Editorial: Our endorsements for Detroit school board

The Detroit News

Detroit residents have an important but challenging task on Nov. 8 when they have to wade through close to 70 names vying for spots on the new Detroit Public Schools Community District school board. These are vital choices for the future of the school district — still Michigan’s largest, despite declining enrollment.

Following a state bailout this summer, the district is debt-free, and it is essential the newly elected board is committed to keeping finances in check, while ensuring the focus is on improving education for the 45,000 students who attend DPS. The board will have oversight by the city’s Financial Review Commission, but that’s it. The responsibility largely falls on the board to keep the district on a sound path, and it’s the most power the board will wield following seven years of direct state control.

While many of the names on the ballot would be bad news for the Detroit district, a good number of the candidates offer substantial experience and a fresh perspective.

The bailout legislation called for a slimmer board, down to seven members from 11. And for the first time, the board members will all be elected at large rather than by district. The new board members will also initially have varying term lengths, depending on the number of votes they receive this election. The two top vote-getters will be on the board for six years. Going forward, all board members will serve four-year terms.

Our support goes to the following, most qualified board candidates (in alphabetical order):

Leslie Andrews is director of community engagement and corporate giving at Rock Ventures, and she is former Michigan director of the United Negro College Fund Inc. Her strong foundation of experience would also be a good fit on the board.

“The unique experience that I will bring to the board is my knowledge of how corporate and foundation funding works, and how those entities can be partners in addressing this herculean task,” she writes. “Also, I have first hand knowledge of the challenges facing our students through my previous employment (with the Negro College Fund).”

Through her experience, Andrews witnessed how many DPS students were not prepared for college, and she wants to change that.

Penny Bailer knows Detroit and its youth, and she cares about improving outcomes at DPS. She’s spent her career working with the city’s young people, and even spent time on the DPS school board in the 1990s. Bailer recently retired as executive director of City Year Detroit, after working there 14 years. Before that, she headed the Michigan Metro Girl Scout Council.

“While I am excited and even thrilled by the progress being made in our city by our mayor and by philanthropic business people who are helping to rebuild our economy,” Bailer says, “I realize that if we don’t properly educate our children, none of it will matter. Period.”

Brandon Brice, who is in his early 30s, would bring some youth to the board, along with a strong resume. With degrees from Howard and Rutgers, Brice has done well as a nonprofit executive and consultant. Brice spent time working on the East Coast, but has returned to his hometown and wants to make a difference on the school board.

He says he is running “because we need to make certain that the board provides a quality education for each child who attends, wherever the school is located in Detroit; I’m running to make sure and make certain that all parents/guardians are able to obtain accurate, current and comprehensive information about schools to be able to select the school they believe will best serve the needs of their child.”

Mary Kovari currently works at the Henry Ford Institute, where she writes innovation curriculum. But she has 20 years of experience working in Detroit Public Schools, including as a former parent, teacher and principal. “I am running for the school board because I believe in the necessity of sustaining a traditional public school district in Detroit,” Kovari says.

Ryan Mack, also in his 30s, has a long list of accomplishments in the financial world. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in business administration, Mack has spent his career in finance, and that experience will come in handy at DPS.

“My special interest is in connecting our youth to the world of finance,” Mack says. “That’s my passion, and it’s that passion which drives me to spend the time that I have been spending for the past five years teaching financial literacy to youth here in Detroit. It’s that passion combined with my understanding and knowledge of finance that makes me uniquely qualified to help our board make certain that we operate our district within a balanced budget.”

Sonya Mays similarly brings financial expertise and has worked on Wall Street. She returned to her home city to help guide Detroit through its bankruptcy. Mays worked closely with Detroit’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr, and she has stayed in town to start Develop Detroit, a nonprofit that seeks to offer new neighborhood housing options, among other real estate development.

“I am running for Detroit school board because I am a proud product of DPS schools,” Mays says. “I am a graduate of Renaissance High School and that education gave me (and many classmates) the tools to go onto college and earn multiple degrees. However, I feel that we are at a crossroads with the return of board control over whether our schools today will give to our young people the same education and opportunities for success that DPS gave me.”

Kevin Turman says he can contribute an important voice “to and for our community.” His experience backs that up. He is senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Detroit, where he has served for more than two decades. And his education is impressive, with degrees from Harvard and Yale. Turman is a longstanding community presence as well as a retired officer in the Navy Reserve. That’s exactly the kind of leadership the new DPS needs. “I have a commitment to connecting our educational system to our community through transparency and accountability,” Turman writes.