School board elec­tion Tues­day

Seven vy­ing for two seats

Newark Post - - Front Page - By JOSH SHAN­NON and KARIE SIM­MONS

Res­i­dents of the Christina School District will have a chance to se­lect two new school board mem­bers on Tues­day.

Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 17 district schools – Ban­croft, Ba­yard, Brook­side, Chris­tiana, Downes, El­bert-Palmer, Gal­la­her, Glas­gow, Jones, Keene, Maclary, Mar­shall, McVey, Ne­wark, Oberle, Shue-Medill and Wil­son – as well as Quaker Hill Place Apart­ments in Wilm­ing­ton.

In nom­i­nat­ing district B, Justin Day, An­gela Mitchell, Monica Mo­riak and Karen Sobotker are run­ning to fill the seat va­cated by Meg Ma­son, who abruptly re­signed

less than a year into her term.

In nom­i­nat­ing district G, Jef­frey Day, Mered­ith L. Grif­fin Jr., and Ki­mara Smith are vy­ing to re­place in­cum­bent Shirley Sut­ton-Saf­fer, who de­clined to seek a third term.

While the school board is com­prised of one mem­ber from each of seven nom­i­nat­ing dis­tricts, any­one who lives in the district can vote in both elec­tions.

Who­ever wins will be faced with the un­en­vi­able task of de­cid­ing how to cope with a dra­matic cut in state fund­ing pro­posed by Gov. John Car­ney. If the state leg­is­la­ture ap­proves Car­ney’s pro­posal, Christina will lose ap­prox­i­mately $6 mil­lion but will have a one-time chance to re­coup up to $4 mil­lion by rais­ing taxes with­out a ref­er­en­dum.

While the “match tax” would lessen the blow of the state cuts, it would put the district in a tough spot. In­creas­ing taxes likely would be un­pop­u­lar and could dam­age the good will the district worked hard to build dur­ing last year’s ref­er­en­dum cam­paign, when Christina lead­ers sold vot­ers on a vi­sion for a “new Christina.”

The av­er­age home­owner would see an in­crease of $46.79, ac­cord­ing to district of­fi­cials.

“This elec­tion has con­se­quences,” can­di­date Jef­frey Day said, not­ing the nor­mally dis­mal turnout in school board elec­tions. “The can­di­dates could po­ten­tially be vot­ing on prop­erty tax in­creases for you.”

Nom­i­nat­ing district B Justin Day

Justin Day – no re­la­tion to Jef­frey Day – is a 36-year-old res­i­dent of Meet­ing House Hill in Pike Creek. He works as di­rec­tor of data cen­ter and oper­a­tions for the Delaware Depart­ment of Tech­nol­ogy and Information.

He does not have chil­dren but be­lieves his back­ground in man­age­ment can bring needed lead­er­ship to the board.

Day said the district needs to bet­ter lever­age tech­nol­ogy and should form part­ner­ships with the lo­cal busi­ness com­mu­nity.

“Some of Delaware’s great­est busi­ness as­sets are lo­cated in the district,” he said.

He also wants to en­sure the board stays fo­cused on pol­icy and “pro­vides the su­per­in­ten­dent with flex­i­bil­ity to in­no­vate,” he said.

Day said the big­gest chal­lenge fac­ing the district is find­ing a sus­tain­able fund­ing model. How­ever, he re­mained non­com­mit­tal on whether he would vote to raise taxes if the district is given that power.

“I’d have to re­view the data be­fore mak­ing that de­ci­sion,” he said.

An­gela Mitchell

Mitchell, a 33-year-old res­i­dent of Richards Lane near Ne­wark, is a for­mer teacher at Ban­croft Ele­men­tary and West Park Place Ele­men­tary. She has three kids in the district, two at the Christina Early Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter and one in the Delaware Autism Pro­gram.

Af­ter at­tend­ing Christina schools grow­ing up, she’s dis­ap­pointed the district has de­clined.

“I’ve seen what it was once,” Mitchell said. “I want my kids to have the same won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.”

