Eight people are vying for four seats on Ferndale's school board in the November election and Ferndale Patch is bringing you Q&A profiles with each of the candidates.
We asked the candidates about why they want to be on the board of education, their backgrounds, what they consider the biggest areas for improvement and more.
Below are the replies of Kevin Deegan-Krause.
Q: Number of years a resident of the Ferndale school district?
I have lived in the Ferndale school district for 12 years.
Q: Do you or did you have children in Ferndale schools?
I have two children in Ferndale’s Kennedy Elementary School: Peter, age 7 and Elena, age 9.
Q: What prompted you to run for a seat on Ferndale's school board?
I am running for Ferndale's school board because we can do better--we must do better--and because my professional and community experience will help to make change possible.
For two decades I have studied how governments work, and for nearly a decade I have been directly involved in the governance of Ferndale’s public institutions. When I apply that experience to our school district, I see a breakdown of responsiveness and accountability that has undermined our ability to perform the basic tasks of serving our community, keeping the trust of our citizens, and retaining district students in district schools. Too many decisions are made without any serious questions from the board--why allow board members to extend their own terms by two years? Why consider buying a chemical laboratory for use as a high school? Why not monitor contracts between the district and the superintendent's private consulting firm? Why decide to create a new alternative education model only five months before the start of the new school year?
I am running for school board because I am able and willing to ask the tough questions that keep the district administration accountable and to invite our citizens into the process to ask their own tough questions.
Q: What kinds of experiences – professional, educational or otherwise – make you a unique and qualified candidate?
The experience I bring to the school board has come from four different aspects of my life I was chair of the Ferndale Public Library board and worked with other cities and the public to turn that institution from the city’s afterthought to one of the city’s gems.
I am a teacher. I know that in the right circumstances this is the best job in the world, but I also know how exhausting it can be. As the son and grandson of elementary school teachers, I know how many challenges teachers face as they try to do their job well.
I am a professional researcher who has learned that no matter what the question, somebody somewhere has probably thought about it, learned about it, published on it, and will be thrilled to talk about it if only given the chance. I know that we must take advantage of the wealth of research around us at our universities and among our own teachers.
I am a parent and a citizen who has watched an administration that falls far short of ideal in its willingness to listen to its teachers and residents and to learn from what they have to offer.
Q: What new ideas do you hope to bring to the table?
The new ideas I would bring to the table are actually old ideas that our board has simply forgotten:
Serve the community. We must retain our districts students and work together with the governments and libraries of the cities that our district serves. Doing this will take a combination of old-fashioned hard work along with a few new ideas such as visits to new parents from administrators and board members, and "secret shoppers" to promote better customer service.
Plan ahead. There is nothing new about the idea of strategic planning, but our district has not done a big, inclusive plan for over a decade. (Instead our board recently reaffirmed the old plan, which was written in 2000 with 1990 census data and offers a "preferred vision for 2005 and beyond."). We need better planning.
Listen and be polite. We have spent the summer and fall knocking on our fellow citizens' doors and asking them about their experiences with the school district, and what we have heard over and over again is that the board is not interested in what the public has to say. We will improve the experience of board meetings for citizens by providing more information and a safe, cordial, receptive environment. Then we will go further and reach out directly to the community through coffee hours and town-hall meetings.
Q: What do you think are the biggest issues facing the school district? How would you handle them?
Retention is the key to the success of Ferndale schools. We must do a better job of giving parents more good reasons to keep their kids in the district.
Retention is a problem. The number of students from the Ferndale school district who choose other districts is large and it is increasing. Using Michigan’s MI Schools data, we find that 68% of school-age children that reside in our district actually attend our schools. It’s a number that is smaller than any nearby district except Detroit and Oak Park and is considerably smaller than Berkley (90%), Royal Oak (85%) or Hazel Park (85%). In Pleasant Ridge the retention rate is less than 40%; nearly 1/3 attend private schoolsand another 1/3 attend public schools in other districts. Furthermore, according to local real estate agents, between 20% and 50% of all home sales in the district involve parents who are moving elsewhere to seek better schools. That means our actual retention performance is even lower than the statistics indicate.
