School Board Candidate Profile: Mike Conlin

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Monday, September 26, 2016, 8:52 am
Karessa Wheeler

Beginning today, September 26, ELi will be running profiles of all candidates for East Lansing’s Board of Education in alphabetical order on an every-other-day schedule.

In a long-ago presidential campaign, the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” ruled the day. Mike Conlin, economics professor at MSU, is more eloquent but the sentiment remains the same.

“You’ve got to think about the money,” he said recently. “Whatever plans we have moving forward, we need to ensure that they are fiscally sound.”

Conlin believes he is the candidate for the East Lansing Board of Education with the best qualifications and skill set to guide the Board through the needed renovations, and any possible new construction, of the District’s five elementary schools.

A graduate of Notre Dame with an MBA from the University of Illinois, Conlin was working as a mechanical engineer in Chicago when he decided to return to school for his doctoral degree. He met his wife, Stacy Dickert-Conlin, in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. The couple and their three children have lived in East Lansing for ten years. Dr. Dickert-Conlin is a professor of economics at MSU as well.

Five years ago, Conlin was frustrated by the large class sizes he was seeing in East Lansing and the lack of resources such as paraprofessionals to assist teachers. He began to do research in facilities economics and joined the District’s K-8 facilities committee in 2011. He has come to the conclusion that the increasing class sizes are due a large part to “the District making uninformed decisions based on inadequate financial analysis.”

His initial foray into the funding of public schools has since become a professional interest for Conlin as well.

If elected, Conlin hopes to increase the schools’ general fund by reducing the sinking fund millage and proposing a new recreational millage which will remove maintenance of all the playgrounds, gyms and other recreational areas from the District’s general fund. This would free up much-needed funds for teacher, counselor, specialist and paraprofessional salaries, Conlin said. He estimates that if all the additional funds were spent on teachers, ELPS would be able to hire eleven more teachers.

In regard to the closed Red Cedar Elementary School, Conlin doesn’t believe it would be a good idea to sell the property. It was designed as an educational facility and should remain so, he said. However, he said the School District needs to find a use for the building that can earn enough money to cover the maintenance of the building. He does not believe a pre-kindergarten or tuition-based preschool would bring in enough revenue. Instead, he would suggest that the Board reach out to the Ingham County Intermediate School District about leasing Red Cedar for special educational services. The ISD is currently short on space at their Heartwood School facility, he said, and could easily move services to Red Cedar.

“Red Cedar could be used for important programming and create needed revenue,” he said.

Conlin also wants to ensure that with the upcoming bond issue, the Board does more research into what is needed for the District and doesn’t err on the side of building in too much extra capacity that will then have to sit empty and cost the District in maintenance. The current elementary schools are clearly in need of upgrades, he said, but the District must have experts forecast enrollment levels in order to determine future capacity needs.

“I don’t want to see us build crazy, big schools that we may end up having to close because the research wasn’t done,” he said. “We must build the right size schools so that we can afford the costs of maintaining those schools long into the future.”

However, Conlin supports the current Board’s actions in most ways that aren’t fiscal. He praised them for moving forward to create an all-gender restroom in the high school, and for supporting the State Board of Education’s policy toward transgendered students.

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