Tania Chance is long gone from the Burnsville School District, but the controversial former human resources director made an appearance in spirit less than five minutes into a candidates' forum last week.

Mark Traikoff and several other of the 10 candidates running for the four seats referred to Chance and the turmoil the district has been in this year.

"I'm running for school board to help clean up the mess," Traikoff told an audience of about 100 at the candidates' forum. "Change, not Chance," he concluded.

He was joined in his criticism by Tom McCasey, who got into the race because of the Chance controversy and his dissatisfaction with the performance of Superintendent Randall Clegg, who last month announced his retirement from the district.

The seven candidates for the three open four-year terms on the board are: DeeDee Currier, Steve Dove, Ron Hill, Mark Korman, Seema Pothini, Sandra Sweep and Traikoff. The three candidates for the one open two-year term are: Joshua Mathews, McCasey and Robert VandenBoom.

A second candidates' forum will be held on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m. at Sky Oaks Elementary School in Burnsville.

Clegg blamed

Earlier this year, Chance, who was hired by Clegg, was paid more than $250,000 to leave her post 18 months early, a few months after filing two complaints with state agencies, at least one of which involved Clegg, according to the district's final settlement agreement with Chance.

Traikoff, McCasey and some of the other challengers blame Clegg and the board incumbents for the fiasco, which led to a change in state law governing payouts.

It also brought confrontations between the public and the board over the settlement, one of the largest in state history to a non-superintendent.

"There has been a great deal of loss in trust and integrity," McCasey in his introductory remarks.

"We have a lot of questions that need to be answered, and I want to be there to provide those answers."

At last week's event, a variety of issues were discussed, ranging from a budget shortfall estimated at $15 million in the next three years to special education funding and how to close the achievement gap.

While Chance and Clegg did not dominate the conversation, there was no doubt that incumbent and challengers were aware of how difficult the past six months have been for the district, one of the largest in the state.

The first question was about the hiring of a new superintendent. Currier, an incumbent, told the audience she wanted the next superintendent to be scrutinized before he or she is hired.

"I want assurances that the candidate is vetted," Currier said.

Incumbents seek support

Currier and the other two other incumbents, Sweep and Hill, said they wanted another term in order to continue the programs and initiatives the board started in the past four years, including free all-day kindergarten and dealing with a budget shortfall that is expected to be about $15 million in the next three years.

"I want to continue to contribute," said Currier, who was first elected in 2008 and said she considered herself a good role model for senior citizens.

"Everything is on the table," Sweep said when asked what she would do to close the expected budget shortfall.

Several challengers made it clear that the choices this fall are a referendum on how the school board has performed this year.

McCasey, for example, noted in passing that it was the current school board who had hired Clegg four years ago.

"I believe our school board needs a fresh voice," added Pothini, who along with other candidates had expressed reservations about renewing Clegg's contract before his decision to retire.

Heron Marquez • 952-746-3281