Milford will see five candidates running for the Milford School Board in the upcoming election, to be held on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Ronald T. Evans, Michael Firch, Jason M. Miller, Michael D McKain and Michael Wells are vying for the At Large seat, which serves for five years.
1. What do you believe are the major challenges facing the Milford School District? How will you help to resolve them?
I believe the two biggest challenges facing the Milford School District are: 1) Financial Stability and 2) Communication and Trust with the Community. Regarding the financial challenges of the District, I would use my background in business and finance to work with the Milford School District by reviewing the financials and proposals of the District. Having experience reviewing, understanding, and analyzing the financial condition of multiple governmental organizations, both simple and complex, allows me to step into the role of School Board Member without having the need for a large learning curve to understand the financials of the Milford School District and allows for me to begin asking the appropriate and necessary questions from day one. My past experience with the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee for the Milford School District has also already exposed me to the financials of the School District which further allows me to make a positive impact from day one. A large part of ensuring financial stability is understanding the correct questions to ask and seeking additional options and alternatives available.
Regarding the issue of “Communication and Trust with the Community”, there is a perceived communication and trust issue between the Milford School District and multiple segments of the community. Some of this can be attributed to the communication issues surrounding the recent Tuition Tax increase. It appears that the Milford School District is working to prevent this type of issue going forward; however, I believe it is necessary that School Board Members act to ensure that the district continues to work to build and maintain positive relationships with the community. This can also occur by me acting to facilitate communication with the District and the community. This also means having the courage, as a School Board Member, to be willing to be open to both positive and negative feedback from the community by actively listening to and considering the concerns and issues raised by members of the community, even if that means attending meetings with segments of the community where the people in attendance voice their frustrations, to be able to attempt to provide understanding and listening for opportunities for improvement.
2. What do you believe are the opportunities for the Milford School District? How will you help the District realize them?
I believe the first opportunity for the Milford School District is having a community that is active and involved. The community, as a whole, is passionate about where they live and wants to see the Milford School District succeed. I believe the Milford School District can use this energy to make the community, as a whole, excited about the positives happening in the schools. This means continued and constant community outreach, whether to support programs (both athletic and non-athletic), support mentoring programs, or to assist in job placement for students. I would, as a School Board Member, act with the mission to find opportunities for this to happen, which means connecting district administration with the community when an opportunity is identified. I would also leverage my business experience to seek new and unique ways for the community to connect with the district and the students. With this, I also believe it is important for the Milford School District to highlight and celebrate its successes with the community. This means ensuring there are opportunities for the students to work with the community, whether through volunteer opportunities or something as simple as having the band play at the Senior Center or at events in the City.
3. With proposed cuts to local school funding in the proposed State of Delaware budget, what programs could see changes and how can the District protect itself?
I think it is important to recognize that the Governor’s proposed cuts put school districts across the state in a difficult position. At this point, the cuts themselves are proposed and will not be final until approved by the General Assembly. The issue at hand is timing, as the Districts only have three months to determine where the cuts will impact the Milford School District and that the Governor, in announcing the cuts, clearly indicated that he is allowing for “flexibility” in match taxes. The first point means there is little that can be done in this year to fully analyze the necessary cuts. The second creates the environment where the Governor is, without directly saying so, advising the proposed cuts be rectified by pushing the responsibility onto taxpayers. This sends a clear message to school districts that the Governor’s office is, in effect, advising them to raise match taxes to solve the cuts. In essence, this results in the State passing through tax increases by way of the Districts with the Districts having to take the ultimate blame.
First, I think it is important that I say that I do not necessarily agree with what I see as potentially being cut, and that while I would love to have input on the process, these cuts will need to be made before the person who is elected has a chance to take office. At this point and while I have concerns with it, I foresee the first cuts happening at the building level. This ultimately means that things such as teacher supplies and reading and math tutors are adversely impacted. These types of cuts have an immediate and direct impact on the students, as they utilize these things daily. I would expect that many of the teachers in the District would step in, as they so often do, to minimize the impact at their own personal expense, which is not fair to them. While the Governor proposes additional funds for more teachers, the fact is that due to cuts elsewhere the school districts will not be able to afford the local portion they must provide towards teacher salaries to get the funds for the additional teachers. Like the building cuts, I believe other cuts will come in the form of what the Districts can accomplish in an immediate manner, since there is little time to make large scale changes to programs since cutting many programs will have a large effect which should be planned for. These immediate cuts are often the ones which directly impact the students.
Regarding how the District can best protect itself, I think it is important that the District not only continually monitor its financial condition, and communicate such to the community. I think it is important that the District continually monitor its programs for impact and success, and continually seek opportunities for savings that have the most limited impact on the education of students. Finally, I think it is key that School Board Members act as leaders representing the Milford School District with the community to actively pull the community and School District to lobby and work with the State to minimize cuts which will impact students, especially if there is a potential impact to the taxpayers.
4. What is your opinion of the recent referendum and tuition tax increases? How will you interact with others that share an opposing position?
At the end of the day, whether one agrees or disagrees, there is little that can be done to change what occurred. I think it is important to recognize what occurred so it does not happen in the future and to work to rebuild the confidence of the community. The voters were generous in approving the needed operating funds in the referendum; however, I think that the District could have done a much better job regarding timing and communication of the tuition tax increase with the community. I think, rightfully so, there was much confusion in the community that the increase in taxes was the result of, primarily, two separate things. The District provided figures for increases associated with the referendum increases which did not match what they saw on their tax bills. The District could have done a much better job of having discussions with the community that they were exploring increases in the Tuition Tax beyond what the voters approved via referendum, and opening discussions regarding options available and the potential impact of the Tuition Tax increase. I believe it is supremely important to engage the community before making a decision which will affect their financial condition, regardless of how little or great that impact may be. I believe it is the School Board’s responsibility to ensure that the community is actively engaged prior to voting on tax increases, especially where there is no State requirement to go to referendum.
