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No easy answers for school needs

There is general agreement that schools face financial hurdles and Blackduck (as in Northome which was reviewed last week) is no exception.

Half a dozen candidates are vying for four open spots on the Blackduck School Board. Three of the vacancies include two seats now held by incumbents and the fourth opening is for the remaining two years of a term now filled by an appointment.

Board chairman Dale Compton and member Mark Sparby are seeking to return to the spots they now hold. New candidates for those spots are Rachel Larson and Rita Rabe. There are three openings for four-year terms, the third due to the decision of Larry Zea not to run again.

Compton currently serves as the board's chairman. Sparby is completing his first term as a board member. Larson is a legal secretary, was born and raised in Blackduck and is a graduate of Blackduck High School. Married, she and her husband moved back to Blackduck in 2006 after college and in order to raise their two children in a community this size. They live on a hobby farm north of Blackduck, where she grew up.

Rabe has been married to husband, Bill, for 42 years. They had two children. Son, Bill Jr., was killed in an automobile accident when he was 26 years old. Rabe got her degree in Elementary Education and taught 21 years in Bemidji area schools, then got her Master's degree along with a Reading Specialist certificate at Bemidji State University. She has worked over the past four years as Early Childhood Family Education Parent Educator for Blackduck schools and also as Director of Religious Education for St. Ann church.

Randy Lange filed for the two-year opening. He is being opposed by Sue Stroeing running as a write-in candidate.

Lange has lived in the Blackduck area since 2003. He and his wife own and operate Beaver Creek Fishing Resort on Blackduck Lake, where he's popularly known as "Beave" or "Mr. Beaver Creek." Their youngest daughter graduated from Blackduck High in 2008. Prior to acquiring the Beaver Creek Resort, Lange had owned other businesses beginning in 1978.

Stroeing and her husband, Robert, have three children, all of whom were educated in Blackduck public schools. She is employed by the U.S. Postal Service as a highway contract carrier and says she is running for the board "to give students more choice in the programs."

All of the candidates were invited to answer questions as to why they were seeking election, how they felt a board member should approach the job and what their responsibility should be and where they would look at budget cuts if the financial position of the district doesn't improve. Neither of the incumbents responded, though Sparby did say he was running again because of his care and concern for the school and the community.

Not surprisingly, finances ranked high among the concerns of each candidate but there were differences in the response they gave as to where they would look for cuts if that became necessary. Despite those differences, most felt the current board had done their job and that, as Lange put it, "It is the entire board's duty to make those types of decisions when it is necessary to do so."

Rabe cautioned that "extracurricular activities should not be part of the budget cut... because if we cut too much, we will lose students to Kelliher, Northome and Bemidji."

She went on to suggest it may become necessary to look at reducing or eliminating the late rides for after-school activities on Wednesdays and Thursdays. "As a district, we are one of the few to still provide this service," she added.

Larson said if further cuts become necessary, she would look first at recommendations of the administrative team, expecting that "money saving strategies would already have been explored and implemented prior to any program cuts." She would then "seek input from parents, community members and students."

Stroeing noted that the present board has had to make so many cuts that new members will be faced with a need to review all departments thoroughly before any more reductions can be made.

All of the new candidates agreed that board members have an obligation to help formulate and approve policy, including making financial decisions.

"We need to keep the students we have now and find ways to entice more students into enrolling in our school," Lange said, pointing out that so much of the state aid depends on the number of students.

"Kids must be our top priority," said Rabe.

"This is the reason we are here," said Larson, "to do what is best for the students and the school."