Source: Sherman Publications

School board candidates sound off
Fourteen candidates are in the race for five seats opening up on the Lake Orion Schools’ Board of Education. What do they think about various issues facing the district? Follow along as the as the May 3 election date approaches.

by Laura Colvin

March 16, 2011

Here’s what we asked the candidates this week: Did you support the Feb. 22 school bond proposal, yes or no? In 150 words or less, please explain your reasons and the process that led to your decision.

Note: This question is not so much about who voted “yes” and who voted “no.” Rather, it uses a community-wide element - the election - to give voters a snapshot of your beliefs, priorities and decision-making process.

Space is limited, so please adhere to word limits. Answers will be cut off at word 151.

Janet Wolverton: Because of the way Michigan schools have been funded since the passage of Proposal A in 1994, the State issues money to school districts to sustain one-year’s worth of operational expenses and requires districts to request bonded money for larger money outlay when needed. Bonded money is how school districts across the state are designed to make purchases for buses, major building repairs and technology upgrades. Understandably accruing long-term debt for short-term purchases is not wise, but because this is the way Michigan school funding is designed, I fully supported this bond because it would have allowed large essential purchases to be made while still preserving our per-pupil allotment to be spent in the classrooms where it belongs.

Kelly Weaver: I have had many opportunities to analyze the learning environment of LOCS. Although we continue to have high test scores - a credit to the hard working teachers - producing 21st Century learners continues to be a challenge. I am not in favor of deficit spending but I am in favor of providing every opportunity for a successful education. Along with this and understanding how schools are “funded”, I felt that this Bond must be explored. After researching (1) Actual costs per family; (2) Future opportunities to seek a bond (3) The ability to provide technology without a bond (4) That decreasing property taxes make this a cost neutral event and (5) How property values will be affected if educational standards decrease, I voted yes. Costs for passing this bond would be felt by all. The impact of it not passing would be felt by my children. I couldn’t risk that.

Debbie Porter: As a citizen of the community, a parent, and Lake Orion alumni, no, I did not support the bond proposal. Bonds are more appropriate for capitalized assets such as new schools, additions to schools, and land. I do not feel that bonds are appropriate for things such as computers, transportation, or maintenance. These items are expenses from the general budget. My reason for rejection was simple - the requested bond items should not require payment for the next several years. For example, the bond-supported computers will be in a scrap yard in less than 10 years and the taxpayers will continue paying for years to come. The real question is who do the taxpayers trust to move education forward and navigate through an extraordinarily difficult economic climate? The bond question is over.

Daniel Myslakowski: I have voted yes for all previous Lake Orion school bonds including the new High School 14 years ago, but this past February 22 I voted no for the following reasons:

I am all for keeping our kids competitive but I don’t believe money is the problem, or that throwing more money at it will solve this problem, and a 1/23/2011 Oakland Press article “Inflated MEAP scores full of hot air” highlighted this fact!

A recent education study; the Program for International Assessment (PISA), many other Country’s Schools beat our US schools which came in on average 25th, and 30th in reading, and math.

I believe all school elections should be held in November (general election) to save money, and keep it in the classroom where it belongs.

I believe school buses, technology, computers, networking equipment, and security issues should be budgeted for on an annual basis, not special (244 words minus 150 word limit resulted in 94 words cut from Mr. Myslakowski’s response).

Melissa Miller: I supported the bond because I want the best educational opportunities for our district’s students. I based my decision on the significant needs of our district and the urgency to act quickly due to the impact of declining property values on millage rates. My research showed that 20 of 28 districts in Oakland County used bonds to fund similar projects since 1994. Our district passed bonds in 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2002, which included technology, building refurbishing and buses.

Today, we are in a different economic climate and need to operate differently. I supported the bond to “fix” the significant needs that exist in our schools now (leaking roofs, outdated technology and aging buses), but firmly believe we also need to adopt a new budgeting model that will allow us to maintain our buildings, technology and buses using our operating budget, and limit future bond proposals to capital expenditures.

