Detroit school board race draws 8 candidates

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — The candidates running for Detroit's school board this fall include a football coach, a retired nurse, a program officer at a foundation, a recent high school graduate, two siblings and two former board members.

This is the second election for the Detroit school board, the first being in 2016 when all eight current members were elected to terms starting Jan. 1, 2017.

Eight candidates in all are running for election to the Board of Education for the Detroit Public Schools Community District on Nov. 6. Two seats with four-year terms are open.

This is the second election for the Detroit school board, the first being in 2016 when all eight current members were elected to terms starting Jan. 1, 2017. The field in the 2016 election had 63 candidates.

The district faces several challenges: its drinking water is tainted with lead and copper, it has $500 million in needed infrastructure repairs and its teacher shortage is around 200 positions.

Voters will see nine names on the ballot after candidate Deborah Elaine Lemmons withdrew from the race, but missed the official deadline to have her name removed from the ballot. Lemmons confirmed to The News on Friday she has withdrawn from the race due to illness.

Her brother, LaMar Lemmons, a current board member, withdrew from the race in July. The crowded school board election is among numerous races for local offices and millage requests on the ballot in Wayne County next month.

The school board candidates are:

♦Terrell George, 35, a graduate of Murray-Wright High School. 

Terrell George -- school board andidate for Detroit Public School Community District

George, the head football and basketball coach at Paul Robeson Malcolm X Academy, said he is running for school board because the race is personal for him.

"I am in the school system now. My kids in the '90s were there. For me, I know what our children face and what our teachers need. Any direction that comes on the school board would not just affect them, it would affect me," George said.

George says if elected, he would bridge the gap that has grown between the community and the district.

"We are losing our communities. We need to bridge the gap between the community and school board. I see lack of support for teachers and PTA teams. Parent and teacher relationships are not there anymore," George said.

George says he wants parity for teacher salaries and to see more 3-year-olds in preschool programs. He also wants to create a mentoring program, using older parents to help younger parents in the district.

"We need someone to be a father figure for our children," he said.

Natalya Henderson  (Candidate for school board with  Detroit Public Schools Community District)

♦Natalya Henderson, 20, a graduate of Cass Tech High School.

A Greenleaf Trust Scholar and a Forbes Under 30 Elite member and fellow, Henderson says she wants to give students a voice on the board.

"I saw there was a need to run because the current board doesn’t reflect the community as a whole. I didn’t have a voice being a student and I feel the same thing is continuing," she said.

Henderson said she would like to focus on teacher retention and vacancies. She said she supports bringing in noncertified teachers for elective positions at the high school.

"Such as a banker with 20 years of experience to teach accounting. It's not that they don’t have experience, it's that they are not certified. To allow the community to come in and have part and be a part of their alma matter," Henderson said.

At the age of 16, Henderson was a high school intern in Mayor Mike Duggan's office and at 17 founded a female mentoring organization called "Sophisticated She" that was housed in the Butzel Family Center, serving young women at Marcus Garvey Academy. She was an executive assistant at Eastside Community Network.

Deborah Hunter Harvill  (Candidate for school board with  Detroit Public Schools Community District)

♦Deborah Hunter-Harvill, 62, a current DPSCD board member, chair of the board's academics and curriculum committee.

An education consultant and former superintendent, principal and teacher, Hunter-Harvill says she is a seasoned educator and administrator dedicated to improving the lives of children through academic achievement.

"I have a proven record of success in classroom instruction including special education and differently-abled student populations...My diverse experience has allowed me to showcase organizational development, finance, facilities management and legislative skills," she said.

Hunter-Harvill says there has been growth in all areas of the district the last two years. Teacher vacancies remain a concern, she said, and her idea is to work with the philanthropic community to discuss the creation of a salary bank for teachers 

"So that we can dip into that and pay teachers more," she said.

School infrastructure remains a big problem for the district, Hunter-Harvill said. A recent facilities assessment said the district needed $500 million in repairs.

"I would consider asking for a local tax levy. For the progression of our district, we have to ask again," she said.

♦Melinda Murray, listed as a candidate, did not return repeated calls from The Detroit News for an interview for this story. Her brother, Reverend David Murray, is also running.

Rev. David Murray -- school board andidate for Detroit Public School Community District

♦Reverend David Murray, 65, a Mumford High school graduate, former DPS board member, first elected in 1998.

Murray ran for DPSCD board in 2016 but was not successful. He is running again, he says, to empower the children of Detroit.

