Thursday, April 26, 2007

Brighton School Board Debates

Brighton School Debates
I was just at the Brighton School Board Debates. The biggest contrast I saw compared to Howell is the level of tension in the atmosphere. It was a lot more relaxed and businesslike in Brighton than it was in Howell. The level of animosity in the room was much lower here.

The debate format was 2 minutes for opening/closing statements with 1.5 minute answers. The debate was recorded and will be on local public access stations. I typed as quick as I could on the answers and they are as close to verbatum as possible, although as with Howell, much of this was shorthand and I apologize for the difficulty in reading this. I did my best.

Overall, while I think all of the candidates would do a good job on the school board, I hope that Irene Besancon and Greg Rassel win. I don't think anyone needs to vote "against" any of the candidates here as none of these candidates have shown poor judgment, have axes to grind, or bad decision making ability. There are no incumbents running here either so there will be new people on the board, no matter who wins.

Opening Statement (2min)
Irene Besancon – 13 years in Brighton. Daughter teacher. Grandchildren in Brighton Schools. We need to educate our children so they can take care of the world. Unique skills with Mathematics background. Balanced books and treasured many orgs. Teaches at Schoolcraft/Eastern.

Patti Bradley – 22 years in Brighton. Reporter Children in Brighton. PTO President at formerly, Spencer, now Scranton. Small business owner. Public schools educate 90% of schoolchildren in states. We need more than inadequate funding from state. We let Lansing decide with budget cuts.

Winnie Garrett – Livingston County resident 17 years. Training in human relations. Director of Human resources. Lifelong commitment to community service. Passion for quality schools, Brighton has excellent reputation. Use good skills to maintain and enhance schools. Concerned about funding equity.

Jared Geist – Make community better. Born and raised in Brighton. K-12 product of Brighton schools. Whole life involved in Brighton community.

Beth Minert – Moved to Livingston County in 1972, 1980 in Brighton. Teacher in Brighton 31 years. Retired. Been on several negotiation teams. Been on two school redistrict committee and one other (missed it). Went to Lansing in 2005 for school equity rally. Believe in public education system. Time for another educator on school board.

Greg Rassel – Director of Public Service, Royal Oak. Marine Corps. 13? Years in Brighton. Kids in system. Frustrated at boards kick the can approach currently. Need to take responsibility. Live within our means, not fund balance. Don’t bow to single issue groups. Maintain high level of excellence in school. We need to make community decisions based on long term. State level is important, but don’t expect much short term.

Keith VanHentenryck – Moved to Livingston in 1988. Self-employed and run business. Too much of adversial relationship with all parties. Compromiser. Stay within budget. Enhancing revenue good idea, but unrealistic goal right now.

Q1 – If you had one change, what would it be.
Irene Besancon – Agree with Bradley with planning long haul and with technology. Was involved in Dearborn Schools Engineering program. Taught students to think for themselves with original ideas and manufacturing. Apply tech as well as learn it. Need finances to do that.

Patti Bradley – Lack of future planning. Had to work on year/year basis. Need to look 3 years ahead. Cirriculum – not enough staff to accolplish updates. Tech needs updating.

Winnie Garrett – Lack of equity in funding. Optimistic it can happen. Control of state leglisature. Education not getting enough recognition that it needs. Need to focus on that. Brighton has excellent schools, but we can not be complacent.

Jared Geist – Strengthen and better and find better ways to communicate with district. The rest comes from that, including funding, etc. We need to inform public. Public relations. Public must be on same page as board. One of two candidates with website. It’s important and set up in FAQ format with questions. Phone number and email on website for all communications.

Beth Minert – Wants to piggyback off of Geist’s interest. Former Super Dennis McMahon had partners in education program. Wants to bring that back. New state required curriculum. Needs to make it relevant for students to business community. Arizona has radio program each week related to schools. Need to publicize more.