She said she hopes to ad­vo­cate for spe­cial needs stu­dents and other vul­ner­a­ble groups.

“I see my­self be­ing a voice for those pop­u­la­tions,” she said.

Mitchell said she wants the district to in­crease op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to re­ceive bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion and wants to bring an in­clu­sion model to the Delaware Autism Pro­gram.

If elected, she hopes to build re­la­tion­ships with state leg­is­la­tors to show them the need for ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing.

“Cut­ting the bud­get is not OK,” she said.

Monica Mo­riak

Mo­riak, a 47-year-old res­i­dent of Mid­dle Run Cross- ing near Pike Creek, has been in­volved with district schools for sev­eral years, men­tors stu­dents and is a mem­ber of the district’s Cit­i­zen Bud­get Over­sight Com­mit­tee.

Both her kids at­tended Wil­son Ele­men­tary, and one went to Shue-Medill Mid­dle, be­fore leav­ing the district to go to Sale­sianum for high school, said Mo­riak, not­ing she wanted her kids to have a Catholic high school ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I feel like I could bring a dif­fer­ent view,” Mo­riak said. “We keep wait­ing for some­thing else to hap­pen, but we need to get up and do some­thing.”

Her main goal, she said, is to help fur­ther the district’s at­tempt to im­prove school cli­mate and dis­ci­pline is­sues. Last year, the board au­tho­rized a study to make rec­om­men­da­tions on the sub­ject.

She also wants the board to hold more work­shops for the pub­lic, which pro­vide a more ca­sual set­ting for res­i­dents to en­gage with board mem­bers.

Mo­riak said she fa­vors a broad, statewide change to school fund­ing that would elim­i­nate ref­er­en­dums and al­low dis­tricts to set the tax rate for their op­er­at­ing bud­gets.

How­ever, she said she feels a match tax would sim­ply be a tem­po­rary fix for a sys­temic prob­lem.

“I can’t make that de­ci­sion with that many un­knowns,” she said.

Karen Sobotker

Sobotker, a 56-year-old res­i­dent of Fox­wood Apart­ments in Pike Creek, is an Air Force vet­eran who pre­vi­ously worked as a fa­cil­i­ta­tor and tu­tor at sev­eral vir­tual schools in Philadel­phia. She holds a mas­ter’s de­gree in law and pub­lic pol­icy.

She moved to Ne­wark two years ago and has two kids at Shue-Medill.

“The best way to help my kids is to be­come in­volved with what’s go­ing on with the school,” she said, not­ing that her ex­pe­ri­ence in ed­u­ca­tion will be an as­set.

She said she wants to di­rect more money to­ward spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly the Re­al­is­tic Ed­u­ca­tional Al­ter­na­tives for Chil­dren with Dis­abil­i­ties (REACH) pro­gram, which one of her chil­dren is en­rolled in.

“We need to find a way to make money,” she said. “You can’t do any­thing with­out money.”

Her plan is to so­licit pri­vate do­na­tions, she said.

“I’m not for rais­ing taxes,” Sobotker said.

Nom­i­nat­ing District G Jef­frey Day

Jef­frey Day, a 37-year-old res­i­dent of the Gover­nors Field neigh­bor­hood in Bear, works as a nurse at Chris­tiana Hos­pi­tal. He said he has wanted to get more in­volved po­lit­i­cally and sees the school board as a good way to do so.

His daugh­ter at­tends Ne­wark Methodist Preschool and his two sons at­tend school in the Ap­po­quin­imink School District, be­cause that’s where his ex-wife lives, but Day said he knows fam­i­lies in his neigh­bor­hood whose chil­dren at­tend Christina schools and he’s com­mit­ted to im­prov­ing the district.

“I re­lied on pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in a huge way from kin­der­garten to col­lege, but I don’t think chil­dren where I live are re­ceiv­ing the same op­por­tu­ni­ties I did,” Day said, adding that he thinks Christina spends too much money on con­sul­tants. “I see re­sources I had grow­ing up be­ing taken away from chil­dren and flow­ing out the door.”

