• Title: Alec Lloyd: Candidate's Responses to Forum Questions -2012
  • Author: Alec Lloyd
  • Date: 08/30/2012
  • Additional Categories: ELPS: School Board Forum -2012

Alec Lloyd: Candidate's Responses to Forum Questions -2012

Candidate Forum FINAL Question #7
Due Date: 10/07/12 by 8pm

How should grades K-6 be configured? Specifically…

-Should Red Cedar be closed?

-Should a new 6th grade building be constructed?

-Is the current number of “school of choice” students to high, low or about right?

-Should the district build for increased, decreased or about the same capacity as it currently has

-Given the sale of the Timberlane property, where should the administration be housed?

Answer to Final Forum Question #7

Any proposed configuration must address three critical questions:
Does it lower operating costs?
Does it provide long-term flexibility?
Most importantly, is it in the best interests of our students?

To answer these questions, we must look to the experts in our midst – the teachers and parents of East Lansing. Sadly, for too long their opinions have been ignored.

As a result, the current configuration meets none of these criteria, nor have the board's recent proposals.

Money that should go into the classroom is being wasted in fuel and vehicle costs. Reducing the number of elementary schools will simply add to this expense and make our budget more vulnerable to volatile fuel prices.

Closing a school does not necessarily eliminate its maintenance costs. Once the school is shuttered, it does not magically disappear. The district will be saddled with maintaining an empty building until someone can be found to take it off of our hands. Given the current real estate market and the location of the schools, none are well-situated for quick movement or effective reuse. They city has already said it cannot help in this respect.

This is why the decision to close Red Cedar is so indefensible. The building has no identifiable alternative use. The board has said that more students are bused there than any other school, but closing it will ensure that ALL of the students must be bused. This is not progress.

It is also the highest-performing school in the district. The decision to close it in defiance of the citizens report, the engineering report, the wishes of the city council and the university has already resulted in a civil rights complaint.

While this complaint is currently dormant, should the district actually move to shutter the school, I believe we will find ourselves in a lengthy and expensive lawsuit – a lawsuit that will take resources meant for the classroom and give them to attorneys.

A better approach would be to play to our strengths – safe, walkable neighborhood and first-rate community schools. We know what works in East Lansing – until recently we were one of the best districts in the state if not the nation.

I am sympathetic to the need for building updates and scheduled renovations. I am also willing to look at whether we should have K-6 elementary schools or K-5 with a 6-8 middle school. We need to carefully example all of the proposals before rushing forward.

Similarly, we must look at alternative locations for our administration. Once again, I fear the administrative tail is wagging the educational dog. There is plenty of space within buildings already owned by the district – and also by the city. We should take a careful look at how make the best use of these properties.

As to the question of schools of choice vs residential students, naturally I believe we should try to enhance the number of residential students. Yet we should also keep in mind that many schools of choice families end up moving into the district. Given that East Lansing has long been associated with educational excellence, should we be surprised that others wish to share our superb schools?

Schools of choice students have been critical to keeping our schools open and I believe we are at a point where falling property values now make it possible for more families to move into the district, converting their out-of-district students to in-district ones.

Ironically, the Red Cedar neighborhoods are some of the most affordable, which make the decision to close the school even worse. The “flower pots” were the home to make of my classmates when I attended East Lansing schools and they represent one of the most diverse areas of our city.

Just as our plan should be flexible, so should our board. I have been very forthright in my opinions, but I also recognize that I will have but one vote on the board, and that many residents may disagree with my policy preferences.

That is why I am willing to work to build consensus. The final configuration will inevitably be a compromise. Not everyone will get what they want.

But the key is to work together. The current board leadership refused to do this. Indeed, they are doubling down on their vision and will not be swayed – and spending taxpayer dollars to finesse their plans.

That is why I am running for school board and why I ask for your vote.

Candidate Forum Question #6
Due Date: 09/29/12 by 8pm

How should administrator compensation be determined? And, given the concerns that many residents have about academic performance, do you think that the board has a duty to define in objective, measurable standards, what is acceptable? Would you support making administration pay partly based upon public, definable, and measurable, standards versus more subjective measurers or simply comparisons to what other districts are doing?

