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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 .

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  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  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 

"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 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 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:

Check out profiles for individual candidates currently published on Patch and check back for profiles on every candidate before the election Nov. 8:

How to vote in West Bloomfield

For a primer on how to vote in the election Nov. 8, visit the guide on Patch.

Sheryl L. Mitchell October 06, 2011 at 09:12 AM
Thank you to the League of Women Voters Oakland Area for hosting the candidates forum.
Christy Forhan October 06, 2011 at 01:31 PM
I second Sheryl's thank you to the LoWV. I hope everyone who didn't see the forum in person will take the time to watch it re-broadcast on Civic Center TV.
Randa October 06, 2011 at 01:42 PM
Thank you to WB Patch for the advance PR on the candidate forum. And thanks also for the profiles on the School Board candidates for the upcoming election, plus your continued coverage of local issues. Randa Keener, Secretary, League of Women Voters Oakland Area
Christy Forhan October 06, 2011 at 07:11 PM
I have a question that wasn't asked last night: Only 2 of the 6 candidates will be elected to a seat on the West Bloomfield BOE. If you are not one of those elected, what will you be doing AFTER November 8, 2011 to enhance, preserve, and protect the West Bloomfield Schools?
Julie Beaty October 07, 2011 at 12:54 AM
Christy- That is a great question. Whether I am elected or not, I will continue to work for the school district as I have over the past several years. I will continue my push on Lansing to modify the way our schools are funded. We need more local control and to let our legislators know that education has to be a top priority. As in the past, this entails trips to Lansing, emails and phone calls to our legislators and governor. On the local level, I am already working on the 2012 West Bloomfield Family Fun Night. I am also working with Pat Watson to develop additional functions that will promote our high school and make it a destination for our students. I will continue my meetings with Dr. Martin, working towards implementing Pre-AP for all middle school students. I will carry on my responsibilities as Parent Communication Network representative for Roosevelt School. I will remain on the West Bloomfield Educational Foundation Parent Committee, and continue to volunteer in the classrooms and for the various PTO events at our schools. Thank you for your interest in this election. Julie Beaty
John Kalmar October 08, 2011 at 12:50 AM
For all those who missed the debate on the 5th of October, here's a link to it so that the citizens of West Bloomfield can see the viewpoints of all the candidates: http://www.civiccentertv.com/video-on-demand/civic-center-tv-presents/lwvoa-west-bloomfield-school-district-board-of-education-candidates-forum/

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