Lake Orion Board of Education Candidates

This Tuesday residents will vote for Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education members. There are five candidates running for four spots on the board. The candidates are:

Scott Taylor

Family/Occupation: I have been happily married to my wife, Jen for almost 13 years. We have 2 daughters, Natalee who is 11 and attends Oakview Middle School and Evelyn who is 9 and attends Stadium Drive Elementary.
I have lived in Lake Orion for all of my 42 years; been a Dragon since day one. Lake Orion High School class of 1992.
I have been highly involved in all aspects of the PTO at Stadium, chairing some very profitable committees and doing whatever I could to serve our students.
I have been a member of the Lake Orion Community Schools Board of Education for almost 3 years. I was appointed in March of 2014 to fill an empty seat through an interview process and ran for that seat in 2014. I was elected by my peers as president of the board in January of 2016 where I currently serve. I chair the Superintendent evaluation committee and also sit on the Lamp of learning and Policy committees.
Why are you running for school board? I would like to continue the work that has been started and to continue to assure that all students receive an exemplary education.
What are some of the most important issues facing the district?
Funding, fiscal responsibility, transparency, doing what is best for all kids
What would you like to see the board/district accomplish in the future? I would love to see programs that have been cut due to budget short falls reinstated.
We need to continue being a top school district in the state and remain a destination districts for new families. We need to remain fiscally responsible and transparent.
I also believe that the staff contracts need to be honored and we need to be in a place where concessions don’t need to be asked for every year.
We must rebuild the fund balance that has been used to balance the budget during these times of declining enrollment throughout the state.
What will you personally bring to the board?
I will continue to bring experience, passion and knowledge to the trustee seat.
Are you in favor/opposed to closing a school, eliminating focus schools, redistricting, selling property?
These are items that are currently being discussed but as of tonight discussions have occurred so I will answer:
If you close a school, which I feel the data shows we should you must redistrict to redistribute the displaced students. In order to redistribute these students, all schools must be neighborhood schools so that the displaced students can be placed in their geographic school. Orion will remain strong and every student will receive an exemplary education. I am in favor of investigating the sale of the two properties in question that are not schools. I feel any school that is closed can be repurposed to be a revenue generator and all options will continue to be investigated.

Birgit McQuiston

Family / Occupation: I have been married to my husband, Greg McQuiston, for 26 years. We have two children: Emily, 22, LOHS 2012 graduate and current Oakland University graduate candidate for December 2016, and Erich, 19, a 2016 graduate of Lake Orion High School and attending Oakland Community College while working. I am also a Registered Nurse and a Certified Nutritionist.
Why are you running for school board?
I have served on the Board of Education for nearly five-and-a-half years and am completely vested in our school district and community. During this time, the Board and its work have become a passion of mine. This is something that I enjoy doing and to which I devote a great deal of time. I LOve our school district and this community. The Board has a lot of work to do. I am “all in” and would be honored to be re-elected so I can continue serving our community and doing what I LOve to do!
What are some of the most important issues facing the district?
The number one issue that we are facing is financial stability. Schools need stable funding for the classroom, and we need the state legislature to fix the broken retirement system that they created. It is simply unsustainable. This not only affects us, but every school district in “the state of Michigan! We have a responsibility to oversee and ensure optimal functioning of our district in the most financially responsible way.
We also need to continue to take a stand for and defend our right to local control. Too many times, the state and legislature want to make decisions for us, when we should be determining things at the local level.
What would you like to see the board/district accomplish in the future?
Lake Orion Community Schools is at a crossroads. We are in a place where, as a result of budget constraints and a decreasing student population, we need to re-think and adapt the way we are doing things. This is the current work of the Board of Education, and it is crucial and complex. We need to continue this work so that we can move forward with a solid plan for our district.
What will you personally bring to the board?
I bring my current Board experience, my LOve of our district, my leadership skills, and my belief in professional development as a Board member so that, if re-elected, I will be able to continue to serve with up-to-date knowledge and skill sets. In my time on the Board, I have helped to reinstate the Curriculum Committee, because I believe the Board, and thus the community, should have oversight of this area. The education of our students is our number one responsibility. I also led the start of the Board Self-Assessment Committee. The Board should be held accountable and should strive for improvement, and the implementation of a self-assessment tool is one way to unite the Board in doing this.
I have attended many classes through the Michigan Association for School Boards (MASB). My accomplishments have included Level One Certification with Merit, Level Two Certification, and an Education Advocacy Certification.
Are you in favor/opposed to closing a school, eliminating focus schools, redistricting, selling property?
I am in favor of right-sizing the district, but not cutting off all options for student body growth within our current structure. I am not in favor of making it so the district’s only option for expansion to accommodate future student population growth is to build a new building. However, we need to achieve that while providing an exemplary education for all learners, as this is our number one mission! As we sort through what that looks like, I am confident that we will continue to be a district where an incredible (highly qualified) staff works with high-achieving students.

