Nine candidates are competing in the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election for two seats on the Huron Valley Schools Board of Education. The winners will serve four-year terms on the school board. Board members are paid $30 per meeting for up to 52 meetings per year and receive reimbursement for board-related travel, including training and expenses.
The candidate field includes Robert A. Artinian, Xuan Avallone, Bonnie Brown, Kim E. Galbraith, Joe Ghislain, Russ Krawczyk, Kevin Lawrence, Jeffrey Long, and Karen Wallis.
The following are questions our staff recently posed to the candidates, and their responses to those questions.
BUDGET: In what specific areas do you believe the district must change its spending? On the revenue side, in what ways should the district be looking for new funding sources? What, if any, changes would you like to see at the state level to address school funding?
FACILITIES: Please explain why you do or don’t believe the school district’s buildings and equipment are adequate at this time. What specific building or equipment upgrades, if any, would you like to see?
CURRICULUM: Graduation requirements and curriculum standards are periodically revised at both the state and local levels. Please tell us why you are or aren’t satisfied with the school district’s existing curriculum and graduation requirements. If you believe changes are necessary, please explain the revisions you would support.
TOP ISSUES: What are the three most important issues for the school district at this time, and how do you propose to address them as a member of the school board?
WHY YOU? Why, specifically, should voters choose you over your opponents?
BUDGET: With structural deficits ahead of us, we must push efforts in Lansing to bring adequate funding for our students. When elected, I will bring forward thinking to these budget issues and remind everyone that we must keep our eyes on the future. I believe public monies should be used only on public education and not on charter (schools). Also, we must keep communicating that a level playing field is the only way to level students’ educations state and countrywide. I believe every student, countrywide, should be supported financially by public revenue equally. Only then can all students nationwide be evaluated and excel to all their full potentials.
FACILITIES: I believe the district has addressed the building utilization issues fairly well considering how delicate these issues are. Closing or re-purposing under-utilized buildings is a fact of life and must be addressed.
Moving forward with 21st century-based equipment is a priority. I believe we are moving in the right direction and must keep looking to new and exciting programming in order to prepare our children for a very global job market.
CURRICULUM: I believe the district is heading in the right direction in regards to curriculum.
I would like our graduation rates to be continually evaluated and the bar constantly raised until 100 percent of our students who want to graduate have the opportunity and all the 21st century resources needed to accomplish their goals.
TOP ISSUES: District budgets must be current, in line and on track. Keeping budgets balanced moving forward and accountability at all levels is a main objective.
We must support 21st century (cutting-edge) programming. I believe we should strongly support 21st century skills and have the highly-qualified educators we need to compete. I would encourage focus on cutting-edge programming in order to prepare our children for global job markets.
We must strive for transparency in all areas. Using every form of media, communication and involvement with the public in every way possible, we must strive for a collaborative relationship between the board and administration, as well as the HVEA (Huron Valley Education Association).
WHY YOU? I am a family man who has worked in big business as an automotive designer on many (General Motors) GM programs and was often set with the tasks of problem-solving using forward thinking and creative thought. This will come in handy when facing the issues this board will encounter in the future.
I have been an involved parent of two children — a sixth-grader at White Lake Middle School and a second-grader at Brooks Elementary School — at the building level and worked with parent organizations on many school programs and fund-raising. I have also closely monitored the building utilization process and I plan on living in the district until both of my children graduate.
I have the support of my wife, and I am an entrepreneur, a self-starter, and president of the Summit By The Lake Homeowners Association (eight years) and vice chairman of the White Lake Zoning Board of Appeals (since 2001). I have heart and passion for this school district and believe change is needed. This is why I should be representing the students on the Huron Valley school board.
BUDGET: An area where the district must change is building improvement spending. Just because the community approved the millage increase for the sinking fund doesn’t mean the district can use this fund wastefully. The district needs to save the fund for emergency repairs as advertised (broken furnaces, windows, air conditioning, bus repair/replacement). Spending the money on repaving a perfectly fine parking lot during this downturn is very wasteful. Going (for) a few more years with old color schemes in the buildings is just fine. As the general public needs to curb and prioritize their spending, so must the district.