If elected, he plans to lobby the state leg­is­la­ture not to cut fund­ing for ed­u­ca­tion. But if it does so, the district must en­gage the com­mu­nity be­fore vot­ing to raise taxes, he said.

“Even though it wouldn’t be a ref­er­en­dum, I want to make sure we have the com­mu­nity on our side,” he said.

Mered­ith Grif­fin Jr.

Grif­fin, 51, who lives in the Tim­ber Farms neigh­bor­hood east of Ne­wark, said he wants to see Christina be­come a “des­ti­na­tion district,” in­stead of thou­sands of stu­dents leav­ing to go to char­ter or choice schools.

His older child grad­u­ated from Chris­tiana High School, but his younger child is a se­nior at Ne­wark Char­ter School.

“I un­der­stand the dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions 6,000 par­ents have made,” he said, re­fer­ring to the de­ci­sion to leave Christina. “The ques­tion the district has to wres­tle with is how to stem the tide.”

He said im­prov­ing the district has to start with good lead­er­ship on the board.

“If there’s tur­moil on the board, your district per­son­nel don’t feel con­fi­dent they’re be­ing led in the right di­rec­tion, and that trick­les down,” Grif­fin said.

He added that Christina needs to work on im­prov­ing its rep­u­ta­tion by “scream­ing from the rooftops” about good things go­ing on in the district, rather than al­low­ing neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences to dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion.

Grif­fin is the found­ing pas­tor at Har­vest Chris­tian Fel­low­ship and cur­rently serves on the Wilm­ing­ton Ed­u­ca­tion Im­prove­ment Com­mis­sion the Rodel Foun­da­tion of Delaware Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee. Pre­vi­ously, he served on the Delaware Char­ter School Net­work Gov­ern­ing Board and the board of the now-de­funct Mau­rice J. Moyer Aca­demic In­sti­tute.

Be­fore be­com­ing a pas­tor, Grif­fin worked as a bud­get an­a­lyst for the city of Wilm­ing­ton, which he said makes him uniquely qual­i­fied to make de­ci­sions about Christina’s spend­ing plan and op­er­at­ing ex­penses.

“I think any­one on the school board is go­ing to have a learn­ing curve. What you as vot­ers have to ask your­selves is, ‘Do I want the per­son that would have the flat­test learn­ing curve of those per­sons sit­ting here to­day?’” Grif­fin said.

Ki­mara Smith

Smith, 27, moved to Dela- ware to at­tend Delaware State Univer­sity in 2008, and is work­ing on a mas­ter’s de­gree in information sys­tem tech­nol­ogy at Wilm­ing­ton Univer­sity. A res­i­dent of the Cal­varese Farms neigh­bor­hood in Bear, Smith said she’s part of a coali­tion that en­cour­ages young peo­ple to get in­volved with pol­i­tics.

Hav­ing never run for an elected po­si­tion be­fore, she said she brings “a breath of fresh air” to the board.

“We can’t keep do­ing the same thing, it’s the def­i­ni­tion of insanity,” she said. “We need to do some­thing new if we want a new Christina.”

Smith grew up in Har­lem, so she knows what it’s like to go to a school that’s low on sup­plies, where teach­ers are frus­trated and strug­gling to pay their bills, and stu­dents don’t re­al­ize their po­ten­tial. “I’ve lived this,” she said. Smith said her first pri­or­ity on the school board will be to get the com­mu­nity en­gaged. While cam­paign­ing, she said, she spoke with res­i­dents who didn’t know what a ref­er­en­dum was, or that there was even a school board elec­tion and where to vote.

She thinks there should be a par­ent com­mu­nity en­gage­ment team to go out to neigh­bor­hoods, knock on doors and ask peo­ple to get in­volved in the district.

“In or­der for a com­mu­nity or a school to get bet­ter, ev­ery­body needs to be en­gaged,” Smith said. “It takes a vil­lage to raise a child, it re­ally does.”

JUSTIN DAY

MO­RIAK

MITCHELL

GRIF­FIN

JEF­FREY DAY

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