Sean H. Wightman, Ph.D.
Family/Occupation: My wife, Traci, and I are very proud of our 3 wonderful daughters. Courtney graduated from Lake Orion High School last year and is attending Oakland University. Lindsay, will be graduating from Lake Orion this year and will also be attending Oakland University. Our youngest daughter, Kyleigh, is currently in preschool and will be attending Kindergarten in Lake Orion next school year. I am presently employed as a teacher in West Bloomfield Public Schools.
Why are running for school board?
I am running for school board to help ensure every child, despite their circumstances, receives the highest quality education we can provide by collaborating with other board members, school administration, teaching staff as well as members of the community. I am also running to ensure that people in the community have a voice in the decisions and vision that will help shape the future of our schools.
What are some of the most important issues facing the district? Reduced revenue because of declining student enrollment. Eliminating district debt to provide additional resources in the classroom. Improving district infrastructure, safety and technology. Improving district efficiency in spending. Developing a strategic plan and vision for our district.
What would you like to see the board/district accomplish in the future?
I would like to see the board develop a plan to reduce costs in non-instructional areas so more resources can be put back into the classroom. I would also like to see the board establish a vision for the district that supports 21 st Century Learning Skills to better prepare our children for a competitive global economy.
What will you personally bring to the board?
I will bring 20 years of educational service and leadership to the board. Also, I will bring my expertise on issues surrounding school finance as well as education policy.
Are you in favor/opposed to closing a school, eliminating focus schools, redistricting, selling property?
After reviewing Plante Moran’s community forecast, it has become evident that one or more buildings in our district may need to be closed because of declining student enrollment figures.
Although this is a very painful decision, especially for those community members it directly impacts, the board will need to decide if they will approve these recommendations or look at alternative ways of keeping these buildings operational. I am one that believes strongly in “right sizing” an organization so resources can be utilized more efficiently to service the students attending our schools. To that end, some properties may need to be sold or repurposed.
However, I am not in favor of selling all these properties as we may need to utilize them as Michigan’s Economy continues to improve and land is developed around our schools.
I am not in favor of eliminating the district’s magnet or “Focus School” concept. It provides families with an inter-district choice for their children based on their unique learning styles and academic strengths. It also provides a unique learning experience that other district’s do not provide making Lake Orion a desirable place to raise a family.
Depending on which building/s are recommended to be closed/repurposed, redistricting will be necessary to ensure each building is being utilized at its optimal capacity.

Nathan Butki

Family/Occupation: I am a life-long Lake Orion resident and 1992 LOHS graduate (Blanche Sims Elementary). I have three brothers who are LOHS graduates and two daughters who are current students. My wife is a Lake Orion teacher.
Professionally, I am a Managing Director at Root Learning – a strategy execution and change leadership consulting firm focused on business improvement through employee engagement. My expertise is in organizational performance.
I am an experienced business leader at large and small companies. I have learned from and consulted with some of the most amazing companies in the US. Prior to Root Learning I worked for a decade at DaimlerChrysler and Mercedes-Benz Financial Services and for five years as an executive team member at Great Place To Work Institute, authors of Fortune Magazine’s annual 100 Best Companies to Work For study. I also spent nearly three years working part-time with the Michigan Department of Education.
Why are running for school board?
Simple, it’s all about the students. I am running for School Board to help current and future students receive the same incredible educational experiences my family and I have received. I want to do my part to contribute and ensure quality education through times of change. These are difficult times for sure, but the path forward is also flush with opportunity for our Community Schools to become even stronger. We need everyone on board to solve our challenges together. That is the essence of “community” schools – teachers, staff, students, parents and the community working together to succeed!
What are some of the most important issues facing the district?
The immediate challenge is near term and long term financial stability which requires getting our physical footprint to match our student population. A fast follower is ensuring we continue to provide world-class instruction and programming. Not to be forgotten is the need to support our talented teachers and staff. Research unequivocally shows that a leading factor in student performance is teacher readiness and skill. We have amazing teachers. We need to continue to fully support them and set them up for success in the classroom.
Change can feel disruptive, but it need not be negative. In fact, making these changes now puts us in a strong financial position to have many positive options to continue to provide exemplary learning going forward. It is always best to make the changes while we have options rather than fall into negative financial territory and be faced with a poor set of options.
What would you like to see the board/district accomplish in the future?
Set and deliver a strong vision for the next great chapter in teaching and learning in Lake Orion. If elected, I will work to ensure the community is engaged in a compelling, forward looking way.
During the Building and Site Sinking Fund campaign I was inspired by the community support. I will work to make sure the ongoing dialogue is open, frequent and transparent. When this happens, our community has shown incredibly strong support for our students.
What will you personally bring to the board?
My familiarity with the challenges facing the district combined with my academic and professional experience will allow me to contribute in a way that is effective and collaborative. My experience with strategy, finance, business and high-performing workplaces will help navigate the current changes and bring positive change going forward.
Are you in favor/opposed to closing a school, eliminating focus schools, redistricting, selling property?
This is a deep question and a short answer cannot do the complexity of the question justice. I would look forward to talking in detail to anyone interested (natebutki@gmail.com).
For financial reasons, we need to get our physical footprint right to reflect the size and shape of our population and changes in funding from the State. Taking an elementary school offline is prudent with redistricting as a logical result.
I do NOT favor selling any elementary or the Moose Tree Nature Center. Repurposing is the preferred path. I do support exploring the sale of the Administrative Office Building in the Village.
Focus schools are wonderful. So are neighborhood schools. We need to stay as focused as a laser on providing the most amazing programming possible for each and every student in a financially viable way. Regardless of the elementary structure, when we focus on maximizing instructional quality our students will continue to thrive and parents will continue to choose Lake Orion Community Schools.