Greg Rassel – 1. Balancing the budget. 2. Look at upgrading facilities including technology. More reliant on schools of choice and need to compete with South Lyon, Howell, Walled Lake. Facilities must compete.

Keith VanHentenryck – Everything hinges on money. Budget is number one issue. Number of items not well capped.

Q2 – Would you support request for millage increase or headlee override for budget.

Irene Besancon – No. Moving companies having problem and can not get trucks back. Doesn’t seem fair to put more tax burden on residents here. However, we can use school of choice to get revenue. Keep good curriculum to keep students here and attract students. Can bring 1 million to our districts by filling slots.

Patti Bradley – Proposal A flawed due to millage. Need to get other districts to agree to seek money. Millage was defeated two years ago when we tried. Would not support millage at time.

Winnie Garrett – not tax raiser . Local districts not allowed to have millage so puzzled by question. Continue for advocate of funding equite. County does not support taxes.

Jared Geist – Short answer – no. Worst thing can do right now is millage. Looking at it wrong way. Do better with money we have right now. Amazing amount of for sale signs right now. Economy not greatest right now. Defecit right now. Not spend more money than have. Control spending and not ask for money since no guarantee money won’t get spent same way as current.

Beth Minert – not asking for headlee override right now. Would support it. Millage – reviewing Super Craig’s review. Increase of 500K in special ed budget. All these programs mandates, but not funded. Need to help these students.

Greg Rassel – Short answer no. Not right now. We must restructure first. That never happens.

Keith VanHentenryck – Short answer no. State can’t resolve it, not addressing next years. Too many foreclosures right now.

Q3 – Opinion of MESSA

Irene Besancon – I have advantage to live under teacher benefits. Teachers deserve good benefits, but we need to look at all options and truly feel Board has to say “We can afford to pay so much, not more than that. What’s best you can find for teachers under that dollar amount” We don’t know what budget will be, but prepare for worst case so we don’t cut what kids need.

Patti Bradley – Be careful. Insurance is part of collective bargaining agreement. Everything up for grabs with contract.

Winnie Garrett – Labor relations background. I don’t have enough information right now. Not familiar with what costs are. Not equipped to make decision.

Jared Geist – Referred to Howell declaring selves policy hold. We need to wait and see how that plays out. If we can provide benefits at cheaper costs, no reason not to do so. It may backfire, so we need to watch Howell first. Can’t spend more money than we have. If there’s other companies not affiliated with MEA, we need to look at it.

Beth Minert – Unlike Howell, brighton paid to keep MESSA. Will look at others and save money, but be careful. Do not let people go by wayside with pre-existing conditions. Look at history of company and premiums to see they do low cost first and double them within a year.

Greg Rassel Part of Structural change. We can’t prove we get best costs. In private sector, premiums are changing all time. Need to bid out competitive.

Keith VanHentenryck – Has to be looked at. Many school districts dropped MESSA, which is 3rd party admin, not provider. Lakeview, saved 500K. Blue Cross/Blue Shield repackaged, easily less expensive with same benefits.

Q4 – Regarding Brew haha relating to literature at Howell.

Irene Besancon – Policy establishment sounds good. Is the material best to deliver for curriculum?

Patti Bradley – We hire on teachers expertise for this. Parents had access to AP list. Availible to all parents in Brighton. Shouldn’t be issue.

Winnie Garrett – We need processes to avoid it and up to date and followed. Staff needs training. Committees – need to include different views so all are listened to. Chain of command needs to be followed. We need good conflict resolution skills, need to be respectful, return phone calls, etc. Total package will make it work.

Jared Geist – I don’t have lit or teacher degree but law, poly sciece, . Teachers need to do their jobs. We go down slippery road if we micromanage. Good policy right now.

Beth Minert – Brighton has way to deal with this. In HS, Teachers choose book, work with dept heads, discuss it, vote, give it to super and board. Look at other districts and goes to committee. Committee can read, discuss, and vote. May use as pilot or right away. Parents bring it to treacher, may offer alternative, and if more challenge, can go to board. AP – requested by college board. Different criteria.

