Friday, August 26, 2016

Runco, McMillin, Snyder+Phillips Answer Questions About The State Board Of Ed Race

By Brandon Hall
(Email him at
 The race to decide who will be the two Republican nominees for State Board Of Education seats come to a close on Saturday, and WMP spoke to 4/6 candidates. Coleen Rowley and Al Gui were unavailable with the limited notice provided.

>>>Bill Runco is a Congressional District Chair, businessman, former legislator, and also a former Judge.

He says in social media posts he's running to put "students first."

-keep great teachers while instituting needed reforms. How do we respect teachers while increasing competitiveness and accountability? How should we reward our best teachers?  
First let me say we need to focus our teacher evaluation process on locally derived criteria.  I do not favor evaluation based upon the student growth criteria. should be fashioned locally. I do believe teacher evaluation should be based the actual performance of their profession and should be measured using the locally-selected tools and classroom observations.
If we have a fair teacher evaluation process it will root out bad teachers, identify good teachers and promote accountability.  
I favor merit pay as the solution to rewarding our best teachers as long the criteria is locally derived and easily and equitably measurable.  
-actually show real leadership to reform or replace Common Core: how would you change it? What would you replace it with?
We need to mobilize the citizenry to understand the problems associated with Common Core.  I would do all that I could to organize an informational campaign including meeting with parent groups and visiting local boards.  If we gain public support, we can then take a stronger fight to the legislature and the Governor to repeal the legislation previously passed.
I believe we need to allow each state to fashion its own curriculum guidelines with input from parents that would allow local boards to adopt curriculum standards.
-address the issues facing DPS. How do we give the kids the education they deserve without any more bailouts? What is your plan to reform the district instead of just more empty rhetoric?
As a parent of a DPS student I know that you can’t educate unless you have a safe school learning environment and good teachers.  We need work with at risk districts to better engage parents in their child’s education as well as their child’s school so as to create a “safe school community” in each school that will instill a sense of pride and not tolerate anything but strong teacher performance.  
I should also note that favor school choice, vouchers, charter schools and home schooling.
>>>Also: do you believe each individual school district should have the right to formulate its own bathroom policies, or do you believe that right should be decided in Lansing via the SBOE or the legislature?  

I prefer local school districts addressing local issues or problems. The SBOE should not be attempting to formulate policy in this area.

What's the most important thing you want delegates to know about your candidacy?
Like all the other candidate I am conservative when it comes to education issues, I oppose Common Core and the SBOE LGBTQ guidelines.
I believe the democrats on Board have forgotten the main function of the SBOE is to recommend policy not legislate policy.
I understand how the legislature works and how laws are written and I will be able to work with the House and Senate to undue the harm the Democrats have done to our education system. I also understand how laws are interpreted and the dangers of adopting guidelines that allow activist judges to write them into law.
I’ve never backed away from a fight-never.  I am the only candidate that has defeated 3 democrat incumbents. In fact in my first race for the House, at the age of 25 I defeated a 28 year incumbent democrat that chaired the Education Committee.

>>>Tom McMillin is the 8th Congressional District Republican Party Chair, an accountant, and a former State Rep.

McMillin is known for his advocacy for limited government and would like to bring that style to the SBOE.

