, I guess, there's no other option for kids this year. I realized distant learning last year was not everybody's first choice, but I can say that my kids didn't suffer. Actually it was really nice to have them home. I am a teacher and so it was easy for us and I realize everybody doesn't have that opportunity, but I think as a whole, I'm pretty disappointed this year, how it's been handled.

It feels like that the school board says one thing: we're going to mandate this, but then they send out that they're not going to police it or anything. I'm pretty sure there's some hypocrisy in there.

Unfortunately that breaks a lot of trust. I feel like the large amount of people in this community have lost a lot of trust with our school board this year. It seems like they make decisions and that they feel like we can't handle the truth. And that's really sad because parents are really aware, they're educated, they're doing research about what's best for their kids. And really what the CDC does say about how this affects kids. So I would say overall disappointing, unfortunately.

John Bauer:

What are your thoughts on curriculum changes and should the school board and mem members, parents have a say in it?

Scotty Puglisi:

My thoughts on curriculum, I guess if that question was a little bit more clear… I think I guess I'll just answer it the way I am thinking about it in my head.

There's these new things coming? Well, I guess they're not super new, but I know parents are really concerned that critical race theory is going to be taught in our schools - that we should feel bad for being white parents aren't wanting that here. And I've heard that that's just college level, but as we know social issues tend to trickle into classrooms and we already fight the fight of teachers sometimes giving their opinions and political stances in classrooms where they shouldn't. As parents, we really want the teachers just to come in and teach math, science, history, reading English or French or whatever, but we don't want these social issues being brought in.

I even posted something about another one - like being gender fluidity. We don't want our kids being taught that it doesn't mean we're against kids like Trans kids or LGBTQ, nothing like that. We are not against anybody. We just, as parents, we hold that responsibility that God given right to teach our kids, those morals very highly. And so I think that's where the parents are kind of getting upset because the schools are contemplating - should bring this in or teach the kids to this or take this out of the history books. And we're like, no, stop.

We know our country's made mistakes, but that's how we learned. We learned from our mistakes. So I think that's where the parents are really trying to voice their opinion right now. And we really just want to be heard. And I think that's probably part of why I'm running because I want to help stand up for that.

I want to help stand up for my kids. I have three kids in the system and I'm not interested in the school teaching our children that, so I take my responsibility as a parent, very highly.

And I teach them morals at home. Second day of school. I told my kids, I said, if you see a kid that's being picked on because they wear a mask or they don't wear a mask, you'll be the first one to stand up for them. So I do take that very heavily. So, unfortunately I have had good conversations with Matt Grose (District 318 Superintendent) and he did open my eyes. He's said listen, Scotty, there's other parents out there who won't do that, who are not intentional parents, and we'd have to look out for them too.

And you know, maybe we need to look into offering some parenting classes. I'm not sure, there's probably a moral level here that's lower than what we'd hope for across the board. I know there's parents out there who don't really care so much, but I don't want to lose my rights as a parent because another parent is being lazy. So that's kind of where I'm at with the curriculum thing.

Mark Schroeder:

Well, so first of all, absolutely parents should have a say in what students are taught to be really, really clear, critical race theory is not taught in our schools. It's not part of the Minnesota academic standards. There's a process set up by the state by MDE to determine what those academic standards are. And those are the requirements that we as a district are required to teach our students. It's not something random that we go into a class or let's say, Hey, let's teach about this today. It's a process. Those standards are updated every 10 years, social studies, for example, I think the next time that they're due to be updated would be 2026.

Local school boards do have a little bit of control over some things that are, tat occur within the district. For example the state requires 21 and a half credits to graduate Grand Rapids and Bigfork requires 23. We've added things like financial literacy as a requirement to graduate. We've added a little bit of PE is as a requirement to graduate. So it's not something random that gets thrown into the curriculum. You know, additionally, we have curriculum review cycles within the district and parents are always invited to participate in those. So do parents have input? Yes, they do. They absolutely should. It is limited a little bit by what MDE requires us to do.

Heidi Holtan:

How can schools improve mental health support? Everyone's been through a lot in the last couple of years.

Mark Schroeder:

I think we can all agree that students and families and staff have had a really difficult time. There's been a lot of pressures. Our counselors and social workers report that a lot of students are really in need of mental health support. I think there's a couple of ways we can approach that. Probably one of the best ways we can do that is to coordinate with community mental health partners. And we do that on a pretty regular basis already, but that can always be improved upon.

I think another good step for us would be to advocate through the state, to look for a counselor to student ratio requirement. There is not one currently in Minnesota or in most states, but something like that might help provide required support services for students.

