WILLMAR - Candidates talked about diversity, elementary school lunch periods, teachers and a variety of other issues in a forum for the six people running in a May 16 special election for the Willmar School Board.

The League of Women Voters of the Willmar Area sponsored the candidate forum Tuesday evening. Andrea Carruthers was the moderator of the 90-minute forum at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building.

The six candidates are Abdirahman Hussein Abdi, Justin Bos, Bill Busta, Christopher Frank, Mike Kubesh and Jennifer Mendoza, all of Willmar. The candidates are running to succeed former board member Mike Carlson, who resigned when he moved outside the district.

Abdi, 24, is a pre-med student at St. Cloud State University. Bos, 38, is a funeral director at Peterson Brothers Funeral Home in Willmar. Busta, 64, retired in 2011 as director of human resources for Willmar Public Schools.

Frank, 29, is a lawyer with Frank Law Offices in Willmar. Kubesh, 43, is manager for Willmar Bus Service and an EMT with the Willmar Ambulance Service. Mendoza, 37, works with the GUIA program at Pact 4 Families Collaborative in Willmar.

Candidates drew on their personal history and their professional experience to answer questions about a range of school district issues.

Asked how to attract teachers that reflect the diversity of the schools and community, Kubesh suggested that “we need a more diverse board, and a more diverse city council.”

Busta suggested that the district encourage its students to consider teaching careers.

“We have the students, we can turn them into teachers,” he said.

Frank also suggested reaching out to universities. As important as building a diverse teaching staff is to find staff members who are able to communicate with a diverse group of students.

Nearly all of the candidates said they felt students do not get enough time for lunch and recess in the district’s elementary schools. Several said they hoped the district’s new elementary school will ease the problem when it opens.

Abdi said he felt students did have enough time to eat, but others said they have children who eat lunch at 10:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. and feel rushed while they are eating.

“I would say they do not have enough time,” Bos said, and physical education has been cut back, too. “I’m not sure there’s a good solution,” he added.

Mendoza favored extending the lunch period. Mealtime is about more than the food - “eating is also about relating to other people,” she said.

Candidates were asked to describe their experience in dealing with cultural diversity.

Abdi said he had seen many different types of students when he attended Willmar Senior High School.

“To educate them and give them a chance, they need someone to encourage them,” he said.

In his funeral home business, Bos said, he works with all the different cultures in the community.

Frank, a 2004 Willmar graduate, said he thought the district had not done a good job in dealing with a diverse student body when he was in school.

Kubesh agreed that it hadn’t been handled as well in the past, but the district has improved. Somali and Latino liaisons have helped his company’s bus drivers better understand the children on the buses.

Asked how to engage the community with the school district, candidates suggested that the school board could be available at coffee shops or conduct polls. Busta suggested that board members explain more about what they are doing, so observers understand more about what’s going on.

The candidates all suggested that the district do more to promote itself and its advantages to attract students through open enrollment. They also said the district may need to expand its English Language Learner program to give adequate support to students trying to learn English.

On May 16, the district will operate one polling place in the rehearsal hall at the Willmar Education and Arts Center, 611 Fifth St. S.W. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The winner will take office at the next board meeting. The term will last until the end of 2016. If the winner or any other candidate wants to run in the November election for a four-year term on the board, filing for office statewide begins May 17.

The 90-minute candidate forum was televised live on local public access cable channels and may be seen again at 11:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. today and Friday and at 2 p.m. Thursday, at 11:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Friday, at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and at 7:30 p.m. Sunday on channel 18 on En-Tel and channel 181 on Charter.

The forum is available on demand on the city’s website, willmarmn.gov and click on WRAC TV On Demand.