How would you use your position on the State Board Of Education to:
-keep great teachers while instituting needed reforms. How do we respect teachers while increasing competitiveness and accountability? How should we reward our best teachers?
“Much of what you are asking is done by the legislature, who makes laws.  I dealt with teacher evaluations and accountability, while in the legislature…but to be honest, I’m not a person who likes centralizing authority at the state level. There are always numerous unintended consequences. On the SBE, I will certainly be able to testify in committees and give my opinion on any education legislation moving through Lansing and will do so, when the issues are important and I feel I have something to add to the debate. What Lansing ends up doing is trying to dictate how to evaluate teachers and assume that evaluation will be the same in an inner city school, where 70% of the students are in poverty, as it will be in a small rural school that has 40 children in the U.P. and everything in between – in richer suburbs, etc.  I do believe that interjecting competition with charters would prod local districts and schools to bring more focus on evaluating teachers and rewarding the best ones.”
-actually show real leadership to reform or replace Common Core: how would you change it? What would you replace it with?
“When I was in the legislature, I led the effort to stop Common Core. I will continue that on the State Board of Education. It takes tenacity and looking for ways to move public opinion. The public’s opposition to Common Core continues to grow.  It appears the Colbeck/Glenn legislation that would replace Common Core with what has been judged the best standards in the country would be best – which came from Massachusetts standards, before they went left and adopted Common Core.”
-address the issues facing DPS. How do we give the kids the education they deserve without any more bailouts? What is your plan to reform the district instead of just more empty rhetoric?
“I think Rep. Kelly’s idea of looking at even more charters in Detroit is worthy of discussion.  Again, this decision will be made by legislators, but I would certainly weigh in on the side of no more bailouts.  Giving parents options and knocking down barriers to competition would be important.”
>>>Also: do you believe each individual school district should have the right to formulate its own bathroom policies, or do you believe that right should be decided in Lansing via the SBOE or the legislature?
In the area of safety – I don’t think any of taxpayer funded schools should be allowed to let boys go in the same bathrooms or locker rooms with girls.
What's the most important thing you want delegates to know about your candidacy?
“I’ve walked the walk.  I have a very long history of fighting for our values of local control, parental rights, homeschooling rights, and parental choice. I have a long history of standing up to overbearing bureaucrats and challenging their false assumptions. I have spoken regularly in local, state, and national media, in strong opposition to issues like Common Core, nationalized science standards, nationalized testing, and student data collection and championing parental rights, parental choice and local control. I led the effort in the legislature to stop Common Core and debated State Board of Education President John Austin for an hour, in studio on MI NPR Radio over the issue. I was board president of a charter school. I was always one of the top conservatives in the legislature and was the leader in transparency of government spending. For more information about my candidacy, I would encourage delegates to visit my website at for more information. I would appreciate your support.”

>>>Nikki Snyder is a teacher, conservative activist, and Mom passionate about education policy.

She thinks the SBOE needs bold leadership.

-How do we keep great teachers while instituting needed reforms?

"As an educator, mom and concerned citizen, I have talked to educators. They are most worried about the high-stakes testing that causes them to teach to the test so that there school can receive necessary federal funding. We need local control to determine the qualities our teachers need for our specific kids. Parents are not taken into the equation right now and parents need to be empowered in their children's education. One-size-fits-all does not work. We need local control and parental input when it comes to teacher evaluation."

- Common Core

"I see Common Core at home and I have seen the problems with it, first hand. I want to get rid of Common Core. I will work with parents, grassroots activists and community leaders to ensure that our legislatures do they part in the removal of common core. I don't believe that any set of standards or standardized curriculum from the federal government should be in place. The federal government has no place in our education. I will do everything in my power including my power of speech or organization to stand up and stand strong against federal overreach into our local schools."


Detroit Public Schools should not be costing the entire state money. We need to ensure that there is choice for kids in Detroit. More importantly, I will fight for the rights of Detroit parents and for the safety of Detroit students. We need to do a better job of tracking the dollars spent in our schools, especially in our most at-risk districts and in special education.
-Bathroom policy

- The federal government and Barack Obama should not be dictating bathroom policies for my child in their local district. I will stand against John Austin and his liberal social engineering in our bathrooms. I absolutely believe that local control is the answer. It is the answer when it comes to bathroom policies. It is the answer in curriculum and it is the answer for teachers. I will always stand for parental rights and the safety of our kids. That includes keeping predators out of my daughters bathroom. 

-What sets me apart? 

I am a tough Mom willing to stand for children before politics. I am not part of the political machine and I have no desire to clime the political ladder. I will be accountable to my children and to parents across Michigan. I will do what is right for my kids. I will not use this campaign to set-up for a campaign for a different office. I have stood up to the Michigan Republican Party and I will stand up to John Austin and the democrats in November. 

