Three on ballot for Rockford Board of Education

School election Tuesday, May 4

With Charles Boekeloo stepping down after over a decade on the Rockford Board of Education, there will be at least one new board member elected Tuesday, May 4. Along with incumbent David Keller, two other men, Jason Clauser and Timothy Lewis, have thrown their hats in for consideration.

Keller has been a Rockford resident for 20 years and has three children in the district. He is a graduate of Cooley Law School, works as an attorney and is married to Deb (Saladin) Keller, a Rockford graduate.

Timothy Lewis

 

Lewis has lived in the district 16 years and has been a police officer for 24 years. He is married to Karen and the couple have three children in the district.

Lewis has also served as the President and Vice President for the Kent County Law Enforcement Association over the past ten years. He is currently the President and represents 178 members of the Sheriff Department, sits on the executive board for the Police Officers Association of Michigan and works as a business agent.

Clausen has been a resident of the district for four years. He and his wife Holly have two children, both in Rockford schools. Clausen is also a fire fighter in Algoma Township, and serves on the Alpine Township Planning Commission. He is a mental health social worker. “I’ve been involved in several organizations in the Rockford area,” said Lewis, when asked why he wanted to serve on the board. “I have been a union officer for over 15 years and I stand up for people’s rights.”

“With the state of the economy and that funding is being reduced we need to find a new way to do business and we need more people that are not afraid to make difficult choices. Our students and teachers need protection. I feel that with my experience dealing with other government entities and elected officials will help me excel on the School Board.”

Keller provided the following comments regarding his desire to continue to serve on the board.

David Keller, Incumbent

 

“I have four years of board experience behind me now, I have over 100 combined CBA and Education credits relating to board of education training.

“I’ve been involved with many positive programs and changes that have occurred at Rockford Public schools during my tenure, I have the privilege to work with great administrators, teachers and support staff and I want to continue doing positive things for our district and our students.”

Clauser stated his reasons for running for Board of Education.

“I want to give back to the community and be involved in maintaining the quality of education that Rockford School’s provide.

“I also would like be involved with coming up with creative ways to maintain the level of services to the children in the community and doing more with less in these tough economic times.

Jason Clauser

 

“I was motivated to run because of having two young children in the district and there being an opportunity to serve the community,” Clauser stated.

Clauser said the board works behind the scenes tirelessly with the administration to make hard decisions that affect the children and families in the district.

“I feel the board member should reflect the population of the community and represent the opinions of the community. The board also has the responsibility to question what and why something may be happening or being recommended by the Superintendant, other administrator or board members,” he stated.

Lewis referred to his experience when asked what qualities he brings to the board.

“The State of Michigan is in dire shape and is expected to get worse before it gets better,” he said. “I feel that I can be a voice for Rockford Schools with other elected officials. There are many people that will voice their opinions and expect that some one else will figure out the issue. I have personal belief that everyone has a right to their opinions but if I want to voice mine, then I have to get involved and try to fix the problems.”

Keller responded to the same question. “I bring my education and work experience as a lawyer. I also bring four years of past board experience as well as a multitude of classes that I’ve taken to educate myself for my role as a board member. I am also very approachable and have the ability to work cohesively with a broad range of individuals.”

The candidates were asked what is the biggest challenge facing our schools besides the funding crisis.

“It is very hard not to talk about funding,” said Lewis. “I would have to say the next biggest challenge that we face is preparing our children for their entry into our communities.

“After high school most will move onto some type of post-secondary education whether it be college or a technical school but with the rising costs of tuition I feel that number may be reduced. Our children are going to need life skills that will assist them in providing them those skills to get jobs and adjust to how to survive on their own.

“There are many ways that our schools and the educators are already preparing our students for their entry into our community. We will need to continue to look at ways to improve on this education area.

Keller identified issues that are of concern for him with regarding education.

“Lack of adequate funding leads to other issues. With inadequate funding, we are forced to reduce or eliminate programs and reduce staff which leads to larger class sizes.

“Another issue is the imposition of the Michigan Merit Curriculum – the graduating class of 2011 will be the first class that needs to comply with these requirements. Among other various classes, four years of math, four years of English and two years of a non-English language need to be taken. We believe that this is a positive step in further developing a rigorous curriculum, however, there will be students falling short because some of the subject matter will be beyond their learning ability no matter how well it’s taught or it may not be geared towards a particular student’s career goals.

