By Brian Bickmore
After 3,646 Midlanders infiltrated city voting locations on Nov. 8 to cast their ballots, Angela Brandstadt, Yvonne Gorton and Jerry Wasserman emerged victorious in the election for three open Midland Public Schools board of education seats.
Brandstadt, a newcomer, ran unopposed for a two year term made available because of Suzii LaCross’ resignation. Meanwhile, second term incumbent Wasserman (29.81% of the vote) and Gorton (28.86%), another newcomer, narrowly earned the two traditional four year positions over current board secretary Lee Rouse (28.06%). Joyce Perry, a Saginaw teacher who ran as a write-in candidate, also received double digit percentage support.
Though two of the elected officers are new to the seven member board, both individuals bring unique qualifications to the table.
In the case of Brandstadt, she has an array of connections to the district with a pair of children attending JMS. Combining that with being heavily invested in educational volunteer opportunities across various Midland schools, the former industrial engineer feels as though she has a pulse on how MPS operates. Additionally, two years spent on the board’s school closure committee provided her even more insight into the district. According to her, she looks forward to dealing with problems analytically and thoughtfully.
“I ran for this position to have influence on the hard decisions that will continue to be presented,” Brandstadt said.
Gorton, on the other hand, comes from a family of educators; something she asserts gives her a unique perspective regarding a range of prominent issues. A feeling of obligation to give back was why she ran.
“My family has derived so much benefit from the Midland Public Schools and I feel like being on the board is something I should be willing to do,” she said. “I am a very community-minded person and this fits really well with the kinds of things are important to me.”
The main priority she has for serving in this capacity will be to keep cuts as far away from classrooms as much as possible and to ensure MPS students continue receiving a good education, which she perceives as one of the state’s best.
“I feel very passionate about preserving the quality of education, Gorton said. It has always been top-notch and I want to keep it that way.”
Superintendent Carl Ellinger recently got a chance to meet both of his new colleagues and was impressed.
“They want to serve for the right reasons and do what they think is in the long term interests of the district, so we welcome them aboard and look forward to how they will help us with our future challenges,” he said.
Those challenges will be abundant for Brandstadt, who was sworn in on Nov. 10, Gorton, who will assume her role in January and Wasserman, who is set to begin his ninth year as a member. Many major issues are looming on the horizon for the district and board including working out a new contract agreement with teachers, budgeting money efficiently and attempting to maintain or reform programs such as extracurricular activities, transportation and athletics.
They won’t encounter any easy solutions for the funding issues either. Proposal A, which was passed by voters in 1994, shifted public school funding responsibilities from local property taxes to the state government, which distributes a set amount of money per pupil to each district. More affluent communities such as Midland suffered greatly considering high property tax values derive considerably more funding than what is received through the per pupil program. This caused extra programs and services MPS offered to be cut because of a lack of funding.
“It’s very much a mafia situation,” social studies teacher Ric Shahin said. “The state of Michigan allows limited ability for the local school board to affect the quality of the education. They have the checkbook and therefore mandate what schools are going to do.”
But that is not to say they the board of education isn’t able to have an impact over other aspects of the educational experience students have. As a direct result of their decisions, DHS has seen a variety of changes over the past few years including: an enactment of pay to play fees for sports, increased class sizes, teacher layoffs, and facility renovations.
However, whatever the scenarios may be, Ellinger always expects certain qualities to be displayed by all board members.
“My first expectation is for them to realize they are the community’s representation on the board,” he said. “Also, they need to remember that they are an advocate for all students and staff.”
Board president Kenneth Mault has also already observed positive characteristics regarding Brandstadt and Gorton, but recognizes the transition for them isn’t an easy one.
“They are coming to the board with open minds,” he said. “It is a learning experience and there is a lot that goes on at the district level. Not many people realize just how much there is to do in running a school district.”