Please let me know if you have any additional questions. I will answer any question from any citizen regarding this race. Please feel free to call me on my cell if you have any questions.

Thank you

Nicolette Snyder

>>>Jeff Phillips is a school board member from Caro.

Like McMillin, Phillips is also a strong supporter of liberty and limited government.

How would you use your position on the State Board Of Education to:

-keep great teachers while instituting needed reforms.
It is my belief that the hiring and staff evaluation policies are best determined by the local community's elected Board of Education trustees and the administrators they have hired. These are the folks who know the teachers best. They know which teachers are the most inspiring to the youth of their district. I do not think that cookie cutter evaluation rubrics imposed from afar will ever be superior to the input of those within the local community who know these employees best. I would utilize the voice I would have on the State Board of Education to advocate for the repeal of state imposed methods and rubrics for evaluation. To the extent that we remain out voted and such agendas remain the law of the land, I would stand as an advocate to amend them with greater flexibility to the local district in developing its own tools of evaluation, and would remind districts of their latitude of authority on such matters.

How do we respect teachers while increasing competitiveness and accountability?

This is a great question as it spotlights one of the high lights of my plan. I oppose standardized high stakes testing from state exams. I think they overlook much that is of value when we rely upon the state to determine what does or doesn't matter. Rather, I would aim to open up channels of communication and peer review on an inter district basis. I see no reason why the test questions must be written by state bureaucrats and their corporate vendors. Rather, lets have local teachers each submit a few questions for evaluation of student achievement. Several districts could each contribute from the expertise of their staff through regional exams in which there is an academic championship of sorts among the students. It seems very bizarre to me that school administrators concern themselves with their district's ranking among all districts in the state, as though they are directly competing with schools on the other side of the state. The fact of the matter is, we're really only competing with the other districts in the local region, so lets value the input of the teachers in these regions by building evaluation tools from their own ideas. This provides an opportunity to not lose sight of what the community values, while still demonstrating achievement in competition with our friends and our rivals in nearby schools.

How should we reward our best teachers?

Again, compensation and other HR matters I consider to be best left to local district leadership to decide. That said however, a lot of things have already been escalated to the state level. Even if republicans win both seats this November, we still will not have a majority vote on the State Board of Education unfortunately. Given this circumstance we may be stuck with various existing incentive-based funding practices, like the “best practices” program for instance. As these matters come up, I would work to expand the flexibility of local districts by adding more choices of how they could possibly qualify for the funding. For example, we might add options for allowing districts to count tuition reimbursement as an alternate option in qualifying for a funding program in a way that districts could use to reward their best employees. I think that anytime we are increasing flexibility in fund qualifying criteria is a plus for local control.

Also we could possibly do more in non-financial approaches. For instance, our best teachers could be rewarded with opportunities to showcase what they have to offer by featuring their work in online curriculum programs where they would know that their passion for what they do will touch the lives of more students across the state than just those in their immediate classroom. We could do more with connecting students as well as teachers together on an inter district basis, and we could do more with setting some goal posts for student research opportunities rather than just the grade level's annual curricular requirements exclusively. Lets reward are best teachers by tearing down the walls in their virtual classrooms and giving them a voice that reaches more hearts and minds.

-actually show real leadership to reform or replace Common Core: how would you change it? What would you replace it with?

Common Core is not going to just disappear, unfortunately. The schools have already bought the Common Core text books, and even if the state made significant changes tomorrow it will be a long time before local administrators will desire to replace the books they had only recently acquired. I would like to explore the possibility of the state offering matching funds for earlier replacements of durable curriculum (not the subscription model) when it is topping the list of parental complaints, so that schools may replace such texts sooner than their current budget plan for curriculum would allow.