John Michalik: I voted yes on the bond. I believe a solid school district is the key to a great community. The first thing any family looks into when moving to a new community is the strengths of the school district. I believe solid funding and responsible spending can make this possible, but with the constant funding cuts from the state, LOCS needs to dig deeper to make ends meet. The bond passing would have given LOCS a chance to not only fix the structural issues that must be taken care of regardless of funding, but it would also have given the district a chance to go the next step and make LOCS a place where kids can get the technological skills, education, and experience they need to go to college and be successful in a career. All defeating the bond accomplished was putting our children’s education further behind in a competitive world, and reducing our-long term strength as a community.

Connie Meech: I opposed the bond because we should not finance relatively short-lived assets, such as computers and buses, over a term longer than their useful life. I understand that we need these items, however, the solution is leasing as it saves money and avoids the problem of purchasing expensive equipment that becomes obsolete/worn out before it’s paid off. Through careful prioritizing, we can make the necessary repairs to our infrastructure and provide our students the technology needed to prepare them for the 21st century job market. If elected, I will pursue community partnerships to save money and enhance educational opportunities. We should fully explore obtaining free wireless service for our schools like the downtowns of Oxford, Holly, and Clarkston just did. In these tough economic times when people are truly suffering, we need creative ideas to get the absolute most from our hard earned tax dollars.

Birgit McQuiston: I was a reluctant “yes” vote on the bond proposal. My hesitancy was fueled by the consideration of several issues: how schools are funded, what drives school districts to propose bonds, capitalization costs versus operation costs, debt load, the economic climate, and knowing that many community members, including myself, have been dissatisfied with the management of the school budget. In my opinion, the bond proposal was less than ideal. It lacked explicit detail, capitalized computers and buses, and was particularly heavy in its financial request. Ultimately, however, my personal decision to support the bond was driven out of a realization that the school district has several critical needs that the bond could have resolved. As a school board member I will focus on the challenge of meeting those needs within the constraints of the existing budget.

Terry Lang: Was there a lot wrong with the off-cycle bond vote on Feb. 22? Yes. Was it ill-advised to mix short and long-term needs with a long-term financing request? Yes. Having said that, I was present for the board meeting to understand why, because of bond pricing, it was the board’s responsibility to put this consideration to the voters now or the opportunity wouldn’t exist for the foreseeable future. When elected, I will advocate using sound business practices, including implementing a 5-year business plan, so stakeholders aren’t “surprised” with the need for a bond in the future and ensure we can vote during scheduled elections. I voted “yes” for the bond on Feb. 22 because it was the lesser of two evils…and its failure will affect our children. I embrace the challenges that lie ahead for the next board including funding capital expenses while continually improving our educational programming.

Joe Knight: Public discussion of funding and the bond started in fall of 2009. It took until September 2010 to present the bond to the board, with little detail of what was needed or how much money was required, and not allowing time for November elections. However, within two months $25,000,000 was decided to support needs and wants and equipment that will wear out before the loan is repaid in a time when people and businesses have lost jobs, salary, and revenue, lost their homes, can’t get loans for capital equipment, and struggle paying for basic needs. Opposition was heard immediately after the announcement. The superintendent quit. Although presentations were made regarding technology in classrooms, it was not clear to me how the district would assure $11,000,000 of technology would achieve greater efficiency or student achievement. We need leadership, a better plan, to listen, and act with urgency. I voted no.

Mark Brackon: Yes, I supported the bond issue. I believe the need to continue to improve our schools through technology is one of the important issues facing the school district in the years ahead. I think our learning environment should reflect how people live. However, the bond issue has created too much polarization in our community. The bond vote is over. We need to move forward and work together to solve many challenges, including technology updates. I am running for a board position because I have the experience of 35 years at Chrysler Corporation dealing with financial crisis. My experience will help the board move toward intelligent spending. I resolve to generate new and unique ideas to continue to improve the educational process in a responsible manner. My financial experience will ensure that taxpayer’s dollars are well spent in improving the education of our children.

No response received from Terrie Campbell, Nanci Canine or Steven Drakos