MINNETONKA — At a recent forum, candidates seeking election to the Minnetonka School Board discussed open enrollment, mental health and the district’s strengths and weaknesses, among other topics.

The League of Women Voters-Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Hopkins held the forum, which was moderated by league President Peggy Kvam, at the Minnetonka City Council chambers on Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Each candidate gave an opening statement and was given one minute to answer each question, with the exception of a few lightning-round questions that were meant to be answered in a few words. Questions were based on those submitted by the public, the League of Women Voters said.

Kvam asked the candidates about open enrollment and whether it has been a benefit or detriment to the school district.

“My family began as an open-enrollment family and I’m really grateful that we had the opportunity to give our kids the education we wanted for them and when we were able we moved into the district, renovated our home and are extremely proud to live here in our district,” Kathryn Gimse said in response to the question.

Most of the candidates agreed open enrollment is a positive thing for the district — having brought millions of dollars in education funding to the district. But the overcrowding in classrooms is creating concerns.

“I heard ‘open enrollment saved the district’ and ‘open enrollment allowed tremendous things to happen’ I struggle with those two things because I don’t see evidence of either of those two things being true and I don’t see evidence of parents seeing that as true,” Don Amorosi said in response to the question. “I think open enrollment is great to a point, particularly if it creates diversity for our school district, I don’t know that it does, particularly, if it helps us share our great wealth, I don’t know that it does.”

A topic brought up several times in answers to several different questions was way the district recognizes both high achieving and not high achieving students.

“Our district’s greatest strength is our students who rise to every single challenge that we present them with and take advantage of the variety of opportunities in front of them,” Trevor Thurling said, responding to a question about what the district’s greatest strength and weakness are. “Our greatest weakness is that only a few of those students are routinely celebrated. Every one of them deserves recognition and a voice.”

The mental health of students was another topic discussed throughout the forum and directly approached by Kvam via question.

“Mental health and wellness is a nationwide epidemic, everybody is looking for the answer. The district knows there is an issue and things are being done,” Christine Ritchie said in response to the question. “Three things that we can do right now, we need to recognize all the students, not just the high achievers, accept that success looks different for everyone and make that a culture in the community and it’s hard to hear but be upfront that there are drug and alcohol issues in the school.”

Lastly, the candidates were asked about equity in the Minnetonka School District. Some candidates took this time to address the achievement gap and others to address racism in schools.

“We want all learners to achieve their personal best and this is different than the district’s personal best which is important to delineate,” Sarah Clymer said about the achievement gap.

Several candidates, all non-incumbents, brought up transparency between the Minnetonka School District, the School Board, parents and students as an issue. Candidates cited transparency issues in the areas of mental health and the school’s process for handling issues, open-enrollment statistics, and policies, among other things.

Frances Stevenson is a reporter for the Lakeshore Weekly News, covering the communities around Lake Minnetonka.

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