School board election Tuesday
Seven vying for two seats
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”