On the revenue side, there are ways to look for new funding sources, but it’s hard when the rest of the country is stretched, as well. The bottom line is, the district exists to educate children even on a modest budget.
FACILITIES: As long as the building is safe enough to weather what nature dishes out to the Huron Valley School District, I call that adequate at this time. Having trailer use at one school building while solid buildings of another school sit sparse doesn’t make sense. That should be addressed. Maintenance is the operative word when it comes to building spending.
CURRICULUM: The current curriculum is adequate but we should not stop there. If a child is ready to do more, give them the challenge. I am open to new ways of teaching as long as it enforces “learn to learn” as technology constantly changes and can’t be anticipated. The ability to learn new things based on the basic strategy of methodical troubleshooting skills are what companies require, thus the district must prepare our students for this capability — in other words, creative thinking and the ability to improvise using things on-hand rather than having the right tool to function.
TOP ISSUES: The primary issue would be funding. Everyone and every industry is feeling the squeeze. The one thing we can do under our control is cut out wasteful spending and as a board member, I stand by to give the community their oversight voice, as they are the taxpayers.
Communication to the community would be another priority. The details are important so they know where and how the district is spending their money. The role of the district is to educate the students and we must use the money towards that. Operation/maintenance of the buildings is a burden that must be managed wisely. We are not at the liberty to make unnecessary improvements.
Third is to assure students have the capability to learn how to learn so they can apply it to achieve successful standard test (scores), as that is the benchmark measure against other schools. As a board (member), I will research other schools/industry and take their best practice to apply it in our district at minimal cost (teaching the basics using the old-fashion pencil and paper to make what students learn permanent. As they say with computers, garbage in is garbage out. Technology has its place and way later in the learning cycle … i.e., high school level).
WHY ME? I am a no-nonsense person who had to make due with the modest budget my parents had in order to survive. I was fortunate to know an education was the only road to success early on and have that as my “meaning” in life. Not being able to know easily how the district is spending taxpayers’ hard-earned money is the primary reason I wanted to run. A public sector should have no “secret” in how money is spent, no “secret” on how the teachers teach. The only “secret” in this public sector is protecting personal information. I advocate transparency through technology (online usage of information access) with the strictest safety measure in place (for example, users must log in to view info for traceability). Open communication is a must.
BUDGET: Huron Valley Schools have cut $23 million from their budget over the last eight years. Inequitable funding by the state continues to be an issue faced by our district as we are one of the lowest-funded districts in Oakland County. Even though we are a low-funded district, our students continue to be high-achieving. We must continue to put pressure on our representatives in Lansing by utilizing our district Grassroots Committee that is currently in place. Decreasing enrollment is difficult to control as families continue to migrate out of Michigan. Huron Valley should continue to offer competitive programming which will attract families to our district.
FACILITIES: We as a district need to provide a safe environment that is conducive to student learning. We are fortunate to have a community that recognizes and supports their public schools by providing the technology, equipment and infrastructure needs of the district through passage of the bond issue and building and site sinking fund millage. We must utilize these funds to ensure a safe learning environment and to increase the consistency in the use of technology in our buildings. Although we have done significant work to reduce energy consumption, the district should upgrade to more energy-efficient structures and equipment. Redirecting funds toward this initiative is difficult in these financially challenging times. Concentrating dollars toward direct education of kids in a safe and nurturing environment must continue to be our passion.
CURRICULUM: Presently, our curriculum meets the state of Michigan requirements. Our curriculum and graduation requirements align with the goals of the district’s Strategic Plan, which was created by our community and holds our students to higher graduation requirements than those of our state. Our curriculum and graduation requirements meet the needs of individual students and prepares our students to be college- and career-ready when they exit our district. The school board and administration must continue to monitor curriculum so that our students can meet the expectations of our GRAD 100 Initiative. To meet the commitment of adhering to our mission statement, “Inspiring and Building Futures … One Student at a Time,” we must continue to identify and support the needs of all of our students.
