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January 16, 2013

School board welcomes new members

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

FERNDALE — The next era of the Ferndale Public Schools Board of Education began Jan. 7, as four new trustees were sworn in and the board selected its 2013 officers.

At the school board’s annual organizational meeting, new members Amy Butters, Jim O’Donnell, Raylon Leaks-May and Kevin Deegan-Krause — who successfully campaigned together in the fall under a common slate labeling them as the “BOLD” candidates — took the oath of office to fill four open seats on the board. The seats were vacated by former board President Keith Warnick, former board Secretary Katrina Collins and former board Treasurer Jim Pfleger, who were defeated in the Nov. 6 election, as well as former board Trustee Darcey McLaughlin, who opted not to run for re-election.

The board also appointed O’Donnell as its new president and named Trustee Karen Twomey as its new vice president, longtime Trustee Chuck Moeser as its new treasurer and Trustee Nan Kerr-Mueller as its new secretary.

O’Donnell is the former president of the Ferndale Public Library Board of Trustees and the current director of financial planning and analysis for the Gateway Foundation, a Chicago-based substance-abuse treatment provider. With plenty of leadership experience already under his belt, O’Donnell feels perfectly comfortable taking over the board’s top seat right off the bat, he said.

“I certainly acknowledge that this is not a typical situation for most boards, appointing a new member as its president,” he said. “But I feel honored by the level of trust and confidence that my colleagues have shown in me. I am facing this new role with an open and learning mind because I understand what a huge responsibility it is.”

O’Donnell said he is also confident about the current makeup of the school board, despite its overall lack of experience. In addition to its four brand new trustees, Kerr-Mueller has only been in office for two years, while Twomey has served for three and a half years.

“I don’t have any concerns about that because I know how serious we all are about this job,” he said, pointing out that many other elected bodies have a high turnover rate and deal with it without any problems. “All seven of us are ready and eager to work together. I think we are all on board with the new strategic planning process, so you’re not going to see many issues that turn into the newcomers versus the incumbents.”

Moeser, who has served on the school board since 1990, has by far the most experience of any of his colleagues. Still, he stated that he does not feel the need to step into the role of “elder statesman” within the board’s new lineup.

“I serve at the behest of the board, and so I hope that my knowledge and experience will be a valuable tool as we move forward,” he said. “I believe I can give the new members a better understanding of how we got to where we are today, but my role on the board has not really changed. I think our new president will do a fine job. He may be new to the process, but our other three officers all have at least a few years of experience.”

Like O’Donnell, Moeser feels good about the working relationship of the board. Although he supported Warnick, Collins, Pfleger and candidate Bradford Parks in the November election, he stressed that there is no bad blood between him and the new board members.

“I think we will have a really good rapport together,” he said. “Whether I supported them during the election is not what matters here. What matters is that we are all working to create a better school district for our students.”

Throughout the election season, the “BOLD” candidates were endorsed by the local political action committee CLEAR — Community Leadership Excellence Accountability Responsiveness. Butters, O’Donnell, Leaks-May and Deegan-Krause campaigned on a platform of bringing greater transparency, a stronger strategic vision, improved student retention and higher academic excellence to Ferndale Schools. They also pushed for increased community engagement among the four cities served by the school district — Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Oak Park and Royal Oak Township — which could already be seen via the plethora of public officials in attendance at the board’s Jan. 7 meeting.

However, despite this extensive list of goals and ambitions, O’Donnell said that he and his colleagues do not feel any pressure to deliver sweeping improvements to the district overnight.

“I think people have a pretty good sense of what changes they can expect right away — better transparency — and what changes will take a lot longer to make — better academics, retention and finances,” he noted. “So we want to make sure that we’re conducting fair, open meetings, where everyone plays a part in the decision-making process, but some of these more difficult issues will require a longer period of time to address. And I feel like people understand that.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.