By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
With Albion School Board member Christy Klein not seeking re-election, a trio of young adults — the Rev. Don L. Phillips, Shawna Gamble and Joshua Stewart EldenBrady — and former police officer Maurice Barnes Jr. are willing to take on the challenge of helping guide a district that is closing Washington Gardner Middle School and needs to reduce the 2010-11 budget by about $700,000.
The three candidates who fail to be elected, as well as any other applicants, will have an opportunity to earn the seat vacated by Christopher Mullen on April 13. The board will conduct interviews and vote on a replacement sometime after May 4, board President Kirk Lee said.
What would you like to accomplish as a school board member?
Phillips: “I would like to help improve the communication between the community and the school board and administration. Look for more opportunities of collaboration between the community and the school. The only way we will navigate this tough climate and economy will be by pulling together for the well-being of all students.”
Gamble: She would like to be involved in her children’s education on an administrative level, helping to make important decisions in terms of the district’s restructuring.
EldenBrady: “The current administration tries to show the board only positive parts of the schools while hiding the negative. In order to be effective in managing and assisting our schools, both the board and the community need to be fully aware of, and honest about, the many problems and challenges facing our schools and our teachers.”
Considering the budget situation, what would you consider cutting and what, at all costs, would you not consider cutting?
Phillips: “I am not in favor of cutting programs or classes that weaken our students’ academic preparedness and ability to be productive citizens. It will be important to look at all at-risk programs and carefully, prayerfully decide what our students cannot live without and what is good, but not central to their success. I believe that teachers, parents and students should be a part of this process, since it will impact them as well.”
Gamble: “I would weigh the options and decide on the least effect for the students, because giving them the best possible education is the only goal we should have.”
EldenBrady: “We have excellent teachers who do an incredible job with very little already. I would avoid cutting teachers to the greatest extent possible. I would look at cutting administrative cost. Given the shrinking district, we have less need for districtwide administration, (especially) with the closing of schools next year.”
What reason do you believe is important enough to ask voters to support a new tax or a tax increase?
Phillips: “A tax increase is always a hard sell in a tough economy and in a county that has high taxes. But, if the increase would dramatically improve our students academic readiness by improving reading, math and science curriculum, or if the tax would save programming in the arts, which are very important for well-rounded students, a tax increase should be considered by the community.”
Gamble: “If and when it is necessary to maintain the buildings. Also if there is a clear plan to improve education beyond mere physical aspects of the building … those are important.”
EldenBrady: “To ask voters for a tax increase, we must be able to show a clear link between the improvements we are asking for and academic achievement. While new and aesthetically attractive facilities may be nice, we cannot ask voters for luxuries when so many are struggling to take care of their own needs.”
— Editor’s note: Barnes could not be reached despite repeated attempts.
The Rev. Don L. Phillips
• Age: 32
• Family: Wife Teleah; two children, one attends Caldwell Elementary School
• Education: Bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and human resources, Michigan State University; master’s of divinity from Turner Theological Seminary in Atlanta
• Employment: Pastor of Lewis Chapel AME Church in Albion
• Community involvement: Vice president of Albion Ministerial Association; member of the Albion branch of the NAACP; volunteer for Michigan Reads in elementary schools
• Age: 32
• Family: Husband John; five children, four attend Albion Public Schools
• Education: Homer High School graduate; bachelor’s degree in political science from Albion College; attending Thomas M. Cooley Law School
• Employment: Full-time student
• Community involvement: None specified
Joshua Stewart EldenBrady
• Age: 27
• Family: Wife Anna; no children
• Education: Bachelor’s degree in English, theatre and telecommunication, Michigan State University; juris doctor in litigation and general practice from Thomas M. Cooley Law School
• Employment: Planning to start own legal practice; spent the majority of the past three years working as a substitute teacher; working a temporary job to supplement legal practice
• Community involvement: Volunteer with the Albion Public Library GED tutoring program
Maurice Barnes Jr.
• Age: 54
• Family: Single; four adult children
• Education: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Michigan State University; master’s of business administration, the University of Phoenix
• Employment: Unemployed