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Oxford Board of Education has five candidates for two seats


August 18, 2010 - When the voters head to the polls on Nov. 2, they will decide who should fill the two, four-year seats on the Oxford Board of Education.

Five candidates filed for the two seats with the Oakland County Elections Committee. Incumbents Colleen Schultz and Bill Keenist will defend their seats against Lisa Kempner, Bryan Thomas and Rhonda Yell.

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Schultz (click for larger version)
Colleen Schultz

Schultz has been serving on the Oxford Board of Education for the past 12 years and currently serves as the Board's president.

During her time, she has witnessed many changes to the school district. She decided to run after "careful consideration" and getting the support from her husband Tom and her three daughters.

She decided to seek re-election to make sure that Oxford Community Schools stays the course that it is currently on.

"Over the past few years Oxford Schools has begun many initiatives and it is the challenge and commitment of sheparding these initiatives through to fruition, while being fiscally responsible with the community's money," Schultz said.

She felt honored to serve on a board that worked to invest and create new educational opportunities for students but noted that the challenges would only increase as property values and state revenues for schools continue to decrease.

"Couple this with the fact that the board needs to continue its plan to restructure our current curriculum and programs so that our students will be able to compete globally, it is imperative more than ever before that we have strong, experienced leadership to guide our school district through these difficult times," she said.

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Keenist (click for larger version)
Bill Keenist

Keenist, who currently serves as the Board's Vice-President, has been on the Board since summer 2009 when he was appointed to fill a vacancy. He was elected to a one-year in November last year.

Since his family moved to Oxford in 1987, Keenist has taken an active role, participating in numerous committees and activities within the school district and the community.

Keenist is seeking re-election because he feels that in these difficult economic times, the district needs "experienced and selfless board members who are serving our community for the right reasons, and that is to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students, district and community."

He said that decisions the board has made over the past few years have placed OCS in a great position moving forward.

"I believe that by almost every objective measure, our school district is as well positioned as any in our county and perhaps in our state," he said. "That didn't happen by accident."

"When you hear what the most respected education professionals throughout the state, even throughout the country, have to say about Oxford Community Schools, you gain confidence that the decisions we have made are the right ones for our students. Nothing can be more important."

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Kempner (click for larger version)
Lisa Kempner

Kempner is running for a seat because she thinks the district needs to become more transparent with their information.

"When you are sitting in a board meeting there is stuff they are talking about and you can't really follow," she said. "You don't see what they are speaking about."

She added that the board packets should be put on the wall or on a video screen in order for the audience to understand what is being discussed.

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Her biggest concern was the amount of money that the district is spending.

"We need to have a little more accountability with all of the spending that the district is doing and we need to make sure what we are doing is really for the kids," she said.

She added that she would like to see the work completed on all of the current school buildings before buying a new school administration building and building a new athletic field at the middle school.

"Let us make sure the stuff that directly effects the kids gets done first and then look at something like buying an administration building," she said.

Kempner, who is married and has a son that attends Lakeville Elementary, is a stay at home mom who serves as the chair of the school's haunted house and spring fair.

"I am very active with the school and I talk to the teachers and I have an idea what is going on," she said.

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Thomas (click for larger version)
Bryan Thomas

For Thomas, the idea for running for the school board came about after he switched from second shift to first shift at the Flint General Motors plant.

"I went to those update, privatization and informational meetings and wasn't really happy with a lot of the answers I was getting from the administration and the board," Thomas said.

After he started attending board meetings, he became concerned with the lack of questions that were being asked by some board members, which is a major concern of his.

"I would really like to get on the board to ask questions necessary to try and keep the best interest of the community and school district in mind," he said.

Thomas, who is married, has a vested interest in the district because he has three children currently in OCS, and a fourth that will start in three years.

Like Kempner, Thomas was also concerned about the district's spending.

"There are a lot of things that we are spending money on, like the administration building, that I disagree on...in this type of climate we need to focus on things the district must have and focus on education for the kids," he said.

Thomas approved of the district introducing foreign language starting in kindergarten, but noted that the district could be heading into a "firestorm" with the initiatives the district is undertaking.

"We don't have the income to support all of the projects that the administration is trying to push through," he said. "I think we have a lot of grand ideas, but long-term wise I do not know how we are going to financially support these ideas."

Even though he has not had any governmental experience, Thomas has overseen multimillion dollar projects during his 15 years at GM.

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Rhonda Yell

This is not the first time that Yell has thrown her name in for a spot on the school board. She went through the interview process when Keenist was selected to fill a vacant seat last year.

She feels that as a parent, community member and educator she can bring a different perspective to the board.

"I really feel like I understand the process, goals and objectives of an educational organization and that I something I feel I can contribute to the local government at this point," Yell said.

She has been teaching in the Lapeer School District her entire teaching career and recently helped put together a bond proposal that passed.

She has her Masters degree in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and a Masters in teaching from Marygrove College. She also has a Bachelors degree in special education from EMU.

She feels that Oxford is moving in the right direction. "I think that some decisions are going to have to be made that are going to be paramount in giving the optimum opportunities while maintaining fiscal responsibility," Yell said.

"I think a couple things that we are going to have to look at is how funds are spent, how we prioritize what needs to be done in the district in order to get the most opportunities for our kids and I think it all needs to be done with community involvement," she added.

Since moving to Oxford 11 years ago, she has three children in OCS and a fourth one set to begin in a few years.

She thinks that Superintendent Dr. William Skilling was on the right track when he sought input from community members during the community forums that were held.

"I just think there is a lot of work to be done and we need to just role up our sleeves and get at it and do the best we can," Yell said.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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