I think one of the things we overlook a little bit too is mental health support comes from places other than counselors, social workers, community organizations a lot of participation in clubs and sports provide mental health support to students. You know, that social interaction with a positive coach and a positive team, very helpful. You know, one of the groups that's within the district – the Anishinaabe educational group, I think provides a lot of support to kids for things like that. So those are a couple of ways that I think on mental health.

Scotty Puglisi:

Well, first I just probably should give a shout out to the teachers because they're just doing a phenomenal job with their kids. I mean, they keep coming to work every day. They’re joyful and cheerful and I know they have bad days too, but from my view, they're doing a great job of being that first line support. And also I know the principals out at West, that's where my kids go... They're phenomenal. I love our principals are always seem to be available and they're out there every day when the kids get dropped off and get picked. And they're playing music to start the day off right. Like with the kids. So it's very positive. And I do think, like Mark said, there's a lot of programs out there for mental health, for children that parents just aren't aware of.

So if a child in your home needs help ask your teacher, ask your counselor at school, how can I get, how can I get my kid help? Honestly, I think a lot of this falls on the parents' responsibility, I would love to help parents become better parents and be more involved because there are a lot of programs out there - especially we have a lot of low-income families and I know that IM care actually covers mental health for kids. So I think if parents has taken initiative and asks, I think they can get some much needed help for their sweet kiddos.

John Bauer:

What does fiscal responsibility mean to you in terms of school district 318?

Scotty Puglisi:

Oh, the big budget question. Th is what I've learned so - I know little to nothing about school board, a budget, because it is so fluid. This is like something that I need to really do some research on and study on, regardless of whether I win this election or not is because it is just so complex.

I feel terrible actually for the administration when they get so much flack for the budget, because it's literally like, they take their best shot, you know, at where the budget lines are going to be. And they do everything they can to get to that spot. Like Matt Grose said once, he's like, you know, if a kid drops out or they transfer and then another family moves in, you know, your budget has fluctuated a lot within 24 hours.

So it's just kind of hard to nail it down. I do believe in being financially responsible, so I'm not in favor of like raising all these taxes because I think as a budget person myself, (cause you know, we manage our budget - our budget in our home) I think you can make some adjustments. So I think it's really important to be on top of that. And the fact that we've built all these two brand new schools and added onto Cohasset has like everybody has seen a huge tax increase. And I can tell you that I haven't met one person yet who was interested in paying more taxes right now. So I think if we could do better, I think we can do better. I think there's got to be some line items somewhere where we can tweak or help or whatever. So I'm not in the mindset of going into debt further. I don't think that that's being good stewards of our money, but I think we can do better.

Mark Schroeder:

I agree. That's a lot of the comments that Scotty made there…I think first of all, we need to run balanced budgets. And I always ran balanced budgets in my buildings in Bigfork and Grand Rapids. We are currently deficit spending. The good news is we have a positive fund balance. What we really need to do at this point is balance revenues - along with the expenditures and we probably need to do that in a fairly short amount of time within a year or two would be good.

And in terms of the fund balance, I definitely agree. Nobody wants to pay more taxes. I don't think anybody's advocating to increase taxes at this point. I think probably one of the toughest things, when you look at the budget and it is extremely complex, but about 80 to 85% of the budget is in salary.

And so when you look at that saving dollars within a school district, it's not as simple as saying spend less. I mean, you're starting to talk about jobs and programming and support for students. And so a real careful examination of expenditures is critical. I think it's also real critical to look at the revenues and where they come from. And it's not that you just get a set amount of dollars from the state. A lot of it is where can the funds be spent, where can it be applied to extremely complex. And it is something we need to work at. We need to run balanced…

Heidi Holtan:

We had a listener write in who works for the school district and they wanted to know how you are going to support teachers, increased workload, increased stress level and decreased support from administration and parents.

Mark Schroeder:

The most important thing we need to do is to have fair contracts for our employees. And I don't think anybody's going to say that teachers or educational professionals are overpaid. A fair contract is very important. I think a lot of people do not realize how tough it has been for teachers. You know, to adjust to my kids are here. My kids are out. Part of my kids are online part. My kids are in class. My kids are absent from class because sick, I think it's been a tremendous challenge for teachers. And, and I would just really say that they have really stepped up and done the job and we need to continue to find supports for them.

Scotty Puglisi:

Well, to be totally honest, a wish on my bucket list - we could start their day with Starbucks every day. I think that'd be amazing.

I think our teachers again are just so incredible and I know that some of them are really struggling. Some of them have lost family members even from COVID and just are really struggling. It makes me so sad. And I'm just going to honestly keep putting all that pressure on some parents here to really step up and to support your teachers.

