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Truancy and school funding top priorities for newly elected Detroit board members

Shortly after the election results were final for the Detroit school board race, the four candidates who won board seats set their sights on the future.

Latrice McClendon, a newcomer to politics, was the top voter. She was followed by Iris Taylor, a former chair of the board, and incumbents Corletta Vaughn and Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, according to unofficial results from the Detroit City Clerk’s Office.

In interviews Wednesday, they cited chronic absenteeism, declining enrollment, student homelessness, equitable school funding and academic success as their top priorities for the Detroit Public Schools Community District.

Last year, the district had 79% of students who were chronically absent. The students have left the neighborhood in large numbers during the last years. Young leaders advocate for increased mental health resources and safe spaces. And the neighborhood invests federal COVID relief funds toward tutoring program to address student learning loss in reading.

The four emerged victorious from an 18-person field vying for four seats on the Detroit school board. Members serve a four-year term. Two incumbents – Deborah Hunter-Harvill and Georgia Lemmons – lost their seats on Tuesday. The nominees also included several parents, several current and former educators, and several former school board members.

Taylor, who was board chair when she lost her 2020 re-election bid, said her return was a chance to move the district forward “very aggressively.”

“This is an opportunity for us to galvanize all of our support to close the achievement gap, reduce absenteeism and improve the overall experience and opportunities for children to thrive,” she said.

One of political newcomer McClendon’s priorities is to lobby state lawmakers for equitable school funding. Peterson-Mayberry, the current chair of the board, also said she’s eager to “begin to address the disparities unique to large, traditional, urban public school districts like ours.”

With Tuesday’s historic election, Democrats have taken control of both the governor’s office and Michigan’s legislature for the first time in 40 years — and that could make it easier for board members to do pressure for more funding. Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who won re-election on Tuesday, has made overhauling Michigan’s school funding system a priority during her first term.

For Vaughn, who was re-elected to the board on Tuesday, a big priority will be making sure the district’s homeless and undocumented student population has the resources it needs. She wants to see the neighborhood turn some of its vacant properties into mixed-use facilities for families struggling with housing.

“I want these to be residential and educational properties, where families can live there and we – the council and the district – can educate children in one place,” she said.

More than 40,000 Detroiters voted in the school board race. Among them was Marlayna Tuiasosopo, a district parent at Palmer Park Preparatory Academy.

Tuiasosopo said she wants to see the board improve student literacy, be more accountable to parents and increase salaries for classroom support staff.

“Paraprofessionals need to be paid more,” Tuiasosopo said. “That’s why we are not able to hire them. When you have all this learning loss, why not reinforce your staff as much as possible and pay them extra so that we can have good quality education, so that our children can catch up.

“We have the money,” she said, referring to federal COVID relief funding. “Don’t sit on it. There are children suffering now, and we can’t wait (until) the money runs out.

Fred Parham, a district parent and school bus driver, wants to see the school board address student discipline issues, as well as focus on vocational and technical training for high school students.

“Not all kids are college stuff,” he said. “DPSCD is not doing a good job of pushing kids to these vo-tech centers.”

Tuiasosopo and Parham agreed that for the school board to make progress, they need to challenge some decisions of Superintendent Nikolai Vitti.

“I’d rather have a board that asks more questions…not necessarily just approving everything Vitti wants to do, because I don’t agree with some of the things he’s done or the decisions he’s made. took,” Tuaisoposo said, pointing to the district registration policies for Palmer Parka Montessori school.

Parham said the board is too often “a rubber stamp for Vitti”.

“Vitti works for the district,” he said. “The neighborhood is not working for him.”

McClendon, who is a mother of three DPSCD students, said she understands what it’s like to have a child in Detroit public schools. She thinks this experience has helped her communicate better with voters.

“Being a top voter is indicative of the type of school board member and people of Detroit. I’m a parent, I’m not a politician,” McClendon said.

“That message resonated because when you look at the composition of the board, there is no one with active children in DPSCD.”

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at [email protected]

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