Four seek Morenci school board seats 2014.10.29

1. What personal qualities and attributes do you have to bring to the position?

2. What do you see as the school board’s roles and responsibilities?

3. What are the current challenges facing education and the school board?

4. How would you handle requests made by individuals?

5. What are a few of the important things the school board needs to provide for students?

Phil McCaskey

1. I am family-oriented, community driven, outspoken, free-spirited, and I am not a push-over.

2. I feel the board’s role is to assure that our students have a safe, clean and well-provided district where students can grow and learn so they may have all the tools needed to succeed in their life’s journey in whatever career path they may choose.

3. The main challenge is money. Also a lack of funding for the public schools and too much government involvement with mandates that aren’t being funded from Lansing.

4. I treat requests as questions from someone who cares for our District and the students in it and I feel that every question deserves an answer. I also feel that the Chain of Command is important, but sometimes it is easier to ask a board member, and that’s alright because as a board member it is our job to help get these answers within the Chain of Command.

5. First, we need to provide a safe environment for our students. Second, updated equipment is needed to succeed whether in the classroom with IT equipment or athletic equipment for our athletes or also much needed equipment for our students who participate in the arts (band, art, science).

Scott Merillat

1. I am a graduate of Morenci schools and the University of Michigan.  I am married to Raquel Merillat who is also a Morenci graduate, and we have three children in the school district. I am currently the Managing Director for the Lenawee County Road Commission.  Over the past 20 years I have been involved in various aspects of local government. I have been on the school board for the past eight years and prior to that I was a member of the Morenci City Council for eight years. During that time I also served on the Morenci Planning Commission for 15 years. My personal background in working for both private and public businesses and the many years serving on various boards has given me an unique perspective when making decisions.

2. The roles and responsibilities of the school board are extensive. A responsibility of the school board is to set a vision and goals for the district. The board should adopt policies that give the district direction to set priorities and achieve its goals. The board should then hold the district responsible for the results. The board is responsible to hire and evaluate the superintendent; and approve and adopt the budget. The board should review and evaluate the curriculum as it relates to student assessment results. The board should determine school facility needs and communicate proposed construction plans to the community.

3. The challenges facing education and the school board are plentiful. Many of these challenges are state and national issues. The inequality in the state foundation allowance presents problems for schools like Morenci which are at the state minimum in per pupil funding. All districts should receive the same amount per student regardless of which district they attend. To give certain schools an economic advantage over others makes the playing field uneven when we start comparing standardized testing scores. The federal No Child Left Behind law is a challenge for all school districts nationally. There are pros and cons to the legislation although the underlying problem with all legislation is that it comes without any increase in funds. School safety has become a national concern. Everyone expects our schools to be safe and it is imperative we do what is necessary to provide a safe environment for our students to learn. It is the local school board's challenge to make sure we remain fiscally constrained, because it seems any increases in school funding seem to be offset by statewide mandates and requirements that continually cost the district more.

4. Individual requests to specific board members should be referred back to the person responsible.  The person should first speak with the appropriate individual whether it be the teacher, coach, principal, athletic director, or superintendent. It is the board members responsibility to follow up with the individual to make sure the process has been followed and they were able to speak with the appropriate people.  Individual board members have no authority themselves; the decisions of the board are made as a group only during the public meeting process.

5. The school board needs to measure whether the district is meeting its goals to improve student achievement, academically as well as the character, citizenship, and life skills of our students.  We need to deepen the community understanding and shared responsibility for student achievement.  The board needs to evaluate the effectiveness of policies and procedures, and then hold the superintendent, staff, students, and board accountable for results. I am always amazed by the achievements of our students, and we need to continue to provide opportunities to celebrate the success of our students and staff.

Tom Christenson

1. I was a foreman in a factory and also a group leader and a member of the bargaining committee. I’ve been a past moderator and am currently the collector at First Universalist Church in Lyons, Ohio. I was a past Cub Scout Master.

2. To provide a safe environment for students, faculty and guests. Provide excellent education for students in school and on-line.

3. To see that all policies are uniformly applied equally to all. To abide by Federal and State regulations and implement them. The cut back in monies per student and the rising cost of everything needed to provide a quality education.