If we fail here we put our community's future at risk. We cannot build thriving cities if residents leave. Retention is also the most significant threat to our district’s long-term financial stability. Without a high and stable retention rate, our district’s finances will remain at the mercy of shifting state rules regarding student choice, charter schools, and migration patterns that may undermine our efforts to raise funds in other ways.
Fortunately, retention is a problem that we can solve. Through a combination of relatively-simple short-term solutions to stop the exodus and long-term efforts to improve quality, we can bring resident children back.
Retaining students builds peer relationships, locks in parental resources and helps improve learning. Improved learning in turn raises the district’s public profile. Every step toward better retention will make it easier to work toward educational excellence, and every improvement in education makes it easier to succeed at retention. Instead of a vicious circle, we can build a virtuous one.
Q: What do you regard as the district's successes? How would you continue or improve upon these areas, if elected?
I send my children to Ferndale Schools because I know they will get an excellent education and build relationships with other students from our community and beyond. I have encountered in our schools a remarkable learning environment created by building administrators, teachers and parents working together. Our strengths are particularly notable in two areas.
Involvement. The Ferndale School District is strong in the same ways that the communities of Ferndale, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge, and Royal Oak Township are strong: community engagement. The community involvement in our district is remarkable, extending from parents tutoring in classrooms to phenomenally successful PTSAs to community groups like the Fine Arts Boosters and the Ferndale Education Fundation.
Enrichment. The amazing success of Ferndale’s band and music programs and the achievements of the CASA Advanced Placement Programs give an indication of what the district could work toward in every area of education if it had an adequate and inclusive process of long-term planning and if its board adopted a culture of inquiry.
The proposals we have made in the areas of educational quality, retention, planning and accountability will preserve these strengths and build on them. We build on our strengths by ending the cycle of needless teacher layoffs and rehiring, developing more effective classroom and hallway discipline tools, conducting internal audits and creating a community-based long-term plan.
Q: Around the country, state and in Ferndale, school budgets continue to be an issue districts grapple with. What areas of the budget would be your biggest priority, if elected? Where do you see the most room for cuts,if needed?
I would focus our spending priorities in two areas: expenditures directly related to student instruction and enrichment, and investment expenditures that are necessary to ensure our financial stability in the long run. As we plan for the future, we also should be active in using our resources to plan for the future. Strategic planning, internal auditing, ombudsman services have an initial cost but they all save money in the long run by preventing poor decisions.
That said, it is difficult to assess those areas with the most room for cuts because the district has repeatedly refused to issue per-building and per-program budget expenditures. On the basis of the information that is available from the district it is easy to identify administrative salary and administrative staffing levels as out of line with nearby districts. Ferndale's superintendent is one of the highest paid in Oakland County and the top five administrative staff members together receive more than $1.1 million in salary and benefits from the district. Unfortunately, the current school board has locked most of these high salaries in for extended periods of time and so reducing administrative expenditures will require careful planning and negotiation.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
I would add three other new members to the school board: Amy Butters, Jim O'Donnell and Raylon Leaks-May. (Together our names spell B-O-L-D).
The problems with the current board culture have continued so long and go so deep that we will need all the mutual help and support we can get. All four BOLD candidates bring solid experience that is recognized by community leaders who know what experience means. Our endorsers include: County Commissioner and former Ferndale Mayor Craig Covey, former Ferndale Mayor Bob Porter, Ferndale City Council members Melanie Piana, Scott Galloway, and Dan Martin (and former council members Kate Baker and Pat Dengate), Pleasant Ridge Commissioners Frank Rubino, Ann Perry and Jason Krzysiak, Oak Park Mayor Marion McClellan, Royal Oak Township Treasurer Gwendolyn Turner, Ferndale School Board member Nan Kerr-Mueller and former members Beth D'Anna, Melissa Thatcher and Richard Elling, every present and recent past member of the Ferndale Library Board, community leaders such as Ann Heler, Nancy Goedert, Nancy Lennon, John and Jean Sterritt and hundreds of other citizens of Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Oak Park and the Charter Township of Royal Oak.