Amid questions about collaboration and collective bargaining and preparing students for success, fiscal responsibility was the reoccurring theme among four candidates for the Brighton Area Board of Education during a forum Thursday night.
Current School Board Treasurer Jay Krause, Keith Van Hentenryck, Ken Stahl and Nick Fiani will be competing for two open school board seats on Nov. 6. Current School Board President Cheryl Leach decided not to seek re-election.
Each candidate offered different opinions on managing the district in a fiscally responsible manner.
Van Hentenryck said he personally opposes consolidated services but would like to take a closer look at the budget and where the money is spent.
"Going for the lowest cost is almost never the best solution," he said. "You have to understand there's also the value of excellence to consider. Sometimes going mid-grade is much better long-term cost than going the cheapest route. I don't see a lot of room right now for cost-reduction. I would take a much better look at the budget before agreeing to cut this or that. The school district has had not enough money in a lot of areas."
Krause said the district has actually consolidated quite a bit and has led the state with shared services, but it can't outsource teachers. Krause said because of that, there's not a whole lot of areas to work with, except in non-instructional services.
"We have to look at things like maintenance, food service, transportation and lawn care," he said. "We've taken all of those things and brought them in for a higher level service at a lower cost, benefiting the district. This year is the first year we have a half a million surplus - this is the third highest contribution to debt fund since 1996 and we've done it with decreasing state revenue and with a reduced number of students in the district."
Stahl said the goal is to create an environment where children can learn and employees want to come to, but in order to educate children in the highest regard, the district needs to attract the best teachers out there, and taking away from their income or pensions is not the way to do it.
"What we have in Brighton is an income problem, not a spending problem," he said. "We had a spending problem once upon a time, before I was involved and it's been corrected. They've taken steps and consolidated. We're right down at the bare bones right now. And we're still paying off our deficit. The board is talking about being in the black in the next school year - that's the hope and goal and so far, we're still on track. To cut any more, I think, would be senseless at this point. We need to start thinking about growing. And hopefully, we'll go the other way in the next few years and hopefully the economy will allow it."
"I think we need to reduce labor costs," he said. "When our labor costs in the past few years have exceeded 100 percent of our general fund and then are recently still comprised of about 90 percent of our fund, I think that's the only aspect at this point that we can reduce our costs. I think salary freezes - obviously there's one going on right now - but I think there should be an ongoing one until we remove this deficit that has caused such turmoil in our district. It's essential to remember that we need to reduce spending in order to remove ourselves from a deficit and also reduce spending so as not endure increased deficit."
Which candidate do you agree with? What is the best way to manage the district in a fiscally responsible manner?