The tone was mostly civil Thursday as 11 of the 14 candidates for the Plymouth-Canton school board filed into for a town hall forum.
With less than one week remaining before election, most of the questions, submitted by Plymouth-Canton parents, focused on recent hot-button issues facing the district.
Privatized services, budgets, school funding, student security and finding ways to stay competitive led the discourse as candidates made a appeal for votes.
Stein Brunvand, a Hoben parent and member of the newly formed Plymouth-Canton Parent Network, moderated the forum. Eleven of the candidates for the four open seats attended: Incumbents John Jackson, Nancy Eggenberger and Steven Sneideman and newcomers are Sheila Paton, Stephanie Goecke, Abdullateef "Muhi" Muhiuddin, John Barrett, Matt Dame, Clifton Neeley, Mike Andro, Michael Redman and Angie Williams-Chehmani.
Three candidates were absent, including former board members Mike Maloney and Mark Horvath and Matt Dame. Horvath later wrote Canton Patch that he was on a business trip.
Brunvand first asked the candidates what they would do about declining state funding. Here’s a sampling of the responses:
- Angie Williams-Chehmani said the district should look at alternative funding and finding a continuous cash flow beyond one-time infusions into the budget.
- Abdul Muhiuddin said the district should look into community engagement and participation. He said he feels there are a lot of roles available in the community that can be provided through volunteers rather than seeking more funding.
- John Barrett said the district needs to explore more shared services, citing the school’s food agreement with Livonia. He said the district needs to take consolidations seriously.
- Sheila Paton said the district needs to look at why students are leaving — she said 365 students have left the district — and creating programs of little to no cost to retain students.
- John Jackson echoed Paton’s sentiments, saying new programs should be added at little to no cost to attract and retain studentst.
- Clifton Nealy said the state needs to stop “sitting on” public education funds and to lobby politicians to vote for public education funding.
- Nancy Eggenberger said the students can save money by redistricting, particularly trimming transportation costs because students would attend schools closer to where they live.
- Stephanie Goecke said Plymouth-Canton needs to maximize opportunities with Wayne RESA (Regional Educational Service Agency) and take advantage of things it already pays for.
- Steven Sneideman said Plymouth-Canton needs to stop increasing class sizes to balance the budget and look at innovative ways to deliver curriculum through. For building revenue, Sneideman cited an initiative he championed that brings in funds through advertising on the school website.
- Michael Redman said the district needs to take accountability for the spending and revenue generation, which will build confidence to provide additional funds.
- Mike Andro said keeping students at Plymouth-Canton is a priority and the school needs to market itself and increase technology.
All the candidates agreed that school security is a top priority; Barrett and Paton mentioned a need to monitor and prevent bullying.
“Providing a safe environment is the No. 1 thing,” Jackson said.
The forum lasted about two hours with questions chosen by the parental group before the event took place. The 11 candidates were given a minute or less to answer each of 22 questions. Brunvand said the candidates had not seen the questions beforehand.
Candidates each were given a minute-long segment to provide closing comments.
The candidates largely refrained from personal attacks throughout the forum, focusing instead on the questions asked by the moderator. Barrett, however, criticized the negative campaigning he’s seen in what he said should be a nonpartisan election.
After the forum, candidates and attendees lingered over Amy Gassman's cookies and soft drinks provided by other Hoben volunteers.
“I thought it was very organized and I'm so grateful that so many candidates attended,” Teresa Brooks Jackson later wrote on Canton Patch’s Facebook page. “It was very informative!”
Several candidates made comments afterwards indicating they liked the questions and were glad the event drew a sizable audience.