Answer to Forum Question #6

Administrative costs are a hidden drain on any organization's finances. It is something that serves an essential purpose, but there is always a tendency for it to grow to the point that the administrative tail eventually wags the organizational dog.

I have no specific preference for how administrator compensation is determined, however it is essential for us to recall that administrative costs must necessarily subtract from money that would otherwise directly support student education.

In that context, whatever program of compensation we use must take the needs of students into account.

I believe in rewarding excellence, and tying bonuses to student achievement – whether in terms of absolute proficiency or relative performance – is a good idea. Alternatively, one could measure success in terms of improving financial efficiency, placing more dollars in the classroom.

However we cannot let administrative compensation come at the expense of core education.

At the Sept. 10 School Board meeting it was revealed that East Lansing Public Schools rank only in the top 200 of the 700+ public school in Michigan in terms of percentage of money that goes into the classroom.

We can and must do better.

For those interested in a belated response to the previous question (which I utterly failed to send in a timely manner), read on below:

There is no question that after-school activities and athletics are a critical part of a complete education.

As a student at East Lansing High School, I immersed myself in clubs: United Nations Club, Science Fiction Club and Political Realists' Club to name just the most important.

My participation in these organizations shaped who I am today, and they helped give focus to my academic work, which I often regarded with indifference. Without the Model U.N., I would never have thought of attending James Madison College at Michigan State University, and I would have missed out on an education that continues to pay handsome dividends.

Similarly, our district's outstanding fine arts programs have had a huge impact on my life. I marched in East Lansing's band for four years, and that inspired me to try out for and be accepted into the Michigan State Marching Sand - an experience I will always treasure.

Though I did not go out for sports, I know that these activities have similar effects on our students. That is why I believe the School Board has a responsibility to make these programs as accessible as possible.

At present we charge a high fee for participation: $275. Given budget constraints, we may have no alternative, but I believe the district can do better. In addition to all that time and effort, the district reports that it spent $9,600 on promoting the failed bond issue. Add that to the $18,400 opinion poll and you have $28,000 that has been essentially wasted.

I do not believe these are isolated figures. In my last column I noted that we are only in the top 200 statewide in terms of the percentage of dollars that actually reach the classroom. We can and must do better.

That $28,000 could have been better used in many ways, but consider that in terms of activities, it could have paid the fees of more than 100 students – or reduced them to half for 200 students.

The current board leadership seems to regard our district as something akin to a private school – where only the privileged people who live in the right neighborhoods can enjoy the full benefits of living in East Lansing. A widening achievement gap and falling proficiency scores have been greeted with shocking indifference. Where once East Lansing was known for its inclusion and standards of excellence, we are now striving for expensive mediocrity.

The world has changed since I graduated in 1991 – and certainly I had a lot more hair back then – but there is no reason we as a community cannot aspire to standards we met less than a decade ago.

East Lansing Public Schools have produced people capable of changing the world – and how we think about it. Much of their motivation to achieve came through after school activities. The school board needs new leadership that will put students – not facilities – first and foremost.

All of these issues are interconnected. My time in the marching band taught me the importance of all parts working together – if any one person is out of step, the whole effect is ruined.

Right now our board is out of step with the city council, university, teachers, parents, and students. Rather than getting back into step, it instead demands that everyone in the community march to their tune. A handful of people has determined to dramatically change the face of East Lansing.
What is at stake goes beyond clubs and teams, but they will suffer just as academics and student achievement has suffered.

This election provides us with the opportunity to get everyone back on the same page – and back in step. With new school board leadership, we can explore new partnerships and opportunities, put our focus back on students and restore East Lansing to its rightful place at the pinnacle of public education.

Forum Question #5
Due Date: 09/23/12 by 8PM

Please discuss your thoughts on the role that extracurricular activities and athletics play in student development. Additionally, do you feel that the pay to play costs are appropriate?

Answer to Forum Question #5.

No Submission!