“For many students the plan make sense, but this cannot be a “one size fits all” program and there needs to be exceptions or alternates to the requirements for students that need an individualized plan for success.”

Clausen commented on some of the important work the board has faced.

“The board was able to support and market the recent mileage to the community to be able make updates to six of the eight elementary schools, upgrades to technology, athletic fields and other areas.

“The school board recently also approved some retirement incentives attempting to save the district money and prevent having to lay off teachers. The board also continues to make making difficult decisions on a daily basis regarding the budget and creative ways to save jobs , money and provide an outstanding education to our children.”

Candidates were asked if there were issues with which they did not agree with the board and Lewis responded.

“There is an issue that I disagree with the board on. I have spent the last 24 years of my life in public safety and I know that schools are one of the most important things that we need to protect.

“I understand that there are budget issues within the district and I understand that the decisions that were made were not done easily or lightly. Our schools do not have adequate equipment or staffing to keep our kids safe. There is money within the recent bond issues for security upgrades.

“I feel that this utilization of funds for security is invaluable to protecting our children. With the recent budget cuts two security officer positions were eliminated. We need to bring our security department back to full staff to have adequate security in all secondary schools.”

The Squire was not able to print the entirety of each candidates responses to questions they were given, and invites readers to read these online at The Squire website.

Additionally, there will be a Meet the Candidates forum held at North Rockford Middle School on Tuesday, April 27 at 7 p.m. Two candidates will be elected for four-year terms on Tuesday, May 4. Polls are open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

RCTV will air the program Friday, April 30 at 1 and 9 p.m., Saturday, May 1 at 10 a.m. and 9 p.m., Sunday, May 2 at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.; Monday, May 3 at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. and Tuesday, May 4 at 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.

For information about the election, please call your township or city office or the Rockford Public School Administration office at (616) 863-6320.

The following is the complete questions the Board of Education candidates provided to the Squire. We list them in alphabetical  order.

From Jason Clauser

Why do you want to serve on the board? 

To give back to the community and be involved in maintaining the quality of education that Rockford School’s provide.  I also would like be involved with coming up with creative ways to maintain the level of services to the children in the community and doing more with less in these tough economic times. 

What motivated you to run, how long have you been a resident.  I was motivated to run because of having 2 young children in the district and there being an opportunity to serve the community.  I have lived in Rockford School District for 4 years.

What is the most important work of the board?  The board works behind the scenes tirelessly with the administration to make hard decisions that affect the children and families in the district. I feel the board member should reflect the population of the community and represent the opinions of the community. The board also has the responsibility to question what and why something may be happening or being recommended by the Superintendant, other administrator or board members. 

What are some of the actions that the board has done recently that you feel were most important.  The board was able to support and market the recent mileage to the community to be able make updates to 6 of the 8 elementary schools, upgrades to technology, athletic fields and other areas.  The school board recently also approved some retirement incentives attempting to save the district money and prevent having to lay off teachers.  The board also continues to make making difficult decisions on a daily basis regarding the budget and creative ways to save jobs , money and provide an outstanding education to our children.

How important is it for people to vote for board members?  The community can become complacent about decisions that are made by the school board and become angry when those decisions affect them.  The community needs to be involved with election process.  Every person needs to ask questions and become involved in the election process.  I encourage emails and phone calls from the community and will continue to do so if I am elected.     

In a perfect future where do you see the schools in 10 years?  Most importantly in 10 years I would like to see the same level of superior education being provided to the children of Rockford.  I would also like to see a repaired fair equitable way to fund the schools of the state giving Rockford and other lower funded schools there fair share of funding.   I would also like to see a continued increase in extra curricular opportunities to children on the district I also anticipate with the growth another elementary school and the possibility of a second high school and continued improvements to the existing facilities. .   

How important a role does the board play in school functioning?  The school board serves a very important role in school functioning.  The school board members offer various personal backgrounds and areas of expertise to the school system in there own unique way.  They also serve as the voice of the community, every citizen in the community is not able to be at the school board meeting or other meeting leading up to that board meeting.  It is there responsibility for representing those that are not there in decisions that are being made that affects the children and staff of the school system.    

What haven’t I asked that is important……  I would be honored to be elected to represent the Rockford Community and to make good decisions with the children’s on Rockford’s best interest in mind first and foremost.   I am sure that the position requires far more that I have seen or aware of and look forward to the challenge of being the best board member I can be for the community.