TOP ISSUES: Inequitable funding by the state continues to be an issue faced by Huron Valley Schools. We are a low-funded district and our per-pupil foundation allowance is below both the Oakland County and state of Michigan averages.
The school board needs to be fiscally-responsible while providing excellence in education. The board must meet state and federally-mandated standards while maintaining local control over our district so that our community, whom we represent, has a say in the priorities we set for making our students successful in a global economy.
Implementing and maintaining open fields of communication between the school board, administration, teachers/staff and the community continues to be a priority. We must strive to increase communications through the Internet, HVS TV, and e-mail.
WHY YOU? Having been appointed to the Board of Education in December of 2010 and having completed the first six hours of Michigan School Board Association certification, I now have 10 months of experience on the board. I have 33 years worth of experience with children in the public school system and I can render knowledgeable advice regarding what works with a child’s education. As an involved community member, I will bring strength and transparency between our community and Huron Valley Schools.
BUDGET: Michigan is declining in both population and enrollment. HVS is a high-achieving, low-funded district, losing roughly 150 students per year. Currently, our per-pupil funding is over $1,200 less per student than Walled Lake’s. Because of this factor, HVS has always had to be fiscally-responsible.
There are several areas HVS can look to decrease spending, including alternate heath care provider options, competitive contracts, efficiency in transportation and use of green energy technology within our buildings.
On a revenue side, we need to continue to focus on attracting families through open enrollment. We need to continue our commitment to the International Academy and explore the possibility of reintroducing our year-round program.
FACILITIES: First and foremost, HVS administration needs to keep the school board apprised of needs including technology, facilities and equipment. I am happy to see new computer equipment and smart boards implemented in conjunction with our 21st century curriculum. However, the roll-out was spotty and we need to keep focus on wide-spread deployment within the classrooms so we can continue to take advantage of new technologies.
Our buildings need to explore the feasibility of moving towards widespread use of green technologies that exist from both a cost savings and environmentally-friendly perspective.
Our transportation department needs to continue to complete its deployment of safety and security equipment within our school buses, including DVR and monitoring devices.
CURRICULUM: In 2007, I represented HVS on a statewide forum for graduation requirements. The result was increased graduation requirements for high school students across the state.
Our district needs to continue moving towards a globally-ready child. This requires expansion of our foreign language programs, increased math/science programs and reinstatement of our year-round program.
Elementary: Kindergarten through second-grade classes especially need to focus on smaller class sizes, with continued emphasis on math, reading and writing.
Middle: We need full deployment of a foreign language program, and continued development of a 21st century curriculum, with focus on critical thinking, teamwork and problem-solving.
High School: We must quickly focus on revamping our E2020 online learning program. Taking advantage of technology to increase and maximize learning opportunities is crucial, but we cannot minimize the advantage a qualified teacher plays in the learning process.
TOP ISSUES: Funding across school districts is not equitable. HVS is funded significantly lower than most school districts in Oakland County and (that) needs to be adjusted.
HVS funding was reduced by $7.1 million in 2011-12. As a result, E2020 Online learning was rolled out quicker than anticipated. Online learning needs to be reworked quickly and used in conjunction with a qualified teacher, not in place of one.
Improved performance in writing is a second curriculum area. MEAP (Michigan Educational Assessment Program) performance across the state has drastically declined in the past five years. Student writing workshops and focus on non-fiction writing are two areas to consider to improve our writing performance.
WHY YOU? Experience as a business owner and volunteer gives me a well-rounded background. As a business owner, I have been able to grow my company into a $1 million organization in under six years. This achievement took planning, commitment, and the ability to make both thoughtful and tough decisions
As a parent, leading a PTO, representing our district on initiatives for our children in Lansing, and having a well-rounded knowledge of our school district has been fundamental.
