Next Tuesday is an important election for our School District. Below are my thoughts on who to vote for, who not to vote for and why.
For the two 6-year seats:
Howard Baron. Everyone seems to agree on this one, and for good reason. Mr. Baron has 30 years of real private-sector and non-profit financial experience. He already has a good grasp on the District's finances. He's a regular participant on the Community Partnership Committees. He is pragmatic and intelligent (MIT degree, MBA from the University of Chicago) and, importantly, his heart in the right place. He is retired and has the time to devote. Mr. Baron's focus is on educational excellence and fiscally responsibility. He's widely supported (even by many, many folks who were against the bond) and endorsed by everyone that's endorsing.
Ingrid Day. Ingrid led the District through a tumultuous period during the the bond proposal and is delivering on the promises that the Board made. As it turns out, as discussed by PFM (the district's independent financial adviser on the bond) at a recent Study Session, the bond will likely be significantly less expensive than the conservative numbers used during the campaign. The interest rate will be much closer to 3.05%, not 5.5%, resulting in approximately $20 Million dollars in interest savings over the pre-campaign estimates. Here's a link to the Study session. http://bhstv.bloomfield.org/2116 The low interest rate, combined with rising property values, also means that the actual millage rate will be significantly lower than projected. I don't credit Ms. Day for the low interest rates or rising property values, but I do credit her for conservatively estimating the cost of the plan and calmly and confidently leading us through this process. Now we're about to beat those bond cost estimates ...by a mile... and she deserves some credit. Ingrid is a strong leader and a consensus builder.
The other candidate in the 6-year race, Mr. Moigis, did not support the school bond. In this race, he has expressed a desire to improve academic scores. That is an admirable goal, we can all agree on that, but he hasn't said how he would accomplish this and with no history of participating in Board meetings or participating in the Community Partnership Committees, I don't have any reason to think he is particularly qualified to be on the Board for this purpose. It would seem to me that candidates like Mrs. Berndt (more below), a retired teacher with 40+ year experience teaching children, would be better positioned to take up such a cause. Mr. Moigis's only connection to school policy, generally, seems to be a short 1-year stint on a curriculum committee in Troy nearly 36 years ago. Mr. Moigis does seem focused on changing the ratio of students to district employees by cutting staff (in fairness, I think he'd focus on staff, not teachers). Mr. Moigis didn't answer some reasonable questions posed to him on the Patch forum. In my mind, he is too much of an unknown quantity. He seems like a great guy. I've met him a couple of times, couldn't be nicer. Baron and Day are qualified, proven, have put in years of effort already on behalf of our district and are far superior candidates.
I would also be remiss in not mentioning that the PAC (Back-to-Education) behind Mr. Moigis's. and Mrs. Greenwell's campaigns was established by Chris Fellin. I have nothing against Chris, personally, but Chris is known to be adamantly anti-bond and anti-board, a leader of the effort to recall the entire school board (along with Mrs. Greenwell) and chief protagonist in the Pine Lake lawsuit against the district (which costs the taxpayers 100's of thousands of dollars).
For the one 2-year seat:
Joan Berndt and Rob Herner. These are the only two that I could, in good conscience, support for the 2-year seat. Both bring different positive attributes.
Mr. Herner understands business and financial issues, which is a very useful skill to have on the Board as we go through the new school construction. He also has a business history that involves technology for schools and with many decisions on that front to be made in the near future, that's a skill we could use, it seems to me. Bright and articulate, he is now and would continue to be a valuable member of the Board.
Joan's history is as a teacher of music to children for more than 40 years. Let me say that again, she taught children for more than 40 years! A teacher of children on the Board of Education...that makes sense. As a current board member, she has already played a key role in saving the 4th Grade Music program (a program my son personally benefited greatly from). She's conservative and pragmatic. She refers to herself as "an old duck". Na, a wise old owl, I would say. She would represent the concerns of the seniors in our community very well. It's hard to overstate the value of having someone on the Board that has 40+ years of real teaching experience. Mrs. Berndt has been endorsed by all the publications that are endorsing and by our Township Supervisor, Leo Savoie. Personally, I will be voting for Mrs. Berndt, although I would not criticize anyone who voted for Mr. Herner. Both would serve us well.