Here is a copy of the Bio that is going to be placed on the Districts Web site.

If given the opportunity to serve on the School Board I would represent the kids that live in the Rockford School District first in foremost and work to  continue the outstanding reputation  the district in these times of financial difficulty.

My wife, Holly, and I moved to Rockford to raise our family in large part because of the outstanding reputation of the Rockford School District.  We continue to be excited about the educational opportunities for our two young children.  My daughter, Paige, attends Roguewood Elementary and is in Kindergarten and our son, Tyler, is currently in the Hola Amigos Pre-school.  I am currently serving my community as an Algoma Township Firefighter and previously served as a member of the Alpine Township Planning Commission.  I currently work as a Mental Health Social worker, working with clients with severe and persistent mental illness.  I am a graduate of Grand Valley State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work.  My family time is spent watching movies, enjoying the facilities at the Belmont YMCA, walking on the White Pine Trail, cooking family dinners and gardening.  I appreciate the opportunity to share my energy and vision with my Rockford neighbors.

From Timothy Lewis

Why do you want to serve on the Board of Education?

I’ve been involved in several organizations in the Rockford area.  I have been a union officer for over 15 years and I stand up for people’s rights.  With the state of the economy and that funding is being reduced we need to find a new way to do business and we need more people that are not afraid to make difficult choices.  Our Students and teachers need protection.  I feel that with my experience dealing with other government entities and elected officials will help me excel on the School Board.

What motivated you to run for the Position?

The economy in the State of Michigan is in dire shape and is expected to get worse before it gets better.  I feel that I can be a voice for Rockford Schools with other elected officials.  There are many people that will voice their opinions and expect that some one else will figure out the issue.  I have personal belief that everyone has a right to their opinions but if I want to voice mine then I have to get involved and try to fix the problems.

How long have you been a Rockford resident?

I have lived in the Rockford school district for the past 16 years.  I currently live in Plainfield Township.

What is your background/job information?

I have been a police officer for 24 years.  The past 15 years as a road patrol deputy for the Kent County Sheriff Department.  I have also served as the President and Vice President for the Kent County Law Enforcement Association over the past ten years.  I’m currently the President and represent 178 members of the Sheriff Department.  I also sit on the executive board for the Police Officers Association of Michigan and work as a Business Agent.

Family information?

I am married to Karen for 20 years.  I have three children Jacob (15), Samuel (13), and Kaili (7) we also have two dogs (Betty and Koda).

What qualities/experience do you bring to the position?

I have three children in three different schools in the district.  I have been involved in their education and sports.  I also volunteer with other organizations within the district and continue to stay involved.  I know how things work with in the local governments through the state and federal levels.  I personally know the elected officials that represent our schools in Lansing and Washington.  I feel that having a good knowledge of how things work and that I am a person that will stand up for what is right and I am not afraid to tell our elected officials what we need. 

Why do you believe in serving the community?

I am running for school board because I feel that I can best serve our community here and to represent our children and their teachers.

What is the biggest challenge facing our schools besides Funding?

It is very hard not to talk about funding.  I would have to say the next biggest challenge that we face is preparing our children for their entry into our communities.  After high school most will move onto some type of post-secondary education whether it be college or a technical school but with the rising costs of tuition I feel that number may be reduced.  Our children are going to need life skills that will assist them in providing them those skills to get jobs and adjust to how to survive on their own.  There are many ways that our schools and the educators are already preparing our students for their entry into our community.  We will need to continue to look at ways to improve on this education area.

What do you wish the public knew about what the board does? 

The members of the Rockford Board of Education are very dedicated in what they do.  They have chose not to receive a compensation package unlike many other elected positions.  These board members do this because they want to make a difference.  The board members are assigned to different committee’s and schools in addition to meeting twice a month for the regular board meetings. 

In a perfect future, where would you see schools in ten years?

In a perfect world I would see schools funded equally and appropriately.  We would have normal and more manageable class sizes and state of the art equipment in all schools and at all levels. 

How important is it for people to vote for the board members?

I feel that it is very important for people to vote in any election.  The school board members have many duties and responsibilities and people need to stand up and vote for the person they feel is qualified and is going to represent them and do what is in the best interest of the people.

