Questionnaire approved for Board of Education candidates

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 11, 2023

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GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Anyone interested in becoming an appointed member of the Grosse Pointe Board of Education might want to start improving their typing speed now.

The board will be looking to appoint someone to fill the seat currently occupied by David Brumbaugh, who will be moving to another state soon. It wasn’t known at press time when Brumbaugh would be formally stepping down, but board members are preparing for that eventuality by preparing a questionnaire that will need to be completed by prospective candidates. The form has about 50 questions, a number of which require an essay-like answer.

Besides standard questions, like where the candidate lives, whether the candidate has any previous board or governing experience, and whether the candidate has volunteered or worked for the GPPSS, there are a few less standard queries. One asks candidates to name their favorite amendment in the Bill of Rights — if they have one — and to explain why it’s their favorite. Another asks, “Does the end justify the means?”

Candidates are also going to be asked about their views on issues facing the district, such as what should be done with the shuttered Trombly Elementary School building and grounds in Grosse Pointe Park, and what their feelings are about selling unused school buildings or other assets to charter schools. Last year, a charter was granted to The Hill Pointe School, a forthcoming charter school in the Pointes that had been slated to open this year but is still looking for a site in the area.

The board first discussed possible questionnaires during a special meeting Sept. 20. Members informally agreed that Board member Virginia “Ginny” Jeup’s proposed questionnaire was the best format and they would incorporate questions from Board member Colleen Worden’s document into Jeup’s. Board President Ahmed Ismail told the board that if they submitted any additional questions to him by Sept. 22, those could be added and reviewed by the board’s legal counsel in time to approve the entire document at the Sept. 26 regular board meeting.

At the Sept. 26 meeting, Board member Valarie St. John said she felt the revised questionnaire had gotten far too long and felt some of the questions could be merged.

“This is very different than the questionnaire Trustee Jeup brought forward … I was surprised how many questions were added in,” St. John said.

Ismail said it was his understanding after the Sept. 20 meeting that anyone who had questions to add could add them to the document.

St. John said she took that to mean that only another couple of questions would be added.

Board member Sean Cotton said he felt the questionnaire wasn’t too unwieldy, saying he had completed it himself in less than an hour.

“Having people answer this questionnaire as robustly as possible … shows your engagement,” Cotton said. “I don’t see how there’s an agenda behind this questionnaire.”

Worden agreed with Cotton that the process of preparing the questionnaire was collaborative, but felt that the board should have taken the suggestions from representatives of the teachers union and some residents to focus questions on the role of the school board rather than where someone went to high school.

“I do think some of the questions don’t have any bearing on whether or not you would be a good trustee,” Worden said.

Board member Lisa Papas disagreed with Worden on the question of whether someone attended a high school in the Pointes, saying she felt that was important information when evaluating candidates.

“The highest stakes part of our district is the high schools,” Papas said.

The board voted 6-1 in favor of the questionnaire, with a couple of minor amendments, with St. John casting the dissenting vote.

Some residents also weighed in on the board member search.

During the special meeting Sept. 20, resident Kelly Boll said the future board member should have “fiscal acumen” because the district is facing a possible $4 million deficit next year. She also said that the person should have experience governing and should recognize the concerns of the 80% of district residents who don’t have children in the school system.

“Their concerns are equally as important as those of students and teachers,” Boll said.

One of the questions asks how long the candidate has lived in the school district. Grosse Pointe Park resident LaKeytria Felder cautioned the board Sept. 20 about placing too high of a priority on long residency.

“Not everybody was allowed in the Grosse Pointes (in the past) based on redlining, based on racial exclusivity,” said Felder.

At the Sept. 26 meeting, Felder said she felt the questionnaire “could be streamlined” and recommended removing some questions in order to ask candidates about student needs and how the candidates feel about engaging staff and students.

Not in dispute is the need to be ready to start the process of finding Brumbaugh’s replacement.

As Papas noted Sept. 20, as soon as Brumbaugh’s resignation comes in, “The clock starts ticking.”

Ismail said they have 30 calendar days — which translates into 20 business days — in which to submit and review applicants and make an appointment after Brumbaugh formally steps down.

The board hopes to post the questionnaire on the district’s website as soon as Brumbaugh submits his resignation. At press time, they said they planned to give applicants five business days — which will include two weekend days — to fill it out and submit it. After that, Cotton suggested that the board narrow the field to the top eight candidates, who will come in front of the board for public interviews. Ismail said he expects the interviews to take place over the course of at least two days.