Forum Question #4
Due Date: 09/19/12 by 8pm

As a board member one of your most important duties will be voting on labor agreements for both staff and management. The MEA is aggressively supporting Proposal 2 the “Protect our Jobs Amendment” or POJA. The attached MEA Memo indicates that, among other things, POJA could…

-Eliminate the requirement that teachers pay 20% of their health insurance costs (which would save ELPS millions over time)

-Eliminate the cap on pension contributions ( which, again, would save the district millions going forward)

-Open the door to making labor contracts (teachers & administrators) off limits to FOIA

-Eliminate teacher evaluation systems

-Disallow performance-based compensation

-Eliminate notifications to parents about ineffective teachers

-Adversely affect the use of volunteers and third party’s for non-instructional services

What do you think? Specifically, do you endorse the Protect of Jobs Amendment? How do you think it’s passage would affect the dist

Protect Our Jobs Amendment

Answer to Forum Question #4

My response is below:

As I have gone through life, I have tried to separate those things I can effect from those I can't. As an individual, I cannot exert much control over statewide ballot issues – and serving on the East Lansing School Board will not change this.

Thus it seems to me that my own position on this particular ballot issue is irrelevant. It will pass or it will fail, and we as a community will adjust accordingly.

The real problem with East Lansing's school board is not the things they cannot control but the things that they can.

State education funding is beyond the board's control, so to blame it for the board's failings is an abdication of responsibility and an attempt to distract the public from the clear facts that under its current leadership East Lansing student achievement has fallen to unprecedented levels.

The question is not how much money the state is giving us but what we are doing with the money we have.

In my previous essays I highlighted this leadership failure, but I've since learned that it is even worse than I thought.

The shocking fall of our schools in the Michigan Top to Bottom rankings should have brought an immediate and forceful response from the board. There should have been focused efforts to contact parents and inform them of these important findings. Indeed, it is my understanding that state law requires these disclosures – and they obviously have not happened.

The board did hold an emergency short-notice meeting this August – but it was to approve funding for the EPIC/MRA opinion poll.

At the regular September 10th meeting, the board heard about its financial audit and the leadership seemed oddly pleased with East Lansing's rank in terms of putting money in the classroom – we are in the top 200. That is to say, if the 700+ public school districts in Michigan were graded on a curve, we would get a “C.”

This is not cause for celebration.

Once upon a time – when I was a student here – East Lansing was not content to be anything other than the best. We counted ourselves among the elite – not just in Michigan, but nationally. Our graduates went on to successful careers in every field – from business, government and education to athletics and fine arts.

Now it seems we should be content to be a C-graded district – maybe even a C+ once we've torn down and rebuilt our entire elementary and middle school infrastructure and shattered two more neighborhoods.

The board cannot control what statewide ballot issues pass, and the uncertainty that many of these proposals involve should give us even more reason to wait and see what will happen rather than rushing to close buildings and take on tens of millions of dollars in additional debt.

Adaptability, flexibility and above all a willingness to work with our partners in the city and university are the essential qualities needed to turn our schools around and once more make East Lansing a byword for educational excellence.

These are precisely the qualities lacking in our current leadership. After a year of debate, they are rigidly focused on last year's proposals to the exclusion of everything else. If they have their way, we will have first-class buildings and third-class academic achievement.

This election is a turning point for our district and it will determine whether East Lansing will continue to remain a community dedicated to neighborhood schools and academic excellence, or something else entirely.

Statewide ballot issues and are beyond our control. I will focus on the things we can control: spending our precious education dollars on students rather than architects, bond attorneys and consultants.


Forum Question #3.

Some residents worry that the district is faltering academically. They cite data such as:

- The High School has dropped out of the top 1000 in the country and
out of the top 38 in Michigan, according to the 2012 Newsweek
rankings, down from 530th in the country and 6th in Michigan in 2007.

-In the Federally-approved Top-to-Bottom rankings calculated by the
Michigan Department of Education a few weeks ago, the district’s
average school score is significantly behind not only Okemos (6th in
Michigan) and Haslett (25th in Michigan), but now Williamston (85th)
too, placing it 100th in Michigan.

-In the Top-to-Bottom rankings, the middle school was ranked at the
41st percentile, meaning that it scored better than only 41 percent of
schools in Michigan and worse than 59 percent of schools in Michigan.