Have there been any issues over which you have disagreed with the board?

There is an issue that I disagree with the board on. I have spent the last 24 years of my life in public safety and I know that schools are one of the most important things that we need to protect.  I understand that there are budget issues within the district and I understand that the decisions that were made were not done easily or lightly.   Our schools do not have adequate equipment or staffing to keep our kids safe.  There is money within the recent bond issues for security upgrades.  I feel that this utilization of funds for security is invaluable to protecting our children.  With the recent budget cuts two security officer positions were eliminated.  We need to bring our security department back to full staff to have adequate security in all secondary schools.

How important a role does the board play in school functioning? 

I believe that the board has a very important role in how a school functions.  They oversee the budget and policies of the district.  The school board is the heart of the district, with out a well educated and dedicated school board could put everything at risk. 

What is the most important work of the board?

The school board has many important functions.  They handle everything from approval in the hiring process to the handling of discipline issues. They are responsible for spending school money whether it is buying a computer to building new schools.  I feel the most important work that a board members does is their time.  I don’t feel that there is a more important issue then donating your time to do what is right.  Every decision that is made is an important decision.  Schools cannot function without proper funding and the allocation of funds to their proper areas of need is critical.  Additionally a board does so much more than just funding and there are many other just as important functions of the board of education. 

Final: 

I encourage people to get out and educate themselves on who is running for any elected position.  Whether it is for school board, township supervisor, state representative, member of congress and even the president.  Talk to friend, neighbors and get involved.  Get out and vote.  Your vote may be that deciding factor in any election.

From Incumbent David Keller

Why do you want to continue to serve on the Board of Ed?

I have four years of board experience behind me now, I have over 100 combined CBA and Education credits relating to board of education training, I’ve been involved with many positive programs and changes that have occurred at Rockford Public schools during my tenure, I have the privilege to work with great administrators, teachers and support staff and I want to continue doing positive things for our district and our students.

What motivated you to run for the position originally? 

I was looking for ways to volunteer more of my time to the school system and I had a couple of individuals encourage me to run for the position.  I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to become more involved and give more of my time and talents to the school system.

How long have you been on the board?

Four years

What is your background/family information?

I grew up on the Northeast side of Grand Rapids with 7 brothers and sisters, went to Creston high school, Michigan State University for two years, graduated from Grand Valley with a B.B.A., graduated from Cooley Law School with a  Juris Doctorate.  Went into private legal practice for my first 8 years as a lawyer and have been an in-house lawyer at Dematic Corp. (Rapistan) for the last 12 years.  I’m married to Deb Keller (Saladin), Deb is a Rockford grad and a lifelong resident of Rockford.   I moved to Rockford in 1990 when my wife and I were married.  We have three children in the Rockford public school system – one in elementary, one in middle school and one in high school.

What qualities/experience do you bring to the position? 

I bring with me my education and work experience as a lawyer.  I also bring four years of past board experience as well as a multitude of classes that I’ve taken to educate myself for my role as a board member.  I am also very approachable and have the ability to work cohesively with a broad range of individuals.

What are some of the actions of the Board that you feel were most important in recent years?

Assisting with accomplishing goals from Rams VI (Rockford Public Schools’ Action Model For Success) and setting up and implementing goals for the next three years under the current Rams VII.  These goals help guide our vision for Rockford Public Schools and keep us on track for continuous improvement.  In addition, working on passing the 2008 bond was a big effort and a great accomplishment.  Seeing results with all of the improvements to the schools over the last two years has been very exciting.  We have also lobbied the Michigan legislature to reduce cuts to public schools and to set up a 2x formula for base foundation grant schools such as Rockford Public Schools.  This 2x formula is the start of our attempts to equalize funding received from the state and this entitles Rockford to get two times the funding of other schools not under the 2x program (when funding is available from the state).

Why do you believe in serving the community?

I’ve been blessed with good health, a good life, a good family and I live in a great community – my work on the Board of Education is my way of giving back to the community.  I’ve also been a volunteer coach for baseball and basketball in the community and it’s hard to beat having the opportunity teach young children new skills and watch their improvement.  I’ve been able to meet many wonderful individuals while serving the community and the work is very self rewarding.

What is the biggest challenge facing our schools? 

