School Board Candidates Address Teacher Contracts, Schools of Choice and More
The Oakland County League of Women Voters hosted a debate Wednesday night at West Bloomfield High School.
Five of the six candidates for the West Bloomfield School District Board of Education faced off Wednesday night in a debate hosted by the Oakland County League of Women Voters at West Bloomfield High School.
Interested residents filled the school's media center to hear Julie Beaty, Karen M. Faett, Nelson Hersh, CharRhonda Moye and John Reed answer questions from league member and forum moderator Tera Moon. Candidate Carol Finkelstein was not in attendance, but submitted a statement read by Moon. Hersh is the lone incumbent running for one of two open seats on the seven-member board; Trustee Melanie Torbert will not run for re-election.
So what did the candidates looking to lead the district in the six-year term to come have to say on issues ranging from Schools of Choice to teacher contract negotiations? Read on:
Sheiko Elementary School and teacher contract negotiations
Two issues within the past year boosted public participation at school board meetings: the renaming of Green Elementary School to Sheiko Elementary School and teacher contract negotiations.
The first question posed Wednesday was would candidates propose and support a motion to once again rename Sheiko back to Green, which Beaty said was "not a top priority" at this time. The process the board used to vote to rename the school immediately after the motion was made at its June 13 meeting as well as the fact that the name Green contained symbolic, historical significance to the community has prompted public criticism at meetings since.
"If it was proposed, I'd be glad to hear from people of both perspectives," Beaty said.
Faett replied that the issue has polarized the district. "It has to do with what is seemingly the lack of communication and discourse between the community and the board," she said. "We are representing the community, not just special interests."
The candidates also addressed concerns regarding the board's handling of teacher contract negotiations, which were marked by rancorous school board meetings and public protests in which teachers alleged that the board did not negotiate with its union in good faith.
Moye said she would have shortened the process, noting that the period of time teachers worked without a contract starting in August 2010 until a new contract was imposed with a 10 percent pay cut this past March was "a very long time."
"I would have invested in more contact with all of the stakeholders in the community ... and come up with a better solution," Moye said.
Reed noted he had spoken in support of teachers during the public comment portion of several meetings and that the pay cut was only necessary due to alleged mismanagement by previous boards.
"I would've talked about financial responsibility. Our school district has never had a reasonable fund equity balance in comparison to other school districts ... as a result, we hurt people we love the most," he said. "(Teachers) were used as a tool to solve a problem that wasn't managed correctly over the past six years."
School board Treasurer Nelson Hersh was one of a five-member majority who voted in favor of imposition and said he regretted not letting teachers know how much he appreciated their efforts and financial sacrifices. "Teachers are the backbone of our district ... they're probably, besides parents, the most important people to our children," he said. "More importantly is now mending the fences we have."
State mandates, declining enrollment, budget issues
Candidates were also asked to look forward — specifically, what proactive measures would they take to address issues of declining enrollment and budgetary concerns?
Hersh said he would focus on increasing revenue through means that the district is already utilizing, including the WAY program and various alternative education programs. "We're the only district I know of that has a medical mentorship, political and legal mentorship ... our special education is unsurpassed, and we are proud of these alternative programs," he said. "We're a great district for every student and we need to promote this."
Moye said she sees the issue of generating revenue as a double-sided coin involving cost containment and saving money. "Ways of raising fees could be through facility usage and raising admissions," she said. "We need to think out of the box and look at untraditional ways to raise revenues."
Reed said he feels as though the issue of consolidating schools, especially at the elementary level, should be considered to deal with declining enrollment due in part to the district's investment in Schools of Choice. "If we manage the money we have well, we won't have to worry about raising revenues," he said.
Candidates were also asked for their thoughts on the district's involvement with the Schools of Choice program, which generally accepts a limited number of students in grades K-3. Hersh said the program brought the district $14 million in revenue in the last school year. "Our concern is that Gov. Snyder has recently proposed a statewide Schools of Choice and that would cause us to lose control. This is what we have to work together on — to retain control of what we want to do with Schools of Choice."
Faett replied that local control of the Schools of Choice program is key, but that control needs to reflect the wishes of the local community. "It comes down to due diligence — what the community's wishes are on Schools of Choice," she said. "I believe we care about local control, and that's something we want to maintain, but we don't want local control in the sense of the (board's wishes), as opposed to the community telling the board what it wants."
More on the candidates:
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