I promise to make informed decisions. I will remain committed to our efforts in Lansing. We need to stay on the radar of our legislators and remind them the impact their decisions will make on our school district. Children are our future and giving them a quality education is my priority.
BUDGET: I think all areas of costs need to be scrutinized, especially those that do not directly support education. This includes optimizing all services, energy, building expenses, overhead and perks/benefits that are nice to have but may no longer be affordable, like the HVEA president’s salary. The current strategy of continuing to close buildings cannot be the only answer.
Regarding revenue, we have to develop innovative programs and pilots that will not only attract grants and funding but students to our district. On state funding, everyone is going to say equitable funding (is needed) but what I would like to have the state do is a study on what it actually costs to educate a student and then set that as the base for all districts.
FACILITIES: I feel that we should aggressively go after building and operational improvements that not only improve the facilities but reduce costs. For example, there are a number of energy-efficiency actions that can be taken both to upgrade the facilities and the way we operate the buildings with a number of potential sources of funding for these actions. A comprehensive plan to maximize the benefits from the building and site sinking fund needs to be implemented. We need to make sure that the classrooms are conducive for learning and embrace and enhance our technology to better education — not just for the teachers’ use, but directly for the students, and an upgraded smart board for the administration office would not be part of the plan.
CURRICULUM: Just before I was appointed to the HVS school board in 2007, the district raised the graduation standards to exceed the state requirements, and while the intent was to raise the standard, it had the unintended consequences of reducing electives and choices that the students need to help explore what they want to do in their life. While I am not advocating changing this until I see recent data as to whether it worked, I would advocate for shortening the periods and adding an extra class so the students could have additional electives. My other concern is GRAD 100, which is a great goal — I just want to make sure that the implementation is truly increasing student achievements and not just graduating students and diluting AP/honors classes by shifting resources.
TOP ISSUES: Funding and the budget is a given and a major part being on the board, so the three things I want to stand for are:
Great education for all children — My daughter has a learning disability. We were an advocate for her and I will be an advocate for all children.
Responsibility and transparency to the taxpayers — The board is obligated to use the taxpayers’ dollars wisely and provide them with all the data. We have to scrutinize all expenses and I will be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.
Inclusion of and accountability to the community — The lack of genuine community involvement in the district and fragmentation taking place needs to be addressed. The board, superintendent, and all employees of HVS have to be accountable for their actions and decisions.
WHY YOU? I have the experience, knowledge and leadership to get the job done right.
I had three daughters graduate from HVS as NHS (National Honor Society) students, and have experienced the good and the bad of HVS. As a certified school board member who served on the HVS board, I received several awards and commendations. I have master’s degree in business management and energy, and over 25 years experience with Ford, achieving over $200 million in savings while maintaining quality in products and services. I am used to making tough decisions and not afraid to challenge the status quo and take advantage of changes happening in Lansing. Since I am unaffected by the school/district pressures, I am in a great position to represent and do what’s best for the children, taxpayers and community.
BUDGET: HVS needs to remain focused on the budget process, which includes careful analysis of how every dollar is allocated. We must utilize “out-of-the-box” thinking to maximize every resource and opportunity for HVS due to decreasing revenues. Increasing enrollment is a key focus, especially due to the economic conditions, a competitive market, and budget constraints. I would investigate online learning, e-learning initiatives, and market our district in the community to further the enrollment.
FACILITIES: In my opinion, the facilities of HVS are adequate and sufficient to meet the requirements of academic achievement. While the environment of learning continues to evolve, we must evolve with it. This would include additional computers and technology, which would provide our students a competitive advantage. Our students deserve the best, and it is our job to ensure we offer the best learning environment possible.
CURRICULUM: I believe the HVS is doing a great job on academic metrics, budget analysis, and preparing for the future. Many tough decisions have been completed to meet these requirements. I believe going forward, there will be more challenges and more opportunities for growth. We need to maintain the focus and continue moving forward. Planning, communicating, and execution will be key principles moving forward. I believe we are heading in the right direction and the current curriculum is meeting this objective.