Dana Mermell

Family/Occupation: My husband Josh and I are both life-long residents and graduates of Lake Orion High School. We have two children, Max, who is 7 years old and in first grade at Webber Elementary and Ellie who is almost 5 and will be starting kindergarten next fall.
Josh has worked in Farmington Hills for the past 15 years and we have continued to make Lake Orion the place we want to raise our kids.
I have a degree in Human Resource Development with a concentration in Labor Relations from Oakland University and I also have my elementary education certification from Oakland University. Through the course of my life I have worked in business, non-profit and education sectors.
Why are you running for school board?
As lifelong members of the Lake Orion community, my husband and I have always felt a responsibility to “do our part”. When our son entered kindergarten last year we started watching and attending board meetings and we became increasingly interested in the operation of our district, school funding, and what the future of our district and our community is going to look like.
After speaking with board members, the administrative cabinet and calling state representatives, we became convinced that we needed to help our district pass the Building and Site sinking fund. It was during this process that I started thinking about running for school board because of my passion for public education, students, teachers and the Lake Orion Community.
I am a mother of two young children and I am vested in this district for the long haul. Additionally, when making decisions I like to do plenty of research, ask productive questions, and challenge the process. I am a firm believer in making well thought out and balanced decisions. I believe that these attributes, along with my educational and human resource background, and a desire to help the district continue to strive for excellency makes me an ideal candidate.
What are some of the most important issues facing the district?
Currently the most important issue facing our district is the need to reduce cost and to increase our fund balance from 7.5 percent to 10 percent/ There are many factors that have led to this current situation, the two primary being changes in school funding and decreased enrollment due to low birth rates.
I believe our district needs to make some tough choices right now and determine how they are going to increase the fund balance. While change can be difficult, and even painful, I do believe this necessity for change is giving our district the opportunity to examine where we are at and makes some decisions that are going help our district become stronger, more competitive, and innovative for the future.
What would you like to see the board/district accomplish in the future?
After the district makes some of the changes needed to increase our fund balance to 10 percent and to right-size our district, I would like to see an increased focus on student programming. Lake Orion has always prided itself on innovation and setting the “gold standard” in education. Currently there are many trends in education including STEM and STEAM. I would like to see these options explored as well as other cutting edge options.
Additionally, I am interested in ensuring that the district goes through a healing process once the board makes their decision regarding the closure/repurposing of an elementary school and redistricting.
What will you personally bring to the board?
I personally bring the perspective of a life-long resident, a taxpayer who demands accountability, a background in business and education, and most importantly that of a mother of two young children. My children are the most important people in the world to me and I want the absolute best for them and for all students in Lake Orion.
I am a very big proponent of volunteering in the schools and seeing the day to day operations for each building. If I am elected to the board I will visit each building, meet with administrators, teachers, and staff. I think it is imperative to see the schools in action and listen to the various perspectives, especially if I’m voting on an issue that may directly affect them.
I am approachable, reasonable and I have no hidden agenda. My goal is to help the district navigate through these changing times and come out a better district and offer the best opportunities for our students.
Are you in favor/opposed to closing a school, eliminating focus schools, redistricting, selling property?
Based on the data provided by the cabinet showing an aging out of our school population, I am in agreement that the fiscally responsible thing to do is close and/or repurpose one elementary school. However, I believe that some of the other options discussed by board members need to be fully analyzed in order to make a well thought out decision. To date not enough data has been provided to be able to make an informed decision. Examples include, comparing the cost to operate each of the proposed schools, the potential occupancy levels after redistricting, and the cost to repair over the next ten years. I believe that alternative options should be reviewed in order to make a compelling enough case for one school to be selected.
Eliminating focus schools. — I have paid very close attention to the public comment at each of the meetings and there is no question this is a very hot topic. I want to ensure that each and every elementary student in our district receives the very best educational experience. That being said, I think the first step is to identify the school that needs to be closed/repurposed. Based on this decision and the projected occupancies of the remaining buildings will aid in determining if focus schools can remain as they are today. In the event this is not financially or physically possible, we need to look at alternatives to incorporate the best practices of our focus schools so that all our students can benefit.
Redistricting – There is no question that once we close/repurpose an elementary school, the school district will need to be redistricted. I believe that the administration should complete multiple scenarios of redistricting now so that projected occupancy’s can be estimated allowing for a more thought-out decision to be made.
Selling Property: I believe the board should always keep the long-term in mind. Populations rise and fall. There may be a time in the future that we may need more elementary school space.