MARQUETTE - Four people are running for the two open spots on the Gwinn school board.
Included are incumbents Michelle Dolby and Ronald Libey, and write-in candidates Ron Lauren and Gene Suardini. Both seats are four-year terms.
Libey is a 16-year member of the school board. He spent 23 years in the Air Force, 12 of which were at Sawyer Air Force Base. He returned to the area in 1992 to become pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gwinn, where he currently serves. He said he is running again because in the future years with financial pressures, there is a need for consistency and integrity in decision making on the board.
"It's just at this point the states funding levels do not match the local need for funding. And until the Legislature deals with that problem, we're continuing to face declining enrollment and declining revenue, and yet increased demand for education services," he said. "That's why I feel it's important to be re-elected to the school board because decisions need to be made with integrity, not agenda."
He said the biggest issue facing the district in the future is going to be "continuing to increase the education level while the finances continue to decrease. It's something that in my 16 years on the board, I've had to face."
Dolby is a 12-year member of the school board. She has two children in the district and one who recently graduated. An accountant, she said she is running for re-election because she wants the best for all children in the district.
"My youngest is in second grade so I have a vested interest in the future of the district. I want him to receive the same high quality education that my two oldest have received in Gwinn," she said. "I have been on the board for 12 years, I have the experience and can get things done. As the only board member with children in the district I am on the board to remind others that we are dealing with kids and not just numbers."
In the future, declining enrollment, reduced state funding and increased costs will be the issues facing the district, Dolby said.
"Districts are being asked to do more with less money. Currently, Gwinn is fortunate to have a healthy fund balance but that still doesn't preclude Gwinn from having to borrow money every year to meet cash flow requirements," she said. "I believe we need to preserve the fund balance as long as possible which will ensure that Gwinn maintains programming and keeps our people employed. The fund balance is slowly eroding. How is this going to affect kids is the question? Gwinn needs to be proactive."
Lauren is a graduate of the Gwinn Area School District and Northern Michigan University. He is the CEO of a local credit union and has been a volunteer fireman with Forsyth Township for more than 20 years. He was the treasurer for Forsyth Township from 2004-2008 and is married with three children that attend the Gwinn schools.
He said he plans to use his experience to help the district through tough financial times.
"The reason I am running for the school board is to get some transparency on the school's financial position and to give input on the school's future financial conditions," he said. "With the future of funding from the state and uncertain tax revenue, the budget line items will need to be reviewed to keep the school competitive and viable. It is time the entire staff is given an opportunity to give the board their input on ways to help with the finances of the schools. I have the experience creating and maintaining government, private sector and personal budgets as the former township treasurer and current CEO."
Lauren said the biggest issues facing the district are budget related.
"Major issues for the Gwinn school system is the future funding of programs from the state and finalizing contracts for the teachers and working with the other unions to give them all a fair wage/benefit structure. The school's entire staff needs to be able to have the opportunity to express their opinions and to give their input on the school's future without being shut out."
He is running as a write-in because he was approached by others after the deadline to file.
"I am running as a write-in candidate because I was approached by some local school teachers and individuals from the community to bring some fresh ideas to the board and to provide some expertise to the budgeting/financial process," he said.
Suardini was born and raised in Gwinn and graduated from Gwinn High School. He has worked in the Empire Mine, at K.I. Sawyer and is currently a partner in a retail video business in Gwinn.
He said budget issues will be the biggest challenge facing the district in the future.
"Each school system is experiencing some type of budget problem," he said. "I do not believe that demonizing teachers and their unions is productive engagement. If cuts need to be made, it should come from the top down. This would set a precedent, to bargain in good faith."
He is running as a write in candidate after being approached by others after the deadline to file.
"I was approached by parents and some teachers to run because of the lack of accountability and transparency," Suardini said "There is a need for change. Change is good. After all, education is the armor you need for whatever comes at you. Please vote Nov. 2."
Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.