TOP ISSUES: The three most important issues are academics, the budget, and student safety.
For academics, I fully support using metrics to measure success, benchmark our programs, and implement strategies for excellence. It is critical to keep focus on academic metrics, as this will be a key measurable (factor) in understanding our success.
Regarding the budget, this has been extremely important over the past few years, due to economic pressure. Adhering to the budget will be challenging, but required for long-term viability.
For the issue of student safety, my policy is zero tolerance. It is crucial to provide a safe learning environment where students can focus on learning, as opposed to their own safety concerns. For this, zero tolerance is needed.
WHY YOU? I believe I should be elected to the school board due to my belief system and background. My belief system includes commitment to education, vested interest in HVS success, accountability to stakeholders, and focus on objectives. I believe my background in business will bring a “fresh eyes” approach to the school board. I will use facts, data, and metrics for my decision-making process.
BUDGET: At this point in time, I don’t know if I would change anything, but just maintain what we have now. We’ve lost so much over the years. It’s just like with our own households — I would maintain what we have until the storm passes.
As far as revenue goes, I’d like to check into the lottery program and see how that pie is broken down to the school district level. I want to see what portion the schools actually get.
As soon as we have a few state leaders in our area, I would like to include them in our board meetings to help with budget planning. We need to show them how we’re trying to save money so they can take that back to Lansing with them, rather than us going there. Then they will know what we’re going through.
FACILITIES: At this time the buildings and equipment are adequate for what we have to work with. If we need to change anything it’s the student-teacher ratio. Instead of what we do or don’t have, we should look at the student-teacher ratio and how we can change that for the better.
CURRICULUM: I’m satisfied with what we have now. I know from talking to teachers that the curriculum is driven by MEAP testing and scores. We’re trying to be a better school instead of trying to work for the actual child. We’re teaching for the test. We can address this by being more well-rounded in testing and doing more one-on-one between the teachers and pupils. The kids are lacking some of the skills they need to move forward.
TOP ISSUES: One is funding from the state and local level. If you look back at recent legislation on health care with the next wave of contracts coming through, the employees have to pick up a certain amount of the costs. State and local officials need to come to the table. They expect “X” from us, but how do they expect us to do that? The teachers and employees are taking concessions already.
Another is the student dropout ratio. I’m not sure of the exact number. It’s like a 95 percent graduation rate and a 5 percent dropout rate. We need to visit with parents and see what their needs and wants are, and work closely with the families on a one-on-one basis.
Testing is the third. I would like to go back and sit down with the head teachers in the schools and see where the problems lie, and see what needs to be changed so we can revise that area and see how needs can be better met.
WHY YOU? I have 29 years of service time with the schools. I have been a union representative. I have the ability to think on my own without the influence of others. I have the ability to think outside of the box. I’m willing to talk to people on a one-on-one basis.
I will be keeping an eye on the open seats for (Milford) township trustee positions. If I can’t change things at the school district level, I’ll go to the next level and maybe run for a township seat. I will keep an eye on those as they open up, and look at those to see if I can make a change there.
BUDGET: Huron Valley is an under-funded district and has been forced to make cuts to staff, salaries, and buildings. We need to explore other cuts to improve our financial bottom line.
On the revenue side, I would like to see the district increase the Schools of Choice student enrollment to bring in additional revenue. We also need to partner with other districts to push for changes that will eliminate the funding inequalities that exist statewide. All districts should receive the same per-pupil funding from the state.
FACILITIES: I would like to see the district explore investment in improving our buildings’ efficiency. Taking advantage of current incentives to install alternate energy sources such as solar and wind, and adding gray-water and geothermal systems to reduce use and costs could provide continued savings. We could also improve our building envelope to reduce expenses for heating and cooling our buildings.
It may also be possible to use these systems in an educational way, by introducing our students to modern technologies and their practical applications while in use.