"There are many things that need to be dealt with like the infrastructure of our schools," Murray said. "The main concern I have is the problems with the water and the infrastructure. I want to work with (superintendent) Dr. (Nikolai) Vitti and other board members and have them rectify the problem," he said.

If elected, Murray said he would work toward increasing the district's graduation rate, increase academic success of the children and vote against any school closures.

"I have far more experience that anybody on the ballot. I am one of the best educated of all the candidates. I have master’s of art in teaching, master's in social work and master's in criminal justice. All these degrees go to the heart of  issues facing urban children," he said.

Britney Sharp  (Candidate for school board with  Detroit Public Schools Community District)

♦Britney Sharp, 28, a graduate of King High School.

An entrepreneur and event organizer, Sharp says she is running because the board needs to listen to students and address their needs.

"I have a sense of inclusion. There needs to be more voices on the board of people who are younger," she said.

Sometimes people forget that learning and thriving come from relationships, Sharp said.

"For me, it's restoring those relationships. I want to step in and make sure the well-being of our students is at the forefront. Many are dealing with many things before that 8 a.m. bell," she said.

Sharp would like to see an increase in training for teachers, staff and all school employees, saying everyone from a janitor to a coach has the power to impact students. She says the district needs more counselors to address student mental health issues.

"We need training to see triggers in students. Sometimes there is an issue underlying the problem. We need more counselors. They need to stand on the forefront and hold programs for mental health and speaking up," she said.

Shannon Smith (Candidate for school board with  Detroit Public Schools Community District)

♦Shannon Smith, 28, a graduate of King High School.

A graduate of the University of Michigan, Smith declined a job offer in Chicago and came back to Detroit, where his father said the city needed talented college graduates like him.

"He made it a bigger picture for me to say kids don’t see Detroit as a place to call home for work," Smith said.

He worked for the Federal Reserve, for the Detroit City Council as a legislative assistant and community advocate, for nonprofits and landed at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Foundation.

"I said if there is any place I want to run and be a politician, it is changing our education system. ... We can't come back unless we focus on education," Smith said.

Teacher salaries and student curriculum are two areas of Smith's agenda. He says the district needs to focus on understanding how to teach students who come from communities of color with high poverty rates.

"The solution is making sure we have a unified front in Lansing and leveraging corporation and foundation communities. There is such interest in developing Detroit, to invest in our students and talent pipelines," Smith said.

Corletta J. Vaughn (Candidate for school board with  Detroit Public Schools Community District)

♦Corletta Vaughn, 64, a Cass Technical High School graduate, bishop and community activist.

Vaughn, a retired nurse, says she has considered running for school board for several years.

"I have watched the deterioration of our schools and our communities. I see such a decay in teacher education and in terms of how they are engaging classroom management and understanding learning styles of students," Vaughn said.

School infrastructure is a top concern for DPSCD, says Vaughn, adding the district does not have $500 million to spend on repairs. Rather, it should continue to seek out partnerships like the one with Marygrove College.

"Marygrove is a model DPS should embrace. Take existing buildings sitting empty and collaborate and move these 50,000 children into learning environments that are free and they can drink the water and learn," Vaughn says.

Other Wayne County races and issues

Also on the Wayne County ballot, county Executive Warren Evans, a Democrat, is being challenged in his bid for a second term by Republican Dennis Curran. 

Evans has said he "inherited a mess" with the county's finances when he took office four years ago and has turned the situation around, posting three straight years of budget surpluses. Curran has said he wants to tackle "the crazy salaries and retirement benefits that county commissioners and so on get."

Voters in communities across Wayne County face a variety of tax requests. Among them:

  • The Wayne County Community College District is seeking a 2.25-mill replacement levy for operations, which would raise an estimated $46.5 million in 2019.
  • Voters in the Dearborn school district will be asked to renew a 1-mill operating levy for Henry Ford College for five years.
  • The Wayne-Westland Community Schools seeks approval of a $158 million bond issue for facility additions and renovations, technology upgrades and bus purchases, with an estimated annual rate of 4.38 mills over 25 years.
  • The Grosse Pointe Public Schools requests a $111 million bond issue for building additions, and security and technology upgrades, with an estimated annual rate of 2.21 mills over 21 years.
  • Grosse Ile Township is asking for a 2-mill increase over 12 years for road improvements and maintenance, generating an estimated $1.2 million in its first year.