Westonka school board elections in recent years have held to just three or four candidates—a number that has closely aligned with the number of seats up for election—but not so this year, which has pulled in the greatest number of candidates in 10 years.

The filing period closed Aug. 10, and seven candidates put their names in the contest for filling the three board seats that are up for election in November.

Incumbents Brian Carlson, Loren Davis and Gary Wollner, who currently serves as vice chair, are all running again. They are joined in the election pool by Katie Holt, Rachael Myers, Kathleen Olesinski and Gregory Snyder.

More information on each of the candidates will be available in the coming weeks. Additionally, the Wayzata-Plymouth chapter of the League of Women Voters is hosting a candidate forum at the Westonka Performing Arts Center from 7-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21. The Lake Minnetonka Communications Commission will also broadcast the forum and provide the recording of it on its website at lmcc-tv.org.

The most recent school board election to attract a similar number of candidates was in in 2011, when eight candidates had vied for four open seats. That election, which saw large turnover after years of division on the board, had also asked voters to extend the district’s operating levy and to vote on two separate questions for bond issue.

No such asks will be on the ballot this year. Instead, voters will decide which candidates they feel will best serve the district as it balances normalcy with the ebb and flow of the coronavirus pandemic and as it launches a new cultural competency plan this fall.

The board had in June this year unanimously approved the drafting of the cultural competency plan, and Westonka superintendent Kevin Borg told the Laker that any new work associated with that plan would first come before the board for its approval.

Borg differentiated Westonka’s cultural competency plan from the noise around critical race theory (CRT), which has become a hot button topic for some other districts in the country.

“CRT is not being implemented here. It was never even part of the conversation,” said Borg. “The whole purpose of the [cultural competency] plan is that people feel valued, that they feel safe, welcome, included; that they know that we’re trying to support every student to achieve at their highest level.”

The new board, which will be seated in January, will also have to navigate pandemic response as the school year goes on.

Westonka recently made the decision not to require face masks inside its school buildings, although the district is recommending their use by both students and staff. That decision was based on current guidance from Minnesota Department of Health, which continues to recommend their use by vaccinated and non-vaccinated alike “where there is a high risk of COVID-19 spread or complications from COVID-19 infection,” including schools.

Westonka is also not requiring proof of vaccination by either its staff or those students old enough to be eligible for the vaccine but, as with face masks, is continuing to recommend vaccination for all who are eligible.

Should guidance around masks or vaccination change, the district has said it is prepared to act accordingly.

Some feedback from families in Westonka have already prompted one change over the past couple of weeks, this to online learning options being offered this fall.

Westonka had already decided to continue offering an online learning option to high school students via a third party, but a lack of interest this spring among those with students in grades K-7 meant that, at first, no such option was going to be available for these students.

Since that initial communication Aug. 3, the district conducted and received back a new survey. Superintendent Borg said that this more recent survey revealed 4-5 times the level of interest in online learning for these grade levels, and that the district has now decided to work with an outside provider to meet that demand.

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