I make it my personal agenda to make sure that they hear from me, like once a week in a positive way to know that they're supported: drop off a little candy bar, beef, jerky, flowers, whatever. Just once in a while, just so that they know that they're supported. I feel like parents really, if they recognize the weight of what our teachers are doing for our kids - that our tax dollars are paying for –then we could easily step up and make a better difference for our teachers' lives.

It would be great if there was something else. I am a teacher I haven't taught or had my own school classroom in this district yet, but I have been a sub here for a while. And I feel like a lot of the parents do a good job. I feel like the principals are doing their best. I don't have a great answer for it. I feel like part of it comes with a job and unfortunately, during this season of the job, it's just a tough season and my hope and prayer is that those sweet teachers just stick it out - if they can do what's best for them, like they can go exercise or they can take a mental rest or checkout or use their paid time off or whatever. Just to keep themselves healthy too. I think that would be great. You know, just simple things like that, getting enough rest, eating right. Not watching the news.

John Bauer:

This is our last question. How are you going to support students who are members of the LGBTQ plus community?

Scotty Puglisi:

Well, I don't know how I would support them any different because they're kids and they need love and support and they need everything that the rest of the kids do.

It’s so funny, this word discrimination gets tossed around like nothing, but I think, gosh, just loving - loving them. They just need to be loved. Like every other kid who identifies as anything else: I hate to be put in a box like they should be separate. They're all just kids: just love them, give them support to give them what they need, make sure they have, counseling staff or whatever, make sure they have food. I love that. You know? So yeah, that's, I wouldn't treat them any differently. I mean, if they need something, you'd be supportive to them, just like you would any other child.

Mark Schroeder:

I think we have a, a really strong mandate to treat all our kids fair and equitably. And I don't think you're going to find a more compassionate group of people in the community than the educators. They work with these kids every day and they work with them because they're passionate about all of their kids. Shout out to the high school. I mean, the high school had one of the first LGBT Q support groups in Northern Minnesota. And I, I think that there's a pretty strong recognition that in 318 we're going to accept and support all of our students.

Heidi Holtan:

Now it is time for you to get to ask a question of each other and we will start with you Mark.

Mark Schroeder:

Sure. I know where you stand on mandates. I'd be interested to know where do you stand on the science of vaccination?

Scotty Puglisi:

I think that's a great question. So the science of the vaccinations, I actually just listened to a doctor down in the cities. Oh gosh. It was two days ago. And he was like, very clear about it. You know, he's like vaccines are not keeping anybody from getting sick. Obviously we all know people who've been vaccinated who have gotten COVID - it just seems crazy that it would be mandated - that vaccines would be mandated when they don't help stop the spread and they don't help you from getting it, you know, your symptoms might be less, but you still have every opportunity to get COVID if you've been vaccinated or not.

So I think the science of vaccines, it does scare me because there's not been a long enough time to see the repercussions of getting the COVID shot. So yeah, I think there's still a lot of questions, too many questions and not enough answers. So yeah. That's my take on it. I hope I answered that.

Heidi Holtan:

If you wouldn't mind, I just want to clarify something there. You said a doctor that you had heard. Is there any other sources that you use to get information on this? Or can you tell us who and what that information was that you heard?

Scotty Puglisi:

Yeah. So this one doctor actually here, I can tell you his name real quick. He's running for governor. Let's see. His name is Neil Saha. I think he's in St. Paul. He's not the only doctor, I guess, that we've heard that from, there's been other doctors and even like, you just watch the news or, you know, the CDC or whatever, you know, they're all saying together the boosters and everything, but from what I'm understanding from this doctor and multiple doctors and other sites of vaccines, and even that, you know, well, I'm not going to call everybody I guess, but it just seems to come from multiple places that the vaccine, you know, although it can help minimize your COVID, it just doesn't stop it.

Heidi Holtan:

Scotty, you have a chance now to ask Mark a question.

Scotty Puglisi:

I would ask what, why should people vote for you when you've been active in the school district for so long, and they're still not seeing the direction that they want to see? Why - what would you tell voters who would say, Hey, Mark, you've been here for so long…tell me what you've done for us.

Mark Schroeder:

Sure. And I think if you talked to the people that have worked with me, and I think if you talk to the parents of students that I've worked with, I think they're going to tell you that I've done a very good job over time. I think they're going to tell you that I'm very capable and have the skills and leadership ability to function as a good strong member of the school board.

Heidi Holtan:

That's Mark Schroeder and Scotty Puglisi. They're both running for school board in district 318, the special election to fill this vacancy expiring in 2023. That's going to be on November 2nd, but you can vote right now. There is early voting and if you have questions about where to vote and how to do that, you can call the Itasca County auditor's office at 218-327-2859.

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