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?
The Milford School District currently faces a number of challenges. First and foremost, there is some anger and distrust in the community stemming from the most recent tax increase. Moving forward, the District must plan ahead so that drastic increases can be avoided and must work to increase communication with the community. As a board member, communication and transparency would be my top priority. The District is already working towards this, and their efforts are to be applauded. Relatedly, Milford continues to face fiscal struggles. While some of this is due to forces beyond the district, some was the result of management that was not conservative enough in its philosophy and lacked the foresight to plan for future struggles. Again, the current leadership seems to understand this and is working to assure Milford can grow in a responsible way. I would strongly support and encourage their efforts, while also lobbying the state to discourage them from passing more of the financial burdens of school operations on to the districts. Finally, the Milford School District continues to face competition from other schools, some of which do not have the same obligations or challenges. With each student lost, we also lose revenue. I would advocate for the continued development of programs that make the district competitive while lobbying state officials to level the playing field as far as finance and the acceptance of students with diverse backgrounds and needs.
2. What do you believe are the opportunities for the Milford School District? How will you help the District to realize them?
The Milford School District is based around an area that is still vibrant and growing; the School District and the city must work together to promote one another. In doing so, both will be stronger in the long run, as people settle where the schools and strong and stronger communities lead to stronger schools. As a board member, I would continue to advocate for our schools throughout the community and to promote relationships between programs in the schools and potential community employers.
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?
Ultimately, the extent of the cuts, as well as how they may be offset, will be up in the air until after the final state budget passes. We know it will probably involve significant funding cuts. I believe that the pain should be spread around as evenly as possible to save as many programs as possible; with each program lost, we potentially lose students who have chosen Milford because of that program. If cuts must be made, we need to evaluate the programs that are impacting the least number of students who are least at risk and start there. Since personnel is the greatest expense of the district, any open position may need to remain unfilled or filled with existing personnel to free up some money until the situation stabilizes. This could lead to fewer support services or larger class sizes, neither of which are desirable. I will strongly advocate for the district to create and maintain an emergency fund for the future so that the next time cuts come our way, we are better prepared. My understanding is that plans to do so are already in the works.
4. What is your opinion of the recent referendum and tuition tax increases? How will you interact with others that share an opposing position?
I supported the most recent referendum and am glad that I did; the District would be in even worse shape without the funding available from that referendum for the next several years. The tuition tax increase should have been phased in over time instead of dumped on the citizens of the district all at once. That said, the reason for the large increase was because previous leadership was spending more money on tuition than they were taking in, which ultimately created a deficit that had to be erased. The district is legally obligated to provide services to all students, and the tuition tax pays for services that the district cannot provide internally in order to comply with federal law. I think it is important to engage with individuals with whom we disagree in order to hear their perspectives. Often, they may offer insights or angles on an issue that we have not considered. Of course, I also think that it is imperative to correct any misinformation that they may have in a nonjudgmental way so that they can base their opinions on the realities of the situation at hand.
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?
The District must work to allocate the resources that it currently has for the time being in order to meet those needs, even if it means mobile classrooms or a creative redistribution of students among the various buildings. Obviously, if it reaches a point where overcrowding has become a safety or educational concern, other options must be explored, including the construction of a new building, which would require a referendum along with a demonstration of need in order to secure funding from the state. Until our tax rates come down and are on par with surrounding districts, this should only be considered as a last resort.
6. What do you believe should be done with the former Middle School building? How will you help to advance that idea?
Fiscally, I think the most responsible option at this point is to sell or at least rent out the building. I understand that it holds tremendous sentiment for many residents; my dad even taught there his first year teaching when it was still the high school. However, having an abandoned school building in the middle of town is not a long term solution, and complete reconstruction or even demolition are both expensive options. Ultimately, the school district will need more space, but the size and shape of that site limits our options. Therefore, selling it seems to be the best solution both in the immediate and longer term.
7. How can the District best recruit and retain quality teachers? How can the Board of Education assist?
The Milford School District must assure that its pay scale is on par with surrounding comparable districts in order to remain competitive to attract teachers to the district. The Milford community is growing, vibrant, and well situated, so that will also help with the initial attraction. Once teachers are in the district, the must feel supported by the administration, board, and community. Non-financial incentives or perks can easily be built into future contracts to assure that teachers feel comfortable and secure in their positions. As a former public school teacher myself, I know that while the pay does matter, working in a comfortable, supportive environment is just as important. The Board can work to this end by keeping a direct line of communication open with teachers and the teacher association as well as by promoting the staff and their accomplishments throughout the community.
8. In what ways do you believe students and families can be better served? How can the Board of Education assist?
In talking with a variety of stakeholders, I recognize a number of issues that can be addressed. Firstly, because of the varying start and end times, some families struggle with before or after school care. I would love to see the district offer more programs to this end, even if there was a nominal fee charged to parents to help support them. It might prove to be cheaper for parents than paying for care in the community and a way for the schools to make a few extra dollars while providing some staff members with the chance to earn a little extra pay, all while helping students with homework, enrichment activities, etc. I think the Board should consider this or have district staff work on a plan for this. Secondly, students with disabilities in the elementary grades are currently in classrooms with only one dual certified teacher; I worry that their accommodations cannot be properly met in this setting and that it overburdens that classroom teacher, who must also manage the other general education students. The Board should work with the district level administration to see how resources could be reshuffled to better serve this at-risk population. Additionally, with a growing number of students who are learning English as a second language at all grade levels, more support is needed both for these students and for the teachers who work with them on daily basis while managing their ordinary duties. The Board, again working with district administration, must look at how additional resources can be allocated to assist with this challenge. Beyond these specific issues, the district must continue to develop and strengthen programs that prepare our students for the current job market or for college. They are already making strides in this direction, and the Board must continue to support their efforts in doing so.
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