-Overall, the district has failed to make adequate annual progress
across all three Michigan Department of Education criteria.

What say you? And, if you agree that there's been slippage, what should be done?

Due Date: 09/12/12 (by 8PM)

Answer to Question #3.

PR's preface to Alec's answer to question #3.

Alec Lloyd missed the extended due date for the forum postings for answering question #3.
The readers should know that his comments may have been influenced by having prior knowledge of the other candidates' on-time posted positions.
Thank you.

As I noted in my previous essay, the academic outcomes in East Lansing Public School are in steep decline. This is not because our teachers or students have suddenly become less capable – the reason is clearly a leadership deficiency on the part of the school board.

The current configuration is almost guaranteed to produce substandard results and the awkward start of this school year has underlined why we must return to a more sensible format.

The needless 5-6 transition is challenging to everyone: parents, administrators, teachers and above all students. Children who could still be walking to their neighborhood school must now ride a bus for nearly an hour a day. My own daughter went from a safe, healthy walk to Pinecrest with her sister to a lengthy and time-consuming bus ride to Whitehills. This produces no educational benefit, but it does cost the district thousands of dollars in transportation costs.

The board continues to insist that closing Red Cedar and now Whitehills will somehow result in improved efficiency, cost savings and of course better educational outcomes.

The first two propositions are debatable, but one cannot seriously argue that the massive dislocation caused by this unprecedented building project will be anything but harmful to student achievement. The board has been quiet about what will happen while the wrecking balls are swinging and the bulldozers are doing their business. Based on their previous bond proposal – which they are poised to reintroduce in modified format – our children will spend four years being bounced from building to building as they dodge demolition work and construction crews.

If you think our scores have fallen now, wait until four years from now when an entire generation of elementary school children have had their educations disrupted.

Moreover, the effect will linger for years after the construction is finished as the survivors of the whole affair struggle to make up the ground they have lost. And what will their sacrifice achieve? Bigger buildings with more parking lots.

East Lansing has a rich tradition of educational excellence and we are fortunate to have all the tools we need to restore our district to one of the top achievers in the state. What we need is the focus from our leadership. Facilities are not and never have been in a problem for East Lansing. All of our buildings are well-maintained and in good shape.

It is what is going on within them that is the problem and that is where I will place my focus as a member of the school board.

Let there be no mistake – I am not an expert in education, but I know we have some of the most knowledgeable people in the country at our disposal and I cannot understand why we are not putting them to work.

To put it another way, the $18,400 the board spent on phone surveys should have gone to extra learning resources for our most challenged students.

That it didn't shows that unless the composition of the board is changed, East Lansing schools will continue to decline and their students will continue to suffer.
Forum Question #2

What is the state of the East Lansing Public School System? And, what is its single most pressing problem, along with your solutions to it?
Due Date: 09/07/12 by 8 pm

Answer #2.

East Lansing Public Schools are currently suffering from a crisis in leadership and it is effecting everyone from teachers to students and parents. No community can stand when its institutions are so sharply divided, and yet this is exactly the problem that confronts our community. Our school achievement has already fallen behind Okemos and Haslett. How much farther must it fall before we take action?

The school board has arrayed itself against the City Council, the University, and – as the last bond issue demonstrated – a clear majority of residents. Instead of upholding the historic mission of East Lansing Schools to “educate all students,” the board has preoccupied itself with pitting neighborhood against neighborhood, all the while hiding its ultimate intent.

A year ago, I believed that the board was genuinely interested in public input and achieving community-wide consensus. It is clear that I was mistaken.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the current state of the district is that the board's majority will not openly admit their agenda. Even now, the district is spending $18,400 it does not have to figure out the best way to tailor a bond issue for presentation to the voters in February.

Not only does this waste money that should have gone to educate our students, it attempts to deny voters a choice this November. Those members of the board seeking reelection should come out and state clearly what their vision is for the district, and let people make a choice about the future of our community.

They should explain how tearing down four schools and rebuilding them will enhance test scores – how shuffling students from overcrowded building into overcrowded building for years while construction proceeds will be to their benefit. When finished, we will have four mega-elementary schools surrounded by acres of asphalt – and another abandoned neighborhood. We need to hear how this will be a good thing.

