Candidates running for the Minneapolis school board met with voters Tuesday at South High to talk about issues facing the district, from equity to school safety and financial stability.

The forum focused largely on the four candidates vying for two citywide seats on the board — incumbent Rebecca Gagnon and challengers Sharon El-Amin, Kimberly Caprini and Josh Pauly — and drew about 50 people. Seated in small groups, they queried the candidates on their plans to move the 36,000-student district forward.

Gagnon, fielding questions about equity and her push to restore $6.4 million to middle and high schools as the district grappled with budget cuts, said she did it because those schools were going to be “devastated” by the proposed cuts. And while state test scores show a troubling achievement gap between white students and students of color, Gagnon said the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), says there are states with worse gaps than Minnesota’s.

Moving forward, she said, the district should give targeted support to students not meeting the state’s standards. She also added that she’s a strong supporter of magnet schools and school choice because “if we get rid of choice, we’re going to lose families, and some students learn differently.”

Pauly, a former Minneapolis teacher and south Minneapolis resident endorsed by the DFL Party and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, emphasized the importance of wraparound services, such as counseling, and smaller class sizes. He said he opposed Gagnon’s decision to restore the funding to schools at the last minute and would question the importance of magnets if they lead to racial segregation in schools.

Southwest Minneapolis resident Mary Breen, who attended the forum, said she favored Pauly’s ideas. The district is failing a lot of students, she said, and is overly fixated on charter schools squeezing its enrollment.

“I’d rather not have you retaining the students but creating a place where they want to be,” she said.

Caprini, the other candidate endorsed by the DFL and the teachers’ union, and El-Amin are both North Side residents. They both said they’d prioritize equity and ensure that schools have adequate resources.

Caprini touted her experience sitting on many school site councils and district committees where she said she helped bring International Baccalaureate programs to schools on the North Side, among other things. She also weighed in on the special-ed teacher shortage, arguing that state and federal governments have failed to adequately fund the district.

If elected, El-Amin said she’d fight for accountability, community engagement and transparency. To save the school system money, she said, she would make reductions in the athletic department and trim expenses in district-issued cellphones.

Karen Ba, who lives in the Linden Hills neighborhood, said she was impressed with Caprini and El-Amin. But she said it’s a tossup among the three women for her vote.

“Gagnon is strong because of her experience,” Ba said. “But maybe we need the new voices from the north.”

Board Member Jenny Arneson, who is running unopposed for re-election to her district seat, also participated in the forum. Siad Ali, also running unopposed for her district seat, attended but did not participate in the forum. School board Chairman Nelson Inz, who is running unopposed for his seat, did not attend.