Greg Rassel – Satisfied with Brighton process. We haven’t had that controversy,. Knock on wood. Fall back on Supreme Court statement. I know it when I see it.

Keith VanHentenryck – Works well now. Always be some book that pushes someone’s button, but right now no changes.

Q5 – Labor relations good, adequate, bad, at Brighton schools.

Irene Besancon – Adequate. Don’t like to see disagreements in last year or two, comes from mutual respect. At least people are courteous to each other. Need healthier respect for one another. We have good people and need to remember we are negotiation with good people and in best interest. That gets lost in conference. Both sides need to know what’s needed going in and be able to articulate it. Communication.

Patti Bradley – Adequate, need work. Super said 2.5 million. Head of union doesn’t believe it says Cried wolf. More communications needed.

Winnie Garrett “Traditional” – lose opportunities for win/win outcomes.

Jared Geist – Inadequate. We have to look at end result of what we have – budget defecit.End result needs to be good. Part of process did not work to good result, which is not adequate for me. It’s harsh, but we need to be tough with end result.

Beth Minert – Are adequate. Yes, tough times and some layoffs. Teachers are problem solvers and want to solve problems facing district.

Greg Rassel – Adequate. Contact to contract for a couple of years. Work to be done. Can’t go out until long term contracts are in place. We aren’t doing all we can to keep house in order fiscally.

Keith VanHentenryck – Adequate. Issues in past lead to situation where both parties unsatisfied. More compromise necessary. Conflicting interests.

Q6 – Have you been endorsed by PACS, unions, etc?

Irene Besancon – If you ask me to come, you are part of community. Endorsed by Taxpayers Group and Right to Life. I said things I concurred with their point of view, but it’s MY point of view. I did not say what they wished to hear. I’ve not received contributions outsides of people putting signs out. All money my own.

Patti Bradley – No. No endorsements. I did received contribution from graphic artist. Else, my own money. Not spending $1000 (Waiver)

Winnie Garrett – No endorsements or financial contributions.

Jared Geist – Piggyback on what Irene said. All of this is community service. Invited by RTL, Teachers Union, Argus, and Taxpayers. I’ll tell them what I say. I have beenendorsed by RTL. No contributions from PACs/Special interests. Campaign contributions from family and friends. I’m in debt. I’ll take that. Am under $1000 (waiver).

Beth Minert – Not seeking endorsements. Neutral. Nonpartisan. Checks from friends for yard signs. $100-175 range. Spent under $400

Greg Rassel – Interviewed with same groups. Endorsement of Taxpayers Group. Spend my own money.

Keith VanHentenryck – No. No endorsements. Low impact approach with low spending. Not taking contributions.

Q7 – Should negotiaton team have board member on it.

Irene Besancon – I’m surprised we don’t have one. Should have one there.

Patti Bradley – Board should have one there. We’re responsible for approving contracts.

Winnie Garrett – No. What happens, Board sets parameters for management with support of super on what issues are. Financial/non financial. Board has closed meeting as a group.

Jared Geist – Critical to have board member or two members. Board has duty to do
best we can. If most important is financial, need proactive approach and have members in process.

Beth Minert – On each negotiation team I was on, board was there.

Greg Rassel – No. Code of silence. Too many biases of individual. Hire admin for reason. More important financial advisor there.

Keith VanHentenryck – No as well. Board designed to run business of district in overview fashion. Micromagement – too many hands in pot and spoil the stew. Agree with Greg.

Q8 – Selcra relationship

Irene Besancon – They do outstanding job. Grandkids involved. Don’t incur costs because of them, maintains good facilities for community.

Patti Bradley – Should continues. Don’t know fee schedule, but need fee to use schools or soccer fields. Relationship should continue.

