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Five running for Fruitport school board

Krystle Wagner • Oct 31, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Fruitport schools voters will vote on school board members in a contested race in a little more than a week.

Five residents are vying for four open seats on the Fruitport Community Schools Board of Education. Each seat has a four-year term.

Incumbent Elroy Buckner looks to continue his time on the board. Buckner, who has served on the board for about 27 years, said he feels his long-term experience on the board is a valuable asset since most of the board members are new.

He is a U.S. Army veteran, a Muskegon Business College graduate, and a realtor with Remax of Muskegon. During his time on the school board, Buckner has been involved in the business and finance committees.

Since 1972, Buckner and his wife, Linda, have lived within the district, and their three sons graduated from Fruitport Community Schools.

When elected in 1988, Buckner said his goal was to give back to the community as a board member. Buckner said he realized he could also "contribute to the fiscally soundness” of the finances. With his background in accounting and business finance, Buckner said it’s helped “provide some insight when tough financial decisions are at hand.”

Tim Burgess said he’s running for a seat on the board because he cares for the community and “the state of our district.”

Burgess said the district is at a “crossroads” as there are several developments are in the planning stages, and one of the “key factors to the success” of those develops “is having a strong school system.” Burgess said that future residents “need to see a progressive, dynamic system.”

In his role as the director of the Muskegon County Land Bank, Burgess said his main focus is getting vacant property on tax rolls through structure rehabilitation, property demolition and sales.

Burgess and his wife, Tracy, have lived within the district for 15 years. Their three daughters — Maggie, Erika and Jackie — have attended Fruitport Community Schools.

When incumbent Kris Cole first ran for a seat on the board, he wanted to ensure students were the first thought when decisions were made, and that the district was being good stewards of the public’s money.

Cole, who serves as the board’s vice-president, said his role has been one of the most rewarding experiences, and he takes pride in Fruitport and takes every opportunity to promote the district.

He said he wants to continue being an advocate for students, schools and the community.

Cole, a program manager at Busche Aluminum Technologies in Fruitport, has a mechanical engineering degree from Michigan Technological University.

A Fruitport alumnus, Cole is married and has two daughters in the district — one attends Fruitport Middle School and the other attends Shettler Elementary School.

In January 2016, incumbent Susan Franklin was appointed to fill a vacancy on the school board. Through her time on the board, Franklin said she’s learned a lot about the district, and she feels she can be a valuable member on the board with her experience, and educational work and background.

Franklin, an attorney at Williams Hughes PLLC in Muskegon, has been licensed to practice law since 2003. She attended Grand Valley State University for an undergraduate degree in English before attending law school at Michigan State University. She earned a master’s degree in public administration in 2009 from Grand Valley State University.

Franklin has lived within the district for a decade, and her 5-year-old daughter, Gretchen, attends elementary school. Prior to elementary school, Franklin’s daughter attended Fruitport’s Early Childhood Center for preschool and daycare.

When Franklin was a child, her mothered volunteered within her local school district. With having a sister-in-law who is a teacher and mother-in-law who is a school social worker, Franklin said she understands the importance of parental involvement in schools.

Fruitport Township resident Marjorie Stonecypher said she’s running for a spot on the school board because she’s passionate about children, education and the Fruitport community.

Stonecypher said she has a unique perspective given her role as a the Village of Fruitport treasurer/clerk that enables her to be an effective link to Fruitport and Muskegon County government.

Stonecypher, who is working on a business degree from Baker College, is participating in the Muskegon in Focus Leadership program through the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. Her family runs the Red Rose Farm.

Here’s what the candidates said about issues facing schools and what they would like to accomplish if elected.

What issues do you see facing schools today, and how would you handle those issues?

Buckner: Maintaining a safe learning environment for all FCS students. Federal and State mandates continue to be a problem as well as the funding we receive as a district. None of these items are easy to solve but we will continue to address them to a positive resolve.

Burgess: The district faces challenges from internal and external factors. Internally, we must address the physical state of our buildings. Externally, the number of students we have lost to Schools of Choice has been a drain on our district, both financially and in terms of community and social equity. We need to make Fruitport Community Schools a desirable place, with the facilities and community culture that will enable us to retain students as well as attract new people to our town.

Cole: The biggest issue facing schools today is funding. Many studies have been conducted recently in Michigan showing we are not funding education appropriately or fairly. Fruitport has been taking an active role communicating with and educating our government officials with good success. I will continue to support our superintendent doing this as well as do it myself. Another issue is the testing required and how it is reported. The time required for grades 3-8 and 11 spent on the M-STEP test is as much as 11 hours for each student every year. That is more time than I was required to prove I learned engineering at the end of my college career. Also, the way it is reported does not compare schools equally. Again, we will continue to communicate with and educate our government officials.

Franklin: An important Issue facing schools in the future, and in particular FCS, is being able to do more with less, and to continue the trend of improving test scores. The Board of Education needs to stay fiscally responsible, while valuing and rewarding the teachers who are doing so much for our community. I would like to be part of that, and to help the Fruitport Community Schools to grow, particularly if the bond proposal is approved.

Stonecypher: Some of the issues facing schools today are shrinking budgets, education requirements, test scores, class sizes, buildings, staff, etc. I plan on handling these issues by defining the challenges, prioritizing them based on our ability to make improvements to them.

If elected, what would you like to accomplish?

Buckner: To maintain continued fiscal responsibility as well as continued positive growth in our student grades.

Burgess: I would like to foster a greater sense of unity for all involved in the school district. Students, parents, teachers, administration, and the board should share a common purpose and a sense of community. All of these groups must feel valued. I also cannot stress enough the need for our district to put their best foot forward in making the schools attractive to potential new residents. I believe my many years in community development may be of assistance.

Cole: (1) Continue our trend of raising test scores. Over the last three years Fruitport scores have risen to be ranked third in the county and the number of kids ready for college is ranked second. In some areas we are now number one in the county. I will continue to support decisions that further raise our scores. (2) Pass the school bond to renovate and add on to the high school. By following the District Master Plan created over the last two-plus years we will be able to reduce the money spent on the upkeep of the buildings and be able to put that money in the classrooms. (3) Further integration of S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) initiatives into curriculum. Last year, we added a Lego Robotics class to the middle school. This year, we have added a competitive robotics team at the middle school, which I have volunteered to be an assistant coach for. We have also added a competitive robotics team at the Elementary School level.

Franklin: I would like to work to improve and update the school facilities, hopefully in conjunction with the current bond proposal passing. I want to ensure the future financial stability of the school district, while encouraging and supporting our amazing teachers. I also want to make sure that the good work being done to improve students' test scores continues.

Stonecypher: I would like to collaborate with as many agencies and residents as possible to do what is best for the children and our community. This is not about what is best for me, it is what is best for Fruitport. My top five objectives are: attracting and retaining the best teachers, education, improve test scores, cutting class size, and improving buildings.

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