The Duluth School Board District 1 candidate forum Thursday morning got heated as Dana Krivogorsky took on incumbent Rosie Loeffler-Kemp.
The forum was co-hosted by the News Tribune and the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.
Just like the at large candidates did Tuesday, Loeffler-Kemp and Krivogorsky spent about an hour answering questions about buildings, finances, achievement gaps and COVID-19 response. Because there were only two candidates, News Tribune editorial page editor Chuck Frederick allowed for rebuttal.
COVID-19 and pandemic response
Candidates were asked about their views on how the district has handled the pandemic so far and their positions on masking and vaccination requirements. Though neither candidate gave a stance on vaccination requirements, there was a difference in opinion on masking.
Loeffler-Kemp said she was proud of the Duluth district’s policy to require masks in all buildings.
“I support the work that we’ve been doing to continue the partnership with our medical community, with our Department of Health, taking their advice, and really the bottom line to me is that we need to make sure our staff, our students, our families and our communities are safe, and that’s going to help keep our kids safe in our schools,” Loeffler-Kemp said. “Masking's an important approach to safety for our staff and our students and our community.”
Krivogorsky said she doesn’t support masking for students because she hasn’t seen any data that shows masks prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The studies do not show that kids get infected. … The percentage is very small,” Krivogorsky said during the forum.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends, due to the circulating and highly contagious delta variant, “universal indoor masking by all students age 2 and older, staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. In addition to universal indoor masking, the CDC recommends schools maintain at least 3 feet of physical distance between students within classrooms to reduce transmission risk.”
In the past week, 26 Northland residents under 20 years old have been hospitalized due to COVID-19 and eight have spent time in the ICU. In the same age range, there have been 3,642 new cases statewide over the past week.
“This isn’t the COVID-19 we saw last fall,” St. Louis County Department of Health school liaison Aubrie Hoover told the News Tribune Thursday afternoon. “The delta variant is more infectious with a higher attack rate.”
Hoover said schools in small communities that had very few or no COVID-19 cases last year are now seeing several cases. Chisholm school district closed one of its two elementary schools for two weeks and moved students to distance learning due to high transmission within the school.
Both candidates clearly stated the most important thing during these times is that kids stay in school.
The 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 previous School Board members 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 Thursday were asked if this policy should be changed.
Loeffler-Kemp said she has to trust the School Board at the time made the right decision. She also said she supports the policy.
“My role as a School Board member is to look at what’s in the best interest, short term and long term, for ISD 709 and a big part of our budget is per-pupil funding, so keeping students in our district is key to our budget,” Loeffler-Kemp said. “I’m very proud of the work our staff has done to sell Central High School and Historic Old Central High School.”
Krivogorsky said she is against the policy.
“We should have taken that offer a long time ago, which was way larger. Now we’re getting pennies on a dime,” she said.
Krivogorsky said the money could have been used to improve the district “for the kids, educational body and the classroom situation.”
When a school district sells a piece of property, the money from the sale is first used to pay off the debts associated with the property with the remainder of the funds being put in reserve for the operating capital fund. If there are no debts attached to the property, such as the case with both Central high schools, all of the money is put in reserve for the operating capital fund, which can be used for repair and betterment of facilities, acquisition of land, purchase or lease of equipment or transportation vehicles, and purchase of books.
Both candidates were asked what they would do as a School Board member to continue to help with the achievement gaps for students of color and those who live in poverty.
Loeffler-Kemp said the achievement gap needs to be continued to be addressed collaboratively at the district, city, county, state and federal levels.
“What we have been focused on as a board in the last few years is a budget that reflects our values, and some of the things I’m proud of that we’ve addressed in the last few years is expanding early childhood programs, expanding our community schools, online and alternative schools, career to tech offerings, mental health, home visits and working with the Duluth Superior Community Foundation on an initiative called Opportunity Rising, which is also to help address the achievement gap here in Duluth,” Loeffler-Kemp said.
Krivogorsky said Loeffler-Kemp has spent eight years on the School Board in a position of power and hasn’t done enough for the achievement gaps.
“Money will only go directly to the organizations and unions who endorse her, not to the classrooms and not to the children and especially not to the kids who are at a disadvantage from the very beginning,” Krivogorsky said.
The Duluth Federation of Teachers has donated to Loeffler-Kemp’s previous election bids.
Krivogorsky said she would stop increases in negotiations and use the money instead to identify students who need extra help and provide them with tools to succeed such as tutoring, hotspots and devices.
“Whatever that needs to be done, identify the problem and give them the support and an opportunity to learn,” she said.
Loeffler-Kemp was given 30 seconds for a rebuttal.
“For 27 years I’ve been involved in the community, working with Head Start, early childhood programs and many other organizations that are working in many different ways to address the achievement gap here in Duluth,” she said.