I'm a huge fan of local control, so any time I have an opportunity I'd like to remind the districts what their latitude of authority is & point out ways they can work around the state agendas I'm going to use what voice I have to do so. As much as I'd like to see it all repealed, the concept of state standards is viewed as desirable by far too many people in our society today to expect that it will be able to go away entirely. Rather, what I think we could make significant progress in is opening up the standards to a process structure in which local districts have a voice and a vote in amending them. Our state should not be merely rubber stamping curricular agendas promulgated by political machinations and their corporate vendors. If teachers are able to submit proposed amendments to the state standards we will quickly see the most absurd portions of the standards replaced with common sense. We could also expand the framework surrounding the standards to provide clarity and flexibility to local districts which implement their own alternative local standards in various pieces of the curricular objectives.

At the end of the day, state standards need to be relegated to the sidebar with the focal point turning instead to inter-district academic competitiveness and peer review. It is through our peers that we will derive which districts are succeeding or failing in various subject matters. Pairing up the most successful and most poorly performing districts regarding any particular topic will spark new brainstorming and accelerate change.

-address the issues facing DPS. How do we give the kids the education they deserve without any more bailouts? What is your plan to reform the district instead of just more empty rhetoric?

First, we must be a strong voice to advocate against the theft of Detroit's tax base that is diverting funding for schools to other nonsense such as professional sports arenas. (And I do think the Red Wings ought to be giving the public schools a few rows of permanent seating to all events; we've certainly paid them more than enough.)

Next, the district should go through bankruptcy restructuring and discharge much of its insolvent debt like any business would be facing given a balance sheet like theirs. This of course impacts the district's ability to borrow, so a treasury certification of future borrowing would need to be invoked wherein the state becomes somewhat of a cosigner on the district's loans. (Many schools already do this with bond issues.) By being a consignor, the state would be justified in having significantly more oversight on the usage of debt funds, and those with a proven track record of fiscal responsibility should be appointed to sign off on such spending where it is justified by need.

Current tax revenue needs to be first in securing a proper education for the current generation of kids first. We might look at a tax on certain large-scale entertainment venues (stadiums, sports arenas, etc.) to help repay remaining debt. I mention those with this because it is justified by the prior cronyism in which certain sports arenas were funded with tax revenue that otherwise would have went to the state school aid fund.
Also, I would desire to make a rule that when any neighboring districts see an overwhelming and sustained migration of school of choice students flocking to the one district while fleeing the other, this “voting with your feet” action should when reaching an excessive amount trigger a redistricting process. Perhaps there should be other matters on the table for consideration, such as financial concerns, but at the end of the day when we have a failing district everyone is trying to get away from & is probably insolvent, it's time we break it up and annex sectors of the turf over to neighboring districts. The voters congregated in the failing district who have elected its failed leadership for decades are at the root of this problem. By redistricting each sector over to the neighboring district we end up with them becoming a small portion of that new district's voter base. The change in the makeup of the voters will lead to solutions from who they elect. After all, they bulk of them already elected the leaders of the districts students are flocking to. Where to draw the line on what a failing district is should be debated extensively. Such a decision should not be made in a haste or rash manner.

>>>Also: do you believe each individual school district should have the right to formulate its own bathroom policies, or do you believe that right should be decided in Lansing via the SBOE or the legislature?

Of course it should be handled locally. We need to recognize that property rights are the foundation to all other rights. The local community owns their school building and facilities. The trustees they have elected to their local Board of Education hold the title deed to the school property. When we recognize that these buildings actually do belong to the local community it shouldn't be hard to figure out that using their restroom is their matter to contend with. If you don't like the facility usage policy in your local school, express your concerns to the Board of Education and change it. If they fail to do so to your satisfaction, run for a position on that board and fix it yourself. The most conservative communities will never be happy with a one size fits all policy imposed upon them by liberals, nor will the most liberal communities appreciate a policy imposed upon them by conservatives. So lets stop with this imposing business, as all that does is cause Kingston to end up with the same policy as say Ferndale or Saugatuck. I don't think that makes anyone happy.

