Editor's note: This is part of a multi-part series on the 2024 city and school board election. Find the full city/school election coverage here.

Simplified: Five people are vying for two open seats on the board that oversees the largest school district in the state. Sioux Falls Simplified sat down with all five candidates to get their take on issues relevant to local schools.

Why it matters

  • Sioux Falls is facing a budget shortfall in the coming year as federal pandemic relief funds run dry. It'll be up to the newly elected board members to help make decisions about what programs to cut and what to keep.

A quick note: Candidates are listed in the order in which they appear on the Sioux Falls School District election page. Answers are edited for length and clarity.

Pandemic relief funds are expected to run out this year, leaving a potential $8 million gap in the Sioux Falls School District budget. How would you approach these tough budgeting conversations?

Marc Murren: "I want to save as many of the early, primary grade things that we do. One of my biggest hopes ... I would like every third-grader in our Sioux Falls public schools to read at grade level, and that's a big ask – a really big ask.

  • There'll have to be some reductions somewhere, but hopefully we can save the things for little kids. That's where I want to concentrate my efforts is for K-3 reading and math."

Gail Swenson: "The best thing (pandemic relief funds) did was helped us feed kids – that was a great thing, and it felt like the federal government pulled the rug out from under us (ending the free meals for all kids at school)."

  • Swenson also noted that budgets show a district's priorities, and she'd like to see the focus be on students. She also suggested perhaps freezing administrator salaries or even having administrators take a pay cut to focus more money on student programs.

Bobbie Tibbetts: "Any time you are looking at budget decisions and cuts, it's looking at what was added and what were the outcomes of the program – understanding, if we cut them, what does that mean?

  • I'm coming into this with a willingness to learn ... I don't know what's been added, so truly for me it's looking at the need, the outcome and the sustainability."

Stuart Willett: Willett noted that he'd like to have a group of high-performing teachers act as his advisors on budget decisions. He also said he'd like to see the district use artificial intelligence as a way to find efficiencies.

  • "We have to embrace AI."

Patrick Starr: Starr said the board should've reserved federal pandemic relief funds for one-time expenditures rather than ongoing programs, noting that it's going to be "difficult" to make choices on what to keep moving forward.

  • "There isn't opt out money available to make up those differences."