Three newcomers and a nine-year incumbent vying for three school board seats shared their views with the public Thursday at the Plainfield
League of Women Voters candidates’ forum.Alex Edache
, Dorian Hurtt
and Jameelah Surgeon
are running as a slate, while Agurs Linward “Lenny” Cathcart Jr
. is the only one of three incumbents to file for re-election.Cathcart
was an ardent supporter of former Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III
before Gallon left the district under a cloud over hiring irregularities. On Thursday, Cathcart
said he considered not seeking re-election, but then decided not to “allow one incident to define me,” citing 25 years of community involvement in addition to his board service.
A city resident since 1997, Edache
said after people kept telling him the Plainfield
school system was no good, he decided to get involved “and be part of the solution.”
“I know it can be done,” he said.
Surgeon said she is a lifelong resident and product of Plainfield
schools who wants the current status of the schools to improve in part because her daughter is a district student.
“If you are concerned, you can’t stand by and let something go to ruin,” she said.Hurtt
, a 10-year resident, said he and his running mates share a feeling of “frustration with the state of our schools.” Though relatively unknown, he said, “Personally, I don’t think that a bad thing,” as he is “not someone who has been involved in politics in this city” with predictable views.
Moderator Kathleen Fetissoff
of the Union League of Women Voters posed written questions from the audience to the candidates. Topics included the impact of charter schools, qualities of a good school administrator, the district’s most pressing need, how to attract top teaching and administrative talent and the middle and high school’s failure to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards.
All the candidates agreed that getting a well-qualified superintendent is the district’s most pressing need. Cathcart
said a strong leader was needed for Plainfield
to “fall back in love” with education. Hurtt
said the district can’t keep having the turnover it has seen, which Edache
described as “changing superintendents like coats.” Surgeon advised using Google searches to learn more about superintendent candidates.
“If we take the time, we can get the leader we deserve, who can take the district up instead of down,” she said.
On attracting talent to the district, Hurtt
should look for someone who already understands the issues and is looking for a challenge, while Surgeon called for “just being honest about where we are.”
“If you don’t agree that you have a problem, you won’t get a solution,” Edache
said he wanted “someone who is going to want to come here” rather than a person looking for a high salary.
“If you want $250,000, we don’t want you,” he said.
Asked whether they would be willing to take classes to be qualified board members, Cathcart
said he has done so previously, but has not been able to do so for the past couple years due to constraints of his job. Edache
said requirements to run for the school board include being a citizen and being over 18, but said “to be more effective, you have to have training” and that he was willing to go for classes.
“I am not just willing, but eager,” said Hurtt
, who cited his work in the “constantly changing” IT world as making him aware of the need for ongoing training.
Surgeon was also willing and said training was “very flexible” now, with classes on Saturdays or online.
“You want to make sure you are being your best,” she said.
On charter schools, Edache
said they were making
people look down on public schools, but he said,”There is nothing wrong with public schools.”Hurtt
said there is a reason why charter schools are being pushed in urban rather than suburban schools.
“If we have better performance, there is no need for charter schools,” he said.
But Surgeon said parents at charter schools are “just as dissatisfied” with performance.
“We support education wherever it might be,” Cathcart
said, but named safety as a reason why parents look to charter schools.
The next question was how to make district schools safer, and Cathcart
said the administration has to promote safety with security systems and training.Hurtt
said there is an overall impression that district schools are not safe, but said there are fights in all schools and advocated more use of techniques such as conflict resolution.Edache
said people go to charter schools because they are thinking about safety, but he said it “didn
’t make sense.”
Surgeon called it a “perception” that schools are not safe and called for more “peer mediation.”
The forum concluded with LWV
President Rupert Crawford
making a pitch for members. To see more information about the League and also to see candidates’ bios and answers to three questions, click here.
Voters will have their say on April 27. Polls will be open from 2 to 9 p.m. The budget question this year is whether to approve $22,285,795 for the 2011-2012 school year, up from $21,848,819 last year. From 1992 to 2007, the school tax levy stayed the same at $17,683,906, but yearly increases were mandated by the School Funding Reform Act of 2008.