CURRICULUM: As a member of the 21st Century Curriculum Committee, I’m glad we adopted a technology-based ideal that will be applied to all subjects. Our students need to be able to continue educating themselves throughout their lives, and that will have to be done with technology.
Where I am afraid we have jumped too soon is the E2020 online learning. As someone who is required to update my education for my careers, often with online learning, I know that it takes a very self-motivated person who has a good understanding of technology to learn from online classes. If we do not commit to keeping certified educators in the classrooms to monitor, assist, and guide students with online learning, I do not think it will be successful.
TOP ISSUES: The most important issues to me are the overwhelming legislative changes from Lansing that have to do with diverting funds, privatization, and local control. Both chambers are passing bills with little research as to the actual effects they will have on funding and district management. Diverting funds to other interests, and limiting district control is not the answer to helping public education. Public funds should never be allowed to fall into private hands. If someone is taking a public dollar of profit from education, that is a public dollar not being spent on education. Being a board member gives you a louder, stronger voice to be heard. I would use that voice to push for sensible bills to help funding of public schools.
WHY YOU? As a Lakeland High School Class of 1982 graduate, a student of five of the district schools, and a parent of two middle school students, I have a personal history and investment in the future of Huron Valley. I am the only candidate endorsed by the Huron Valley Educational Association and would work closely with our educators to put students first. I have been involved with youth and school groups that coach, educate, and raise funds for the enrichment of children’s lives. I have earned the respect of district educators and administrators by being non-biased and analytical when considering issues. I believe the school board would benefit from my interest and ability to understand legislation, and my knowledge of construction and efficiency techniques to improve our buildings.
BUDGET: The district’s primary spending priority should be the core business of providing a sound K-12 education. This includes providing adequate funding for teachers, supplies, and materials.
One way that Huron Valley Schools are seeing a loss in revenue is by losing students to other districts and charter schools. We need to address the reasons that people are leaving and provide schools that will reclaim these students and families. Furthermore, we must have bold and innovative leadership to create schools that draw students to our schools.
The state of Michigan must decide whether to support a thriving public school system. I would like to see our Legislature take up meaningful funding reform that will equalize funding for all districts and position our public schools to be the best in the nation.
FACILITIES: I believe the school district’s buildings and equipment are adequate; however, there are areas that can be improved. We should assure that all buildings have the same basic facilities and equipment. For example, if all buildings but one have lockers we should make sure that we get lockers in that other building. Some buildings are newer than others, and we should make sure that the older buildings are upgraded and improved to make the facilities equal across the district. The board should be aware of the conditions in each building and make every effort to address shortcomings and inequities.
CURRICULUM: Our curriculum is good, but there is nothing that makes it stand out when compared to other schools in Oakland County. The district has not scored well in writing — this program must be improved.
Now is the time for Huron Valley Schools to be bold and innovative in evaluating the curriculum, making changes that elevate our schools, challenge our students and teachers to be better, and raise the bar on performance.
TOP ISSUES: Aside from the obvious issue of dealing with reduced revenues, the three most important issues for the district are improving community relations, teaching at-risk students, and increasing enrollment.
The board must truly interact with the community and listen to their concerns and ideas.
At-risk students represent approximately 25 percent of our enrollment. We must meet the educational needs of these students to improve test scores and graduation rates.
We can increase revenue by increasing enrollment — we do this by regaining the students we have lost to other districts and charter schools.
WHY YOU? Assuring a high-quality education is important to me. I have volunteered in the schools and community for 10 years and am ready to provide an independent voice to the school board. If elected, I will be informed on the issues before the board, listen to the opinions of others, make fact-based decisions, and advocate for the best interests of the students and the district as a whole. I believe that the board of education and school administration are accountable to one another, and ultimately accountable to the people they serve. If elected, I will work hard to assure that we continually improve the quality of education that we provide our children, and create an education system that stands head-and-shoulders above all others in the area.