On Nov. 3, voters in the Livonia Public Schools district will choose four board of education trustees.
School board members oversee the district and is the body Superintendent Andrea Oquist reports to. Trustees serve four-year terms and are paid $50 per meeting.
Hometown Life sent each candidate a questionnaire regarding their candidacy and the district itself. Answers had a 75-word limit, and responses exceeding that limit were cut short.
Meet the candidates
Madeline Acosta, 47, works as a teacher. She holds a bachelor’s of psychology from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s of Spanish from Wayne State University.
Tammy Bonifield, 53, is one of the race’s four incumbents. She works as an accountant and holds a bachelor’s of business administration.
Karen Bradford, 53, is running as an incumbent. She works as a teacher and administrative assistant, and her education includes a bachelor’s in elementary education from St. Mary’s College as well as a master’s in reading from Eastern Michigan University.
Dan Centers, 36, is one of the race’s four incumbents. He is the chief of staff for State Senator Dayna Polehanki and has a bachelor’s degree in education from Madonna University.
Crystal Frank, 44, is running as an incumbent. She works in customer service and has a bachelor’s in organizational communication from Miami University.
Nichole Hoskins-Goudreau did not respond by the given deadline.
Why are you running for office?
Acosta: As a parent, I am invested in the success of our schools — the quality of education, as well as maintaining high expectations for all students. The empowering interactions with community members and administrators propelled me to seek this office as a way of sharing my perspective while continuing to advocate for all students. I am passionate about learning and how it can open worlds of opportunity for our youth.
Bonifield: I believe in commitment of Livonia Public Schools to provide a high quality and consistent education to all students. I will continue my advocacy for public education, including adequate funding. Experience matters when facing the current uncertainties. I have the skills and experience to navigate the intricacies of providing education during this global pandemic, setting a course to find a new normal.
Bradford: I am running for re-election to the Board of Education of Livonia Public Schools because I want to continue to be an advocate for all students. We need sound leadership and people who are passionate about the difficult educational issues that we are currently facing and want to be an integral part of the solution to fixing them. I am that person and I am committed to that task and purpose.
Centers: I am running for re-election to school board because as a former classroom teacher I know first hand how important good leadership is. I am a product of Livonia Public Schools. I attended our district from preschool until high school graduation. I am proud of the progress we have made in the district in recent years and look forward to providing more high-quality educational opportunities for students.
Frank: I am running for re-election because Livonia Public Schools needs strong, experienced leaders to navigate these difficult times and I have these qualities. With four kids in LPS, I have a unique voice at the Board table. With my involvement for over 10 years in 7 LPS schools, I am honored to represent a deep knowledge of the daily issues facing our schools and can provide wisdom and insights to Board discussions and decisions.
What attributes or skills do you bring to the school board that will help move the school district and education forward into the future?
Bonifield: I bring expertise based on my career in accounting and finance. My background gives me a unique perspective. I bring my knowledge to the board table, work constructively with fellow board members, consider all options, and implement the outcome of thorough and respectful deliberation. I have served on many PTA boards, the board of a national non-profit and currently serve as the Treasurer for both my Rotary Club and the Southeastern Michigan Beekeepers Association.
Bradford: In order to move the school district and education forward in this district, a board member needs to be open and objective, work collaboratively and respectfully with their peers, and be willing to grow and learn. In addition, they make difficult educational decisions which effect our students, district, and community. It is not easy. It takes dedication and time. I have these skills and more and have faithfully executed them for the last four years.
Centers: For several years I worked as an elementary school teacher. As a teacher, I began to get more involved in education policy. This eventually led to my current profession as a Chief of Staff in the Michigan Senate. Here, I work on education policy that will help our local districts. My experience working in both the classroom and in the legislature gives me a unique perspective on improving our district.
Frank: I believe in Livonia Public Schools and have been honored to be a Trustee for the past four years. As a district with over 14,000 students, there are many complexities to LPS and our district need experienced leaders to navigate this changing dynamics. As a current Board of Education Trustee, I have been certified by the Michigan Association of School Boards as an Award of Merit recipient for my hours of training.
Acosta: I have served Livonia as classroom parent, PTA member, and currently as a PTSA President, and a Substitute Teacher for Livonia Public Schools. I was a Special Education Teacher and Community/Homeless Liaison for over 10 years. Having sat on a Board as a VP of Collegiate Operations and Risk Manager, I am no stranger to the consideration and adoption of policies, and demands of accountability. My experience makes me a perfect candidate for Trustee.
What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Bradford: One issue is getting our students back to school in person and getting them back on track academically, socially, and emotionally in the wake of COVID-19 obstacles. We must all work together to achieve this. I can and will continue to listen objectively and make the best possible decision based on current information. We must strive to ensure our students are successful in obtaining an excellent and quality education.
