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Fargo teachers union endorses 5 school board candidates, no incumbents

The five candidates who were endorsed are among 15 people running for five seats on the Fargo Public School Board.

Grant Kraft, chair of Fargo Education Assocition negotiations committee, address the Fargo School Board of Education on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.jpg
Grant Kraft, chair of Fargo Education Association negotiations committee, addresses the Fargo School Board of Education on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.
C.S. Hagen / The Forum
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FARGO — The Fargo Education Association has endorsed five candidates for the Fargo Public School Board in the June 14 election, and none of them are incumbents.

The endorsed candidates are Melissa Burkland, Katie Christensen, Greg Clark, Nyamal Dei and Lyn Telford.

The five candidates who were endorsed are among 15 people running for five seats on the Fargo Public School Board.

Candidates who did not receive union endorsement include incumbents Rebecca Knutson, Brian Nelson, David Paulson and Robin Nelson, all of whose tenures expire this year, as well as challengers Kristin Sharbono, Alexis Scott, Zac Echola, Deven Styczynski, Katie Kelsh and Allie Ollenburger.

Board Member Jennifer Benson, whose term also expires this year, has announced she is not running for reelection but instead is running for a seat on the Fargo City Commission.

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Benjamin Norman, chairman of the FEA Governance Committee and a member of a nine-member team that interviewed the candidates, said the union's choices for endorsement should not be viewed as wholesale dissatisfaction with current board members, who he said have been "wonderful partners with us."

He said the decision had more to do with the general tumult the school district has experienced in recent years than any specific topic.

"We're not completely blaming them (the current board) for all our woes," Norman said, noting the endorsement committee felt it was time for new voices and perspectives.

"Because we're struggling," he added.

In a written statement, the FEA noted that each of the endorsed candidates display values needed to bring positive change to the district and that each would effectively represent all stakeholders.

"This group of candidates has diverse backgrounds, ideas, and skill sets that will benefit students, staff, and our entire community,” Stephanie Schuster, a teacher at Ed Clapp Elementary, said in the FEA statement.

Kim Reger, FEA president, said in the written statement that educators want the best candidates "who are going to stand up for the students and teachers in our community."

"They (teachers) also want members on the board who will be transparent with community members and seek the best interest of the greater Fargo community," Reger said.

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Incumbent Robin Nelson declined to comment for this story.

Incumbent Brian Nelson said he wasn't given a clear reason as to why he was not endorsed.

"I'm kind of wondering why a man that has been on the board of education for four years and in public education for 34 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent and has supported both taxpayers and teachers in these last four years as a board member, why I wouldn't get endorsed," he said.

Paulson declined to comment on the endorsements, other than to note it wasn't made clear to him how the endorsements were decided.

"All 15 of us interviewed, and I really don't know what criteria they were looking for," he said.

"I had hoped that they looked at how I had been a strong supporter of teachers in the past, and I would continue with that if I were reelected. But their decision-making is entirely their own and I really don't know how they go about it," Paulson added.

Knutson said she has enjoyed working with the teachers union and that under her leadership as board president, critical work was completed that involved a partnership between the union and the school board.

"The 2021-23 teacher contract was agreed upon and signed, and the education association and board agreed to commissions to study elementary school recess and teacher salaries," Knutson said.

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"The teachers at Fargo Public Schools are fantastic, and I know that especially during the past couple of years teachers have faced extenuating challenges," she said. Knutson said she is interested in creating "more ways to listen and learn about how the board can support teachers so they can be even more effective in their roles (and) feel valued, trusted and respected."

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

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