Seraphim Pallas, the parent of two children in Northville Public Schools, made the tough decision to pull his daughters from the district this week, in favor of a charter school in Farmington Hills.
The reason? The charter school offers a class size of nine, whereas his daughters' classes average 29 students, he said. It's a problem that Northville's school board will continue to grapple with and an issue that school board candidates were pressed on at a Legislative Action Network-hosted forum Monday night. About 50 people were in attendance.
"They have their hands tied to some extent," Pallas said of the board.
Still, he said, he hopes whoever is elected to the board in November will make changes.
"This is supposed to be one of the best districts," he said.
The candidates – Michael Barrett, Roland Hwang, Cynthia Jankowski, Adam Phelps and Matthew Wilk – were asked about how they'd try to reduce class sizes, prioritize items in the school budget and more. Some parents pressed the candidates about salaries and, at times, the conversation became contentious as audience members interrupted organizers to ask questions or express disagreement.
The candidates on setting budget priorities
The candidates also agreed that though school budgets are dictacted by per pupil funding in the state school aid fund.
Barrett said that reducing class sizes while getting quality teachers in the classroom should be a priority. "If you want very good people, you have to hire very good people," he said, adding that the pay for many district employees is not on par with what some other districts pay. "You're getting more (for) your money here," he said.
Hwang told the board that he sees opportunity for supplementing school aid monies with grants. He said that, if elected, he would prioritize reducing class sizes and expanding world languages to make students globally competitive. He added that before cuts were made to any part of the budget, there would have to be analysis of the impact. With regard to teacher salaries, Hwang said the district needs to offer competitive pay to attract quality teachers.
Jankowski – an appointee who seeks to be elected to the board – said the majority of the district's budget goes to pay for salaries, benefits and retirement costs. Reform is needed in how much the district pays into retirement, she said. She added that teachers are the district's biggest asset and that they work very hard to educate Northville's children.
Phelps praised the current board for being "lean" in their budgets, but said that the district needs to explore outside funding opportunities. With his business background as a Ford employee, he said, he makes big budget decisions on a regular basis. Phelps also told the crowd that the board should take feedback from residents before making big-impact budget decisions.
Wilk – who also is an appointee serving on the school board and seeks to be elected – said that reducing class sizes is his priority, and cuts to other areas should support that. He said that salaries should be evaluated, among other areas of the budget, but that in making cuts, the board "can't please everyone."
LAN president Christa DiNapoli said that overall she was pleased with the forum.
Attendees submitted more than 20 questions to LAN organizers, she said. For parents who are interested in getting more involved, she said that LAN, which is non-partisan and works to influence education policy in Lansing, was a great way to start. For more information on LAN contact DiNapoli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the candidates, in their own words, check out our candidate profiles.