ELi Asks: What Are Your Fiscal Priorities?

Friday, October 24, 2014, 10:04 am
Rebecca J. McAndrews
East Lansing High School

In an effort to provide the community of East Lansing a closer look at candidates running for School Board in the upcoming November 4 elections, ELi gave every candidate the opportunity to answer a list of questions regarding their goals and ideas for improving education in East Lansing. Candidates were provided a 200-word limit per question and ELi’s publisher selected the order in which their answers appear through a random drawing of names.  

The answers to ELi’s previous questions can be found in these articles:

Why are you running?

Why are you qualified?

What would you change?

A total of eight candidates will vie for four seats on the East Lansing School Board, each with a four-year term attached.  While every candidate was provided the opportunity to participate, Jeffrey C. Wray did not respond to ELi’s invitation. 

When it comes to fiscal responsibility of the ELSB, what do you believe is the greatest priority for spending in our school district?  What is the least priority? (examples: faculty salaries, facilities, professional development, curriculum, technology, etc.)

Response from Karen Hoene:

I would certainly expect to gain a deeper knowledge of budgetary issues facing our district if elected to the school board.  This is not my area of expertise, however as a parent and community member, I believe that maintaining and hiring outstanding teachers and professionals is the most important factor in our children’s education, therefore I would prioritize faculty salaries so that we remain competitive with surrounding districts.  Professional Development is important as well but I believe this is an area where the district could be creative in seeking affordable and high quality opportunities for our staff, especially with a world class university across the street.  Our school buildings are getting older and in need of updates, however I would prioritize renovating rather than rebuilding if we continue to be faced with budget shortfalls. 

Response from Joe Borgstrom:

I would not come onto the board with a preconceived notion of what the budget would look like or where the priorities would be. I would want to see the ELPS budget against a benchmark of the most academically successful public schools in the state. I’d compare that to what the superintendent is requesting and determining how the budget was derived from at the administration level. I’m a big believer that great teachers are the key to a great education, but those teachers need to have resources, facilities and curriculum flexibility to do what they do best. In order to do that, it is the board’s responsibility to make sure it is maximizing the district’s resources whether its facilities, land, equipment or money. I’m not currently convinced these assets are being used to the best of their ability. By better leveraging these resources, we could eventually put more into our classrooms and development budgets. However, in the current budget year, ELPS is using roughly $300,000 from the fund balance to prop up the budget. I am concerned at this level of support from the fund balance. Looking at, and addressing, this financial gap would be my first priority.

Response from David Gott:

There are many great things that the District must prioritize. With that said, Salary and benefits are the largest portions of any District Budget.  I would like to see the ELPS Board of Education strengthen its relationship with the staff and settle their contract. Further, I would like to see the resources used to focus on improving student achievement.  Sometimes that will mean that certain schools, and certain areas get different resources than others.

Response from Kyle Guerrant:

With constant student enrollment fluctuations, this is a very real question to many school boards across Michigan. You must prioritize budget cuts that have the least amount of impact on education in the classroom, and look for any efficiencies in the operations of the district.  Our greatest priority must be investing in the quality teaching staff entrusted to educate our students.  Investing in educational technology is also critical in effectively preparing ELPS students to compete globally.

Response from Nell Kuhnmuench:

My belief is the greatest priority for spending in our district consists of that which assures each student the best opportunity to develop their individual abilities to their fullest potential.  This means developing a budget that: respects and honors our teachers, providing them with the very best the district can afford of necessary “tools” in the classroom, professional development, curriculum support, salaries and benefits, and other needs; respects and honors our administrators and other staff by providing them with the tools they need in their roles, as well as salaries and benefits, and other needs; ensure the district's facilities are safe and carefully maintained.

A budget cannot be reduced to a simple answer of one aspect to be cut while saving all others, and it has never been a simple issue of cutting one aspect of the budget in the years I have served.

The decisions that the Board has made during my tenure - and must continue to make  - require evaluating the budget in its entirety, continually monitoring our revenues and expenditures and understanding both the short term and long term impacts of every decision we make.

Response from Kate Powers:

I believe that programming should be the priority for district spending, in order to provide competitive learning environments. While it is challenging to consider what would be the least important, I think anything that does not directly affect learning, or the learning environment, could be considered the lowest priority.

Response from Yasmina Bouraoui:

It is impossible to make a broad statement about what should be the greatest priority without knowing all of the options and choices in a particular situation, and without knowing which areas have already undergone significant cuts.

That being said, spending needs to be prioritized so that it has the biggest impact in the classroom – which means avoiding cuts that impact students and teaching. One might first start by ensuring that areas that can be consolidated have been consolidated for maximum efficiency – such as administration, facility management, etc.

The middle and high schools have undergone significant renovations in the past fifteen years and are in very good condition. The elementary buildings are in various states, which was outlined in detail in the Site Ranking Comparison & Recommendation report which was presented to the ELSB on August 11, 2012. Some are too small and face a myriad of issues, and others with great capacity are vacant. There is a continued need to invest in the district’s elementary buildings, and to consider innovative programming which can attract dedicated learners. The technology bond and its implementation have been appreciated and was an important step in the maintenance of facilities.

Disclosure: Rebecca J. McAndrews has two children who attend East Lansing Public Schools and is a substitute teacher for the district.

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