I believe that it would be my responsibility, as a School Board Member, to not only facilitate communication between the District and the community, but to also stand in front of the community, especially those with opposing positions, to personally hear their concerns and attempt to answer their questions. This means being able to listen and understand the impact of the School Board’s decision on their lives prior to making such an impactful decision. Even if the Board, as a whole, votes in a way which raises concerns for any segment of the community, I believe it would be my personal responsibility to have conversations with those groups to listen to them and gain insight as to their concerns. This way I could ensure that those concerns are considered in any decision.
5. Student population is projected to grow in the Milford School District over the next several years. How do you propose that the District meets this increase?
If there is a true increase in student population, the first concern is in regards to the number of teachers and support staff needed to educate the students. The hope would be that the population growth is in line with new construction, which results in additional revenue from the new property to provide for those needs. The second concern is space to house the increased student population. The knee jerk reaction may simply be to build new schools; however, I believe the Milford School District should evaluate all potential options, with the community’s input, to determine a final solution. This means that the option to build a new school should be presented along with possible alternatives, such as expanding current buildings or reconfiguring the current schools to alternative scheduling. I think that if this balanced approach is taken, with community input, while providing cost comparisons and the benefits and problems with each option, that a solution can be reached which would be in the benefit of the students, employees, and the community.
6. What do you believe should be done with the former Middle School building? How will you help advance that idea?
I think it is, first, important to recognize the historical significance of the building along with the community’s overall value of the building. Any decision regarding the building should bear that in mind. The current state of the building is not only affecting the property values of neighboring homes, but it is also creating for such a historically significant building to further degrade. With no current plans or ability of the Milford School District to remedy the situation, I think the first step should be to subdivide the property allowing the City of Milford, if it continues to be willing, to take over and utilize the green area behind the school for public enjoyment. In this regard, I think it is important that the School Board works with the City to move the process forward. Regarding the building itself, the Milford School District should actively seek to move the building to a new owner who will recognize the historical value and significance of the building. The fact is, the building is costing the Milford School District money to own and maintain it. The District is not in a position, currently, to be spending such funds. I believe it would be important to work with prospective purchasers of the property to ensure a smooth transition by working with the city and community to ensure that whoever would take over ownership of the building is meeting the community’s desires regarding the historical value of the building. This means that ensuring, via contracts if necessary, that the purchaser of the building works with the community to in some way recognize the historical significance of what occurred there.
7. How can the District best recruit and retain quality teachers? How can the Board of Education assist?
I think first and foremost, the Board and the District together must ensure that teachers are appreciated. This means actively attending school events, especially where teachers are giving up their personal time. I also believe it is important to recognize teachers for their accomplishments. Finally, I would actively engage teachers, along with District Administration, to answer their questions and hear their concerns. This also means letting teachers feel free to approach me to participate in a lesson on a topic that I may have some expertise and following through by participating with the teacher. For example, if a teacher was teaching a lesson on banking or finance, I would be more than happy to, at the teacher’s request, come in to the classroom to discuss the topic, since I have a level of expertise in it.
The next issue regarding teacher retention is salary. As it would be with any business, the Milford School District must be cognizant of the opportunity for a teacher to leave the District for a higher salary at a neighboring school district, and must try to prevent such from happening outside of normal, expected attrition levels. The Milford School District, with the Board’s direction and oversight, should be actively monitoring things such as attrition rates and the reasons for attrition. I have had the experience of hiring employees and managing salaries. From that standpoint, I understand the balance of hiring and retaining the best candidates within the organization’s financial means. Ultimately, the Milford School District should be making an employee’s decision to leave for another competing District or Tech school a difficult one. The Board can only determine this by determining why teachers are leaving in the first place, via exit interviews with Human Resources, and what that teacher would have needed to stay. Based on that information, the Board can make well-informed decisions regarding what should be done to attract and retain employees. I think just taking a “shot in the dark” approach is never best, and is something that is rarely done by successful organizations. Based on that information, the District, with Board approval and oversight, can work on planning to address and reduce attrition, along with making the Milford School District an attractive environment for prospective teachers.
8. In what ways do you believe students and families can be better served? How can the Board of Education assist?
I think students and families can be better served by, first, continuing to ensure that the District is attracting and retaining great teachers and support staff. I believe that if such is happening that the students and families, whose main concern is the student’s education, will be served. Beyond that, I believe the administrators should ensure that students and parents feel welcome and comfortable in the schools. This means that when issues arise, parents can feel like they will get the appropriate attention to be heard regarding their issues. I also think it is important to acknowledge that the current Superintendent and his staff have, and continue to, work hard to be visible in the community, and make students and families feel like there is an environment where they can be heard. I believe it would be important for me, as a School Board Member, to also be visible in the schools and in the community. This can create an environment where students and families understand that they have the ability to talk to me and that I will listen. Whether it is attending reading nights, sporting events, band concerts, or just being at Morris on the first day of school to waive and welcome the students to being visible at community events such as the Bug and Bud Festival, Riverwalk Freedom Festival, or at the Holiday Stroll, I think having that presence in the community is essential to hear from students and families and understanding how they can best be served.
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