They must also explain how we will avoid a civil rights lawsuit over the closure of our top-achieving elementary school – a school chosen in violation of all of the board's previous metrics. The voters need to know how much we will spend in operating funds fighting the lawsuit. The voters need to know why education dollars should be consumed by attorney fees.

This is a discussion we need to have, and hiding it behind polls and consultants does us all a disservice. At stake is nothing less than the continued survival of East Lansing Public Schools' identity as a neighborhood-based institution of learning.

For more than 90 years, this has defined us as a community. Those who founded this school district left us a rich and diverse legacy, not only of values but also of well-built and carefully maintained schools. If the board wishes to turn its back on that history, they at least owe us an open and honest explanation.

Forum Question #1.

Would you please tell us about yourself and your relationships with the other board members and administrators? We’d also like to know why you’re running and what’s the most critical issue facing the district.
Due Date: 9/3/12 by 8pm.

Answer 1.

With the indulgence of the Public Response, I will tackle this week's questions in reverse order and tell a little bit about myself before discussing why I am running.

I am a graduate of East Lansing High School (Class of 1991) and James Madison College at Michigan State University (International Relations, '95). I attended Bailey Elementary School and MacDonald Middle School.

I am the Public Information Coordinator with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's Rural Development agency and also serve in the Michigan Air National Guard.

My wife Autumn and I have three children in East Lansing Schools: a second grader at Pinecrest, a fifth grader at Whitehills and a sophomore at the high school. We have lived in East Lansing for little over a year, but our children participated in Schools of Choice for several years prior. I got involved with school issues a year ago, during the public hearings on the proposed reconfigurations of the district. At that time I thought that by engaging the school board, explaining my concerns and outlining consensus-based compromises, we could move forward as a community and achieve a common goal.

I was mistaken.

A narrow majority of the board disregarded the expressed concerns of parents, students and teachers as well as East Lansing's City Council and the University and crafted an unnecessarily divisive and controversial bond proposal, which then failed.

I understand why many people supported that bond proposal, and I hope they understand why I opposed it. The whole process was rushed, adversarial and the end result would have preserved some neighborhoods but at the cost of sacrificing others. We can do better.

Prior to the vote, the board pledged to start over if the public did not support its plan, but instead, the same narrow majority has redoubled its efforts to force a reconfiguration on the district that harms our community and divides its residents.

I am running for office because I am deeply concerned about the decline in East Lansing Schools and the board's obsessive focus on facilities rather than students. The buildings we possess are in as good or better shape than when I passed through them, and my classmates and I received outstanding educations that prepared us for success in life.

My top priority will be to stop this whole process and instead reach out to parents, teachers, the city council and university to develop a common vision for our diverse community. I believe there is overwhelming support for reconfiguring our district on the basis of neighborhood schools, which have historically been our great strength. I believe that it is no coincidence that our abandonment of this principle has resulted in poor performance and a dramatic drop in student achievement.

I fully support efforts to modernize and upgrade our facilities, and I believe we must do so on the basis of the greatest gain for the least cost. Our buildings are well-maintained and structurally sound – and I am profoundly grateful to the generations of residents who made financial sacrifices to keep these schools in such good shape. I cannot believe that we would consider spending millions of dollars to tear down these structures, creating mountains of rubble and waste and disrupting the learning of our children over several years, merely to replace them with bigger versions that are more insulated from the neighborhoods they are supposed to serve.

Student enrollment in East Lansing has been in decline for my entire lifetime, but I believe we are now at a turning point. While falling home prices have hurt our revenues, they have also made our city affordable for families with young children for the first time in decades.

No other community can boast such beautiful, tree-filled neighborhoods with elementary schools nestled safely within them.

Since declaring my candidacy, I have been amazed and honored to hear from so many people in our community who support my vision. I have been particularly moved by those of my former classmates – as well as their parents – who have thanked me for getting involved. If someone told me a year ago that I would be running for school board, I would have called them crazy. I am motivated by a desire to preserve the neighborhood focus of our community and restore the tradition of educational excellence that served me and my classmates so well.