Winnie Garrett – Tradional. Agreed, but needs to know fee structure.

Jared Geist – Absolutely. Community theme. Selcra great for community. Well balanced education critical. Biased – as I’m soccer referee from selcra at one point. A lot of people see Selcra as postitive. Could factor through school of choice.

Beth Minert – Agree. Something should be paid toward.

Greg Rassel – Selcra does great job. Report to board several weeks ago. 80% self-funded. Bounced number to management he uses at Royal Oak. Great numbers. Facilities are heavily overused and needed upgrade to lower maintence costs.

Keith VanHentenryck – Good program. If it doesn’t cost too much, and needs to be close to self-sustaining.

CQ9 – Abscincence – support? (State requirement)
Irene Besancon – Follow mandate

Patti Bradley – Follow mandate.

Winnie Garrett – Support being in complice with state guidelines.

Jared Geist – Agreed with Garrett due to mandates. School board job isn’t to change mandate but to manage school. Not my job to alter what mandate is on that level. I have my own beliefs. Own believes sometimes best, sometimes not. Will be professional. Need to follow mandate.

Beth Minert – Follow mandate.

Greg Rassel – Parent of 17 year old. Great policy.

Keith VanHentenryck – Can’t follow Greg. Have to follow mandate. Need to teach well rounded course.

Closing Statement (2 min)

Irene Besancon – I’ve had experience in Livonia on school board advisory. Strong curriculum provider. I’ve been and produced two teachers. Want to be positive image for Brighton schools. Great community. Need to balance budget to grow, equity to staff, accountability to those paying bills.

Patti Bradley – I’m running for schools since I have kids that had good education in Brighton. So caught up in budget cuts that forget what the cuts affect. Has 6th? Grader.

Winnie Garrett – 17 years in community. I have expertise regarding community in Leadership Livingston, BHS volunteer. Part of BHS planning committees. Strong set of skills in leadership. Brings plaque of leadership award to confirm what she said.

Jared Geist – Communication is what this is all about. Anyone has more questions, I’ll stay and answer them afterward. I’ll talk to TV watchers. Gives Cell number - 810-210-9192 – will answer questions from public. I have fresh perspective, BHS graduate K-12. I have brothers in school as well.

Beth Minert – School is a foundation of community. Brings history of district, contracts to board.

Greg Rassel – 3 legged approach. Revenue. Reductions. Restructure. In reverse order. We need to look at what they’ve done in lansing. Unfunded mandates need to be addressed. Don’t need people at top of hill telling us to teach our children.

Keith VanHentenryck – I have a lot to offer to community whose board is supposed to look at business to district. I can do good job, but others here can do so as well.


Honest Jared said...

I just wanted to say thank-you for your continued in-depth coverage of the local school board races. Although I respectfully disagree with who you want to win, I applaud your efforts to provide the community with coverage of the debates. I did find your summaries of the answers accurate, and it was amazing how quick you had them up. Thanks again,
Jared A. Geist

Unknown said...

I also attended the debates.

I was very impressed with the high caliber of all the candidates. IMHO every candidate there exceeded minimum standards for serving on the school board and picking only two out of this excellent field is challanging.

So when I endorse two particular candidates the others should not take it personally.

The single most important issue of the next few years is the budget crisis our schools are facing. We don't have time to train new board members in finances. They must bring these skills with them to the job. For this reason I am focused on finding the candidates with the best financial backgrounds and willingness to tackle the budget crisis head on.

While I thought it was laudable that most of the candidates talked about trying to get more money out of Lansing, school board members have no influence over this and must focus on what they do have influence over - the school budget.

My votes will be going to Irene Besancon and Greg Rassel because of the tremendous amount of financial and budgeting experience they will bring to the board.

Jared, if you read this, I just wanted to let you know you did a pretty good job in the debate, but I really feel we need all the experience we can get in these difficult times. I'd love to know what you plan on doing after you graduate from law school. Good Luck.