Board candidates debate issues

FAIRMONT — The four Fairmont Area School Board candidates — Michael Edman, John Gibeau, Martha Myren and Rufus Rodriguez — had the opportunity to let the public know their positions during a forum Wednesday at City Hall in Fairmont.

The four candidate are running to fill three open seats.

John Gibeau is originally from Ceylon and has lived there his entire life. He has been involved with government politics in Ceylon, having served as mayor for 12 years and currently serving on the City Council. Gibeau graduated from Fairmont High School.

Rodriguez is the current school board president and has served on the board almost four years. He is a physician at Mayo Clinic Health System-Fairmont.

Myren grew up in Fairmont and recently moved back from Indiana with her family. She has worked in several public school systems throughout the years. Myren has a son who is a senior at Fairmont High School. She works at Kahler Automation.

Edman is a lawyer in Fairmont. He grew up in Fairmont and is involved with several community groups.

Candidates covered a variety of issues, including their thoughts on parent and community engagement; the value of public education; and how they would serve as an advocate.

One question posed to the candidates is a current hot topic in Fairmont: What role should the school play with a proposed community center?

Myren admitted she does not know enough about it at this point to choose a position.

Edman said the school cannot be an equity partner in the construction of the facility. He does want the community center to be built and strongly supports it.

“I’m on the Fairmont Community Center Action Committee,” he said. “For 20 months we’ve been meeting. In the last month, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of misinformation in this community about what is and isn’t happening. I can tell you as a member of the committee that we are on step two or three of this 10-step process. We are not on step nine.”

Rodriguez said: “If there’s a valuable service that the community center can provide for students, we would be willing to support that element of it. Truthfully, whatever support the district would be able to provide is not going to make or break this deal.”

Gibeau said he has a hard time making a decision without knowing how much the facility would cost. He agreed with Rodriguez that if there is a valuable service for students, he could support it, but he needs more information before giving a definite answer.

The candidates were asked about teacher recruitment and retention.

“We’ve been quite lucky,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been able to retract and retain many good teachers and we’ve lost very few.”

He added adding that as a board member, it is important to make sure teachers know their work is valued.

Edman said you really need to look at compensation and be able to pay for talent.

“If you want someone to come to a small town, you need to give them a reason to,” he said.

Myren said she would be interested in looking at some sort of scholarship program to get people to come to Fairmont and teach here.

Gibeau believes it’s a difficult topic for many people that would require a new way of thinking.

“I’ve always believed that we need to work with our local political partners and work on plans to reward teachers who go above and beyond in the classroom and who create environments where students can excel,” he said. “I think there’s nothing wrong with merit-based rewards for teachers.”

Candidates also faced the question of what security measures the should school employ to keep students and teachers safe.

“I think all outside doors should be locked,” Myren said. “I know we applied for a grant to get monies to secure our schools. As far as a plan, I don’t think they have looked into that yet but it’s in the process.”

Edman believes there need to be locked doors, a school resource officer and an examination of the leading things other communities are doing to protect their students. He advocates for data-driven decisions when it comes to spending money.

Gibeau said that if people feel security is an issue, they need to go to the professionals. He pointed out that the Fairmont school district has a new phone system and many security cameras.

“I feel like the board is taking steps to make sure our schools are secure,” he said, adding, “It’s really important to bring in professionals who can give advice to help make decisions.”

In their closing statements, candidates each received two minutes for final words.

“The school board has an obligation to ensure continued success in our schools,” Edman said.

He also said they must be accountable to the public because the school is spending their tax dollars.

Myren said she looks forward to getting the community more involved and to keep those in the district without students informed.

“I think we need to work on communication on both sides and with the teachers,” Myren said.

Rodriguez said we are fortunate in Fairmont to have a financially stable district with good facilities and great teachers.

“We still have a lot of work to do and we need to continue to strive to be even better,” he said. “We can’t be satisfied with being at the state average of achievement. We need to set the standard for the rest of the state. I’ve learned a lot in four years and I’m at the point where I realize the job isn’t done yet.”

Gibeau said he is running for the school board to help students achieve. He said he wants to work on trying to eliminate bullying.

“We need to put forth an effort to be kind that starts not in ninth or 10th grade but in pre-school and kindergarten,” he said. “I think it’s important for our students to take time every day to learn the aspects of kindness, treating people inclusively and with respect.”