4. All requests need to be directed to the board at a regular meeting during public comment time.

5. A safe environment. Quality education. Well-trained teachers. Well-trained coaches who are concerned with the influence they have on the team. Safe transportation in school vehicles.

Todd Arno

1. I would like to start by saying that I have two daughters in middle school who are proud third generation Morenci Bulldogs. I have lived in the town of Morenci nearly my whole life with the exception of a few years while attending the University of Toledo, where I obtained a Bachelors of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. We own a home in Morenci. We are invested in this community and school district.

I am a detail oriented, collaborative individual who is fair and works well with others. I am not focused on one specific issue or agenda but interested in the success of all students in the school district. I want to see the students of Morenci succeed in the classroom first, and take advantage of the extracurricular club offerings and athletics. I place a high value on education and the opportunities it can afford you in your adult life.

I am willing to seek out and listen to others suggestions and opinions as I would take the responsibility of representing all residents of the school district seriously.

2. In a broad sense the primary role is to make policies that guide the school district. I believe the most important function is to make sure students are receiving the best education possible with each tax dollar spent. Improving student achievement and learning needs to be the responsibility off all employees of the school district, board members as well as volunteers and parents. Encouraging and implementing benchmarks to monitor progress of the students is an important role of the board. Being accessible to the public and promoting the school is an important function as well. Every decision made, and dollar spent, needs to serve the purpose of keeping current students in the school district, while encouraging new students to come to the school district, and former students to return to the school district.

3. The state economy and dwindling tax dollars allocated for public education in the state of Michigan are a big challenge. The fact that the Morenci school district does not receive equal funding to other districts in the county and state is also a large concern. A large challenge is allocating state and local funds for maximum educational benefit, while maintaining the buildings and grounds to state standards. Residents frequently moving in and out of the district and students’ ability to easily switch to other schools through the school of choice are a challenge as well.

4. If an individual has a problem I would encourage them to follow the procedure outlined in the student handbook. Take the concern to the person (staff member) closest to the problem. If that does not resolve the issue go to the immediate supervisor, then the Superintendent, then request a hearing before the school board. If the issue is of a sensitive nature a closed session can be used.

No individual board member can make a decision or promise action to an individual. The school board members only have authority when a majority of the board members approve a motion at an official public board meeting. 

If someone has suggestions or recommendations for improvement, but does not wish to present those at a school board meeting, I would be happy to pass that information along to the parties who can best consider that information to affect positive change. I believe the more involved the residents of the district are, the more we can effect continued improvement.

5. The basics would entail a safe and secure environment tailored to learning. I think parents and students desire opportunities in the classroom and extracurricular activities. With school of choice and the ease with which students can leave a school district, it is vital that we not take any student for granted. 

We need to improve the district’s academic standing. The school district needs to stand out when compared to other local schools. Morenci should continue striving to be a destination school that can meet students’ academic needs and offer a broad range of extracurricular activities.

I have witnessed many investments by the administration toward improving the academic standing of the school district.  The Head Start program and before and after school YMCA programs have been introduced at the elementary school. A reading specialist has been hired to serve all schools. A new MAP testing program is being implemented to give real time assessments and tailor a teaching plan to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Alternative education has been brought back to Morenci and additional teachers to co-teach mathematics as well as tutoring before and after school.

The investment in the computer labs, and the laptops provided to every middle and high school student put us head and shoulders above most school districts in regards to the use of technology.

The band program has become a destination for students serious about being part of a top-notch program. The fall sports programs show strong participation throughout the middle and high schools.  The Equestrian and Winter Guard teams were introduced last year. These programs are not offered by most local schools, and are run by dedicated volunteers. These are just a few of the many offerings available both in and outside the classroom.

I have been to many school board meetings since deciding to run, and have seen first-hand many programs being put in place to improve the overall student experience here at Morenci.

We need to continue to strive for improvement in all facets of the school. The school board needs to set forth policies and the oversight to move toward continual improvement, while being stewards of the school and community.

I believe the most important thing we can provide a Morenci student is to prepare them with a top-notch education that provides them with options. Upon graduation they should be prepared to: continue with vocational or technical training, two or four year degree programs, military enlistment, or joining the workforce.