I will not vote for Mrs. Greenwell. Unlike Mr. Moigis, she is certainly a known quantity. I don't have the ill-will toward her that you might see expressed in this venue and I don't think her to be a bad person, but I simply question her judgment given the positions she has taken on a number of issues:
- She has written on this venue a number of times suggesting we should consider consolidating our school district with Birmingham's. I disagree with that. ("Population decline is a great reason to 'consolidate' with the Birmingham school district" : http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/articles/superintendent-residents-have-lack-of-trust-with-school-board) ("Fundamental changes and consolidation of districts is necessary" http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/articles/glass-charter-school-bill-could-forever-change-the-landscape-of-education-in-michigan)
- She has written derisively of the farm on a number occasions and has often suggested selling at least part of it. Recently she's suggested transferring control outside of the District. That would be a mistake. The proceeds would simply be insufficient to be a long-term financial remedy for potential budget imbalances and, besides, the farm is our alternative high school, is otherwise a place of learning and is, in many other ways, simply a gem in our community. (some samples of her comments: http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/two-small-high-schools-or-one-big-farm, http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/cash-rich-school-district-should-not-dump-assets, http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/providing-oversight-for-taxpayers, http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/may-8-election-is-a-dirty-trick, http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/education-dollars-for-education-makes-sense-to-me)
- She seems to support not just school of choice, but mandatory school of choice ("Gov. Rick Snyder has correctly decreed that those districts with excess capacity must accept students from beyond their boundaries" http://www.theoaklandpress.com/articles/2012/05/23/opinion/doc4fbd24505e6c0632090935.txt?viewmode=fullstory) while suggesting in an Letter to Editor (to the Oakland Press) published on May 23rd that voting yes on the high school bond would result in our district having to take in out of district students, perhaps from "Toledo, Flint, Port Huron or foreign countries". Of course right-sizing our school had the exact opposite effect. 1 open school with 1,650 in-district students and a capacity for 1,800 is much better positioned against mandatory school of choice laws than 2 open schools with 1,650 students, but with open and operating capacity for 2,600. That this is not obvious to Mrs. Greenwell concerns me.
- She, Chris Fellin (and others) tried to recall the entire school board when she didn't get her way. Legal? Sure. But recalls should be used very sparingly, it seems to me, when objective criteria indicates utter failure on the part of elected officials that cannot wait until the next election. Even with the bad PR associated with Ms. Greenwell's recall efforts, our District continued to be held in high regard academically and financially.
- She recently stated that the District is "flirting with bankruptcy." (http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/caller-are-you-the-fiscally-sane-school-board-candidate). This assertion couldn't be further from the truth as was succinctly summarized by Mr. Baron in a recent Patch blog post. (http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/my-financial-assessment-of-bloomfield-hills-schools). Additionally, the District has a AAA credit rating (rare for a school district in MI) from highly respected credit agencies and professionals trained in evaluating such matters. "Flirting with bankruptcy" is simply a wildly inaccurate assertion.
- Mrs. Greenwell invested heavily in the failure of the bond for the new school (alluded to it as a "factory school" http://bloomfield-mi.patch.com/blog_posts/this-time-im-voting-no-again-and-for-the-same-reasons-as-before), but now she feels called to make sure it's on time and on budget. That's like inviting the fox to guard the hen-house ... while you're building the hen house. I don't think it's wise. I'll trust Mr. Baron to sharpen his pencil instead. He knows how to use it, he did so professionally for more than 30 years.
- Finally, neither Mrs. Greenwell nor Mr. Moigis, have expressed any clear opinions, thoughts or concerns about the legislative proposals brewing in Lansing, particularly the proposals generally outlined by the Oxford Foundation, which could result in the gutting of our school district as we know it, transferring much control to Lansing. Given that Mrs. Greenwell has apparently embraced district consolidation, mandatory school of choice, and transferring control of Bower's farm to a regional authority, I don't think local control is high on her list of priorities. Transferring local control away from districts like our seems to be the most obvious consequence of the proposals being put forth by the Oxford Foundation. I would be interested in knowing more about Mrs. Greenwells thoughts on this subject.
There will be issues I agree with Mrs. Greenwell on from time-to-time (the wellness center, to name one), I just fundamentally disagree with her positions, her judgement and her approach to resolving issues.
The next 2 years for our District are critical. Board members will need to be team players, focused, productive, responsible, willing to respectfully disagree among themselves without being too disagreeable and willing to forge consensus on important issues. I believe Mrs. Day has the experience and leadership skills to keep the Board on track. I trust that Mr. Baron will keep his pencil sharp throughout this process. Hopefully we will retain the unique skills of Mrs. Berndt or Mr. Herner. All 4 of these candidates have demonstrated that they are dedicated to helping the District, have prioritized and are focused on the most important of the current challenges we have and, importantly, they understanding the future challenges coming from Lansing.
Please consider voting for Day, Baron, Berndt (or Herner) on November 6th.