It is funding.  Last September, we had a $165 per pupil funding reduction from the State of Michigan.  The cut came three months after we set our budget for the 2009-2010 school year, so we had to find areas to cut spending to re-balance our budget.  With respect to Rockford Public Schools, we are categorized as a “base foundation grant” school system which means we are included with many other school districts in the state receiving the lowest amount of funding available from the state of Michigan.  Some of our neighboring districts receive $1,300+ more in per pupil funding than Rockford and if Rockford received similar funding, it would amount to an additional $10,000,000 for Rockford Public Schools to use for operations.  There are some districts on the Eastern side of the state that receive upwards of $5,000 more per student than our per student funding.  This inequality is a big issue and while we have been lobbying for change, progress has been slow.

What issues are here besides funding?

Lack of adequate funding leads to other issues.   With inadequate funding, we are forced to reduce or eliminate programs and reduce staff which leads to larger class sizes.  Another issue is the imposition of the Michigan Merit Curriculum – the graduating class of 2011 will be the first class that needs to comply with these requirements.  Among other various classes, four years of Math,  four years of English and two years of a non-English language need to be taken.  We believe that this is a positive step in further developing a rigorous curriculum, however, there will be students falling short because some of the subject matter will be beyond their learning ability no matter how well it’s taught or it may not be geared towards a particular student’s career goals.  For many students the plan make sense, but this cannot be a “one size fits all” program and there needs to be exceptions or alternates to the requirements for students that need an individualized plan for success.

What do you wish the public knew about what the board does?

Many Boards across the state receive compensation for attending their board meetings.  The members of the Rockford Board of Education are offered compensation, but we unanimously vote each year to receive no compensation for our activities, and while we work several hours each week for the benefit of our school system, we perform our work on a completely voluntary basis.

Have there been any issues over which the board has been divided?

The Board will generally vote unanimously on recommendations made by the Superintendant at our Monday evening board meetings.  Prior to our Monday evening meetings, we generally have study sessions to discuss the issues and while we are sometimes divided at these study sessions, we usually come to a unanimous consensus by the time of our Monday evening meetings.

In a perfect future, where would you see schools in ten years?

I can’t say that all of our administrate team or board members will be working for Rockford Public Schools 10 years from now, but I would hope that we would have the same quality and caliber of personnel running the school system as we have today.  With the imposition of the Michigan Merit Curriculum, and with the state dictating what should be taught in all public schools, I would like to see more equalized funding between all of the schools in the state of Michigan.  I would also like to see that the State of Michigan is able to fix its structural deficit and be able to provide the funding necessary for schools to educate our children.  I would also like to see more advanced technologies available to teachers and students to aid in the learning process (again another funding dependant wish).

How important is it for people to vote for board members?

It’s very important to vote for board members.  The board has the ability to influence and shape a school district’s future with assistance from the voice of the people, so it’s important to elect the right individual for the position.

How important a role does the board play in school functioning?

It’s not the board’s duty to oversee the day to day functions of the school district.  We do however, get guidance, give guidance and make decisions relating to higher level plans, programs and activities for the school district,  and these decisions flow down to and are carried out by the administration, teachers and support staff.

What is the most important work of the board?

Lately, it seems to be balancing the budget, but we do strive to make sure we implement programs keeping in mind that our school children come first.  One of our goals is making sure we continuously improve our school district (we want to be better this year than we were last year, and better next year than we were this year), and we want to ensure that Rockford continues to be one of the best districts for our children in the State of Michigan.

What haven’t I asked that is important for people to know about schools, you or anything you would like to say?

I’ve had several individuals come up to me over the years and ask when we are going to build a second high school?  I let them know that we are required to operate our schools with the operational funding that we receive from the state of Michigan, and as funding goes we are at the bottom of the totem pole.  We are a “base foundation grant” school district and we receive the same amount of funding per student as many of the schools in the less populated areas of our state receive.  This funding from the state is used to pay for operating expenses such as salaries, health care, pensions, books, busses, utilities, supplies and equipment among other things.  This funding cannot be used to build new buildings and likewise any monies coming in from bonds passed by our community cannot be used to pay operating expenses.  We have had several meetings over the past years regarding a second high school, and with the current level of funding that we get from the state, we simply could not afford to staff and operate a second high school.  There may however come a day when a second high school is built, but keep in mind that having one high school does wonders in maintaining a unified community.  Our unified community is one of the reasons that makes Rockford a great place to live.

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