School board candidates talk issues
ESCANABA — Candidates vying for seats on the Escanaba Area Public School District Board of Education participated in an outdoor question-and-answer forum Thursday evening. The event was hosted by the Michigan Education Support Professional Association (MESPA) and took place at the Karas Bandshell in Ludington Park.
In November’s general election, voters will select three school board members. Former Secretary Kathy Jensen’s seat on the board is open, and incumbent Treasurer Todd Milkiewicz and Trustee James Hermans are running for re-election. Running against Hermans and Milkiewicz are challengers David Deno, Sage Dubord, Jennifer Johnson-Reeves and James Segorski.
With the exception of Hermans — who is running unopposed for Jensen’s seat — all of these candidates took part in Thursday’s forum. Moderator Gypsia Flath, who is the president of MEA17B MESPA, said the event was the first of its kind.
“It’s never been done in our area,” she said.
Roughly 100 people were in attendance at the event.
During the forum, each candidate individually answered six pre-approved questions. They went on to answer any questions asked by members of the audience.
Dubord was the first candidate to speak. She said she was motivated to run for a seat on the board a few years ago, while participating in discussions about the then-proposed creation of the Webster Kindergarten Center.
According to Dubord, she felt board members were not interested in hearing public opinions then. Her goal in running for a seat on the board was to change that.
“I want to make it a more community-centered board, where the community is encouraged to come forth with opinions and are applauded for stepping up and speaking passionately about topics,” she said.
She went on to say her top priority for the district’s budget would be ensuring all of the district’s employees are paid fair wages.
“I don’t feel like our superintendent should be the highest-paid superintendent in the Upper Peninsula, yet our aides be some of the lowest-paid aides in the Upper Peninsula,” Dubord said.
The next speaker was Deno, who said he could provide a new perspective compared to the board’s current members.
“All of them are retired, and they have one point of view. If we get some people that have a stake in what’s going on — if you have kids that are being affected by it — then maybe the decisions will be a lot less in haste,” he said.
As a board member, Deno said he would emphasize career and technical education in the district.
“I know we do have some trades going on with the ISD, but I think that can be a lot stronger. And bringing in other businesses and unions around the area — that might be able to boost up the trades a lot better,” he said.
Johnson-Reeves said she has been interested in joining the school board for decades.
“I have wanted to be an Escanaba school board member since I was the age of three. My parents took me to my first school board meeting, and I wanted to be up there helping to make the schools the best they could for kids like me,” she said, adding her family has been involved with Escanaba’s schools since 1973.
She said she would be involved with a wide variety of issues as a board member.
“I do not have a single-issue focus. I am interested in the success of all students in our district and will support all of our staff in achieving those successes,” Johnson-Reeves said.
Milkiewicz spoke about his experience serving on the school board, including his involvement with budget development.
“Probably the number-one thing with the school budget is trying to make sure that you have a balanced budget, because we have to stay within a certain percentage. We can’t save the money — we have to spend it, but we have to stay within five percent, so it’s a very difficult balancing act,” he said.
In response to a question from an audience member about how the board should convince residents of area townships to vote for future millage requests, Milkiewicz said he would focus on providing information and holding public meetings.
“Everybody wants to help kids, but taxes are always a tough issue — there’s only so much that we can do,” he said.
Finally, Segorski gave attendees an overview of his history with the district. He said he has been involved with local schools for about 26 years in various capacities, including coaching.
“I’ve been around for a long time,” he said.
He said his top priority as a board member would be to boost the district’s student population.
“This is an area I think we have dropped the ball in over the years,” Segorski said.
After Thursday’s event concluded, Flath said she is hoping to hold a similar event before the next election in which seats on the school board are up for grabs.
“I look forward to having a bigger showing next time,” she said.