Three candidates vying for two at large seats on the Duluth School Board answered questions Tuesday during a candidate forum co-hosted by the News Tribune and the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

Incumbent Kelly Durick Eder and candidates Loren Martell and Amber Sadowski spent about an hour answering questions, from the school district's pandemic response, to the sale of Central High School and Historic Old Central High School.

Selling buildings

The Duluth School Board has a policy that doesn’t allow the district to sell property or buildings to anyone who would use it for a school. This is why a previous School Board rejected a plan to sell Central High School in 2016 for $14 million to create a new high school for Duluth Edison Charter Schools. Candidates on Tuesday were asked if this policy should be changed.

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Durick Eder said she supports the policy because she doesn't believe “it is a wise move for this district strategically to sell a building to a high school that is going to pull students from our district.”

“I am thrilled that this School Board, in conjunction with our state legislators, worked hard to make sure that we could get that building sold, so that is in the process of being sold right now and I’m proud of the work,” Durick Eder said. “One thing I’m not going to do is go back and look at what other School Board members, who had more information at the time than I, did and how they made those decisions.”

Sadowski agreed with Durick Eder about the policy and is happy that both Central High School and Historic Old High School are under contract.

“When you sell to a competitor, you’re going to be losing funding, specifically the per-pupil funding, and it encourages students to leave our school,” Sadowski said. “We have good schools and we’re moving forward positively. I’m a forward thinker and the Red Plan is in the past.”

Martell had a different opinion. Martell claims he was very knowledgeable at the time about the deal Edison was offering the School Board and believes it would have benefited everyone if they sold the building then.

“All they wanted was the high school, and enough property to operate it. We could have taken that deal and saved the building that's going to be torn down and thrown out,” he said. “That is a terrible waste of wealth and resources, and we could have still done everything we're doing now. It was a much better deal for the taxpayers.”

COVID-19 and schools

Last school year, Duluth students spent most of their time in distance learning. Candidates were asked how they feel the district should decide when or if to require masks, when to require vaccines for teachers, staff and students who are eligible, and when to shut down a school in favor of distance learning.

Sadowski was the first to answer the question saying she would defer to medical professionals in the community and the Minnesota Department of Health.

“I’m not a medical professional by trade and so I would really want to listen to our medical professionals about what they’re advising, at the same time balancing that with the mental health of our kids,” she said. “Last year was really hard for a lot of kids. I would really like to see our students stay in school if at all possible.”

Martell said he would like the district to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations.

“We’re not out of the woods on this and I want to take every precaution against this pandemic to get it under control,” he said. “To quote the governor, I hate the damn mask. I really do, but I would go along with mask-wearing for a while yet and any other precautions we have to take to get this pandemic under control.”

Durick Eder said she is proud of how the district has handled the pandemic and the mitigation measures it has taken to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks. She said she couldn’t be more proud of the district's decision to require masks.

“I’m confident that we’re going to get this pandemic beat and we are going to keep our kids in school where they belong, so we can address some of the problems that we saw last year in terms of an opportunity gap for kids to be in school,” Durick Eder said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done and I will continue to make sure that our kids are protected because two of those kids are mine that are walking through the hallway.”

Sadowski was the only candidate that specifically addressed vaccine requirements. She said she does not support vaccine mandates.