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Candidate forum covers arts, school lunch, police in schools

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WILLMAR — Candidates for a seat on the Willmar School Board answered questions about school lunches, cuts in arts and music and about police in schools at a candidate forum Tuesday evening.

Mary Amon, a Willmar physician, and Monica Villars, an artist who recently retired from the Willmar School District, answered questions presented by the League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area.

The two are seeking a seat on the Willmar School Board in a special election Tuesday. The seat was left vacant by the unexpected death of board Chairman Jared Anez in March.

The winner will serve the rest of Anez's term, through the end of 2018.

Three candidates filed in the race, but the third candidate, Katherine McGill, withdrew from the race in early August for personal reasons. Her name will be on the ballot, because she withdrew after they were printed.

Absentee ballots may be cast at the Willmar Education and Arts Center, 611 Fifth St. S.W., during regular business hours.

The district will have one polling place at WEAC Aug. 22. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eligible voters who are not registered will be able to register at the polls.

The forum was shown on WRAC public access channel and will be available on demand on the city website,

In talking about why they were running, both candidates touted their credentials. Amon talked about being active in the business community. Villars talked about her experience as an art teacher in Willmar Public Schools.

Both drew on personal experience to answer questions submitted to the League before the forum.

One question addressed their feelings about Willmar Police officers being assigned to the district's school buildings during the school year.

Amon was surprised when her family moved to Willmar, and she saw police officers in the schools. She has since learned of their value, she said. In addition to keeping students safe, "I think they can be a positive role model for some of the kids."

Villars said "It's has been an awesome experience from my personal experience at the Area Learning Center." Officers can get a handle on cyberbullying issues and head off a fight, and they're someone kids can talk to about problems with school, friends or family. "It's a great partnership with the school system."

Both candidates said they wanted to see better funding for music and the arts.

"I know it's expensive," Villars said, but in her experience in a fellowship in Japan, she has seen that other countries consider arts education one of the basics. "I'd like to see it built back up."

The arts can make a student a more well-rounded person, Amon said. "Art is a great thing for kids who aren't able to express themselves," she said. "I think it enhances your world view and enhances you as an adult."

Asked about a new school lunch policy being considered by the Willmar School Board, Villars said she liked the board's plan, while Amon was less sure.

The plan would take parents who aren't paying lunch debt to conciliation court, and if they didn't pay after that, secondary students could be prevented from taking part in extracurricular activities, dances, prom or high school parking.

"Secondary students, I think they're starting to become adults," she said, and they may make sure they get money into the account if they would lost access to activities.

Amon said she also thought it was good to help older kids be responsible and remind their parents about lunch money. It's something her kids have done, she said. "I don't know the best answer for parents that don't pay."

Her concern, she said, was that those students may not be participate because of money already, "so now you've pulled them back again."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340