I have heard some schools have implemented a policy in which those who feel uncomfortable when someone is of the opposite gender is sharing their multi-user gender-based restroom, that they the uncomfortable person who is the appropriate gender instead use the single stall restroom. Although I don't think it should be the state's role to intervene in such a matter, on a personal note I just want to say I think this is a dumb policy. The whole point of a multi-user restroom is to avoid having to wait in line to use the facilities. If there are just one or maybe a couple of people who do not want to use the gender based restroom of their own gender, then perhaps they should be the ones utilizing the single stall facilities instead of relegating the rest of the student population to do so, as that would cause a line up at the single stall restroom's door. Whatever the local district comes up with, I'd ideally hope that they would ensure the multi-user facilities are being utilized sufficiently enough to avoid having anyone wait in line unnecessarily.

What's the most important thing you want delegates to know about your candidacy?

I am running to restore an understanding of the purpose of education. While sitting in on hiring interviews for my local Board of Education, I always try to ask the applicant what they feel the purpose of education is, and more specifically, how do the applied purposes of primary education differ from that of secondary education? I'm yet to hear many really good answers to these questions. There's a lot of hmm-hawing and circular reasoning. There's a lot of the workforce readiness component articulated. But there's not a lot of solid comprehensive answers being shared by our predominately liberal public education career professionals. When I realized our schools were being ran by professionals who do not even know what the purpose of education is, I turned to the conservatives and asked this same question of republican delegates. I've found that neither the liberals nor the conservatives know the answer.

The fundamental purpose of education is to facilitate the pursuit of happiness.

Think about it. You don't choose a college major that doesn't align with your pursuit of happiness. Happiness extends far beyond merely our work and career life though. Happiness includes our faith, family, and freedom. Each type of education program serves its own application rooted in happiness.

Primary education exists to sustain liberty in a constitutional republic. Thomas Jefferson chaired the committee under the continental congress which established our original system of township primary schools. He once said “it is an axiom in my mind, that our liberty can never be safe but in the hands of the people themselves, and that too of the people with a certain degree of instruction.” The local Boards of Education we created to diversify the leadership of education at the local level, so as to prevent there from being any central point of control of curriculum as any such central point would become a magnet for those seeking to corrupt it for power or influence. Trustees elected to serve on one of these local boards swear an oath to support the Michigan and US Constitutions. To find a better definition of the aims of the program, recognize how they mirror the aims decreed in the US Constitution's preamble. To facilitate commerce, we teach math. To promote domestic tranquility, we should be teaching history instead of repeating it. The list goes on. A graduate of a well thought out and appropriately administered primary education program can achieve all of the aims of the preamble, and is prepared to run for a township board or similar leadership role in the Do-It-Yourself system of American government they will inherit. If we don't feel our 8th graders are reaching this level, then we need to have a serious discussion of how to get back on track to where they were just over a century ago. Ultimately though, achieving the goal of sustaining liberty in a constitutional republic is a means to an end rooted in pursuing happiness on a broad scale for future generations of Americans.
Secondary education exists to sustain family independence given current cultural and economic trends. Secondary education (high school) grew in popularity in conjunction with the industrial revolution for this reason. The “college and career readiness” mantra is best aligned here. Effectiveness of a high school can be measured by the percentage of it graduates who are able to sustain themselves without subsidy or assistance. If it becomes generally believed that one must seek further education beyond high school in order sufficiently afford the cost of living in a humble manner, then it is well due time to enhance the academic achievement of the high school program. It's effectiveness should mirror the independence level of its graduates.
Pursuit of post-secondary education aims to achieve excellence in a chosen field of study. Although degrees generally lead to higher income levels, the effectiveness of a college program is best measured in the degree of expertise its graduates attain within a chosen field of study. They should be the professionals and those who are most competent in the cutting edge of discovery within the field of study which makes them happy.

Education always resolves back to pursuit of happiness, whether it be happiness attained through sustaining and enlarging our liberty as a nation, or happiness of being able to provide for one's family, or happiness of achieving excellence in one's area of interest – it always comes back to happiness. When we break down educational leadership decisions this way, the direction we should take quickly becomes obvious.

Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

>>>Email him at


Photo By Darlene Dowling Thompson

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