May 5 School Board Voter Guide

Grand Rapids League Of Women Voters GRPS School Board

In response to the notoriously low voter turnout for Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) school board elections, the League of Women Voters Grand Rapids has launched a new effort aimed at increasing voter turnout.

Focusing on the upcoming May 5 elections (which also have an important transit proposal), the League of Women Voters has prepared a voter guide for the election that compares the candidates and is organizing a candidate forum. The voter guide compiles information about the individual candidates running for office as well as general information about how to cast a vote and how what the Grand Rapids Board of Education does.

In addition to the voter guide, the group is holding a candidate forum on April 16:

April 16, 2009

6:00pm – 8:00pm

Rev. Lyman Parks Campus Auditorium (formerly Franklin Auditorium)

Join us for the 2009 Candidate Forum, a nonpartisan, informational event offered free to the community. Learn more about how the candidates view their role with the Grand Rapids Public Schools and their ideas for improving the district as a board member.

Voter Guide Responses

In the interest of providing information about the candidates, the questions and their answers are reprinted below:

Why are you running for the Grand Rapids Public Schools School Board?

Tony Baker: I have been a strong advocate for public education for decades, and this has only increased as my children have been in the district. Since I have had one year on the board I am even more convinced that I can impact the district. I have also enjoyed it.

Wendy VerHage Falb: I care deeply about the future of GRPS. I have two sons in the system and know that the quality of these programs will determine the quality of our city. I am committed to making the education in our public schools the best that it can be.

Senita Lenear: GRPS is facing serious financial and educational challenges. We need a forward-thinking leader who embraces innovation and can bring the district and the community together in the interest of common goals. We need a leader who is independent from special interests that seek to control taxpayer dollars. I’m that leader!

Arnie Smithalexander: I am an incumbent board member running because I believe change is a process not an event. Since I was elected significant change has occurred, and I have significantly contributed to that change. Therefore I need to be on the board to finish the progress we have started.

Kevin Weiss: I hope to make a positive impact on the quality of education available to the citizens of Grand Rapids. I would also like to work to settle the labor dispute that is currently over 2 years old.

What experience do you bring to the Grand Rapids Public Schools School Board?

Tony Baker: I have extensive experience researching and teaching about community and schools. At Ferris, I am a respected campus leader on issues of education and diversity. I work at Ferris and in Grand Rapids to build community collaborations. The experience I have had on the board this year has increased these skills.

Wendy VerHage Falb: I have many years of teaching experience in a variety of institutions, a secondary education degree, and a doctorate in English. I have led the PTA, the district’s parent involvement task force, and the successful marketing of our school in the community.

Senita Lenear: I have already served on the GRPS Board in an interim capacity. I am a parent and have experience in labor relations, community relations, hu- man resources, creating budgets and non-profit experience. Most impor- tant, I’m 100% committed to doing what is best for the children of Grand Rapids .

Arnie Smithalexander: I am an incumbent board member running because I believe change is a process not an event. Since I was elected significant change has occurred, and I have significantly contributed to that change. Therefore I need to be on the board to finish the progress we have started.

Kevin Weiss: I bring not only the experience of working in several different professions but also the experience of doing my student teaching at Union High School where I became personally acquainted with some of the issues that students and teachers face on a daily basis.

How would you balance the needs of the district with the current economic situation?

Tony Baker: Many positive changes are occurring in the district. The teachers and administrators are creating some very innovative strategies to improve learning. We must move to a common ground between the teachers, the board and the administration. Personal animosities threaten positive gains. I have and will work very hard to bridge these differences.

Wendy VerHage Falb: This is an ongoing challenge for urban school boards. While the specifics are constantly changing, the “needs to dollar” ratio seems increasingly more difficult to balance. I am eager to work toward advocacy on a legislative level to accomplish a more just distribution of our education dollars.

Senita Lenear: In this country, there are 2 million children already falling through the educational cracks. We need school board leaders who are not just seeking more money, but rather seek more innovative and creative approaches to education; approaches that work within existing budgets.

Arnie Smithalexander: By law, we must balance the budget. To balance the budget members of the board, along with me, have made a commitment not to cut teacher service or increase class size. GRPS are developing more public and private partnerships, along with leveraging all available resources.

Kevin Weiss: There are always ways to cut costs without the quality of education suffering. Reducing waste would be the first area to attack. While the edu- cators are working diligently to have the students experience success they need to have that success the first time through the system.

How will you help to make the Grand Rapids Public Schools a community priority?

Tony Baker: I am impressed with the many groups and individuals that work for the schools. Kids Food Basket, Schools of Hope, and the YMCA are a partial list. We do need to work to further facilitate these partnerships. I have tried to assist by serving on community boards and engaging city/ county officials in the work of GRPS.

Wendy VerHage Falb: I firmly believe that Grand Rapids is a community that can roll up their sleeves and bring about important change, but we’re not always clear on what needs to be done. I am eager to convey to public at large that the work is “doable,” exciting, and rewarding.

Senita Lenear: In a global economy, our citizens have no choice but to make education a priority. The U.S. has the highest high-school drop-out rate of any country in the world. The school board is the vital link between the future of our country and the economic future of our community.

Arnie Smithalexander: A priority is set if every child who leaves our schools, and his/her parents, can say a quality education was received. Schools can only become a priority when all parents feel their child received a quality education. As a board member I will set policy to facilitate that process.

Kevin Weiss: Through personal visits to the buildings and a better connection with the students, staff, educators and administration I feel I will be able to bring the actual building experience to the board members. I believe that in order to make intelligent decisions about a school system you should first know…


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