Centers: During my time on the board, we have faced several challenges. With cuts to state funding we needed to make difficult decisions to balance our budget. Our district went from a financial early-warning district to fiscal stability. Along the way we have found ways to expand programs, sports offerings, and negotiated multi-year contracts with our employees. However, we are currently facing our biggest challenge yet with COVID-19. We have provided two options for families. First…
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Frank: The biggest issue facing LPS is that our kids’ needs are significant during this pandemic. Having not been in the classroom for six months, students have varying educational gaps. Our district must focus on what our children have missed during isolation by assessing where each student is academically and setting individualized targets for their growth. I will continue to advocate for reduced class size to enable richer and deeper instruction with limited students per teacher.
Acosta: Maintaining a high quality education where students are graduating proficient in reading, writing, and math is of utmost importance. Regardless of future career paths, our community benefits from having highly educated residents. I am interested in reviewing the efficacy of the programs we do have in order to maximize their outcomes. This plan of action should also aid in attracting more new families to our district, eliminating the need for future school closures.
Bonifield: Appropriate school funding continues to be an obstacle to providing the education and services that should be available to all students. Each student has varied needs. With adequate funding, schools could better meet educational, social, and emotional needs of students. By continuing my work on the board, I can promote the development of innovative programs that will be aid in the rationale for additional funding.
What do you consider the school district’s strongest attributes?
Centers: Our district offers a vast array of programs for our students. We have offerings in creative arts, gifted and talented, global education, International Bachelorette, Japanese language immersion, and much more. All of these programs mean that our students get a truly engaging educational experience.
Frank: Our strongest attribute is our people! We have amazing teachers, staff and administrators. We hire the best of the best as well as continue training once they join our team. Just watch what our teachers are doing online to keep these kids engaged. Their job is part educator and part entertainer. Our staff consistently goes above and beyond to do what is best for our students, our schools, our district and our community.
Acosta: Livonia Public Schools has done an exceptional job at being fiscally responsible. Even as we experience educational budget cuts across the nation, Livonia was able to buffer most of that impact. Our district also boasts a high graduation rate, above 90% and highly qualified teachers delivering instruction.
Bonifield: People are the best part of our district. The LPS staff consists of over 2,000 outstanding individuals. I am continually awed by the dedication to our students. We see staff going above and beyond every day. During the past six months they have worked tirelessly to provide solutions to issues that seem to change daily. There is much to be proud of and could not be accomplished without the commitment of every team member.
Bradford: Our school districts strongest attribute is sound, quality programming at all levels. We offer a huge variety of programming to meet the unique needs of every student from preschool to post secondary. A gifted program. A Career Tech Center. We have something for every type of learner. The list goes on… Our Special Education Program is known throughout the state. In addition, high quality and dedicated staff play an integral part of our students success.
What should your school district do to better prepare students as citizens?
Frank: LPS utilizes “Communities with Character” to teach our students to be better prepared to be productive citizens. These traits are: Respect, Responsibility, Empathy, Integrity, Grit, Confidence, Mindfulness and being Reflective. I believe this innovative initiative will enable our students to be able to thrive as adults. It is imperative that our educational responsibilities include teaching our kids to grow into adults who can engage with society in a fruitful and dynamic manner.
Acosta: Livonia would benefit from expanding staff recruitment to reflect its student body. These best hiring practices could expose students to a diverse staff, improving their social competence. The best way the district can prepare students to be productive citizens is by ensuring that they are graduating proficient in reading, writing, and math.
Bonifield: Part of being a good citizen includes financial stability. I would like to see an increased emphasis on personal finances. Budgeting and credit cards. Taxes and retirement funds. Mortgages and car payments. Weaving the skills to navigate a lifetime of financial challenges into lesson plans through the grade levels would serve our students well.
Bradford: Our district works hard to promote good citizenship which in turn helps prepare our students out in the real world. The Community with Character Program runs district wide and helps students develop traits such as empathy, grit, integrity, respect, and responsibility. Students participate in lessons and strive to emulate these traits in their classroom communities. We need to continue to promote and sustain these valuable programs to help students become successful citizens.
Centers: In the past couple years we have concentrated on improving our culture and climate. Part of this work is teaching students with character traits. Our “Character Counts” program helps students build grit, practice empathy, community, and put themselves in the shoes of others. This is an important step in influencing students to be good citizens who are thoughtful and engaged citizens.
Anything else to share?
Acosta: I had the privilege of participating in the Return to Learn Task Force over the summer when the original plans were fleshed out for returning to school this year.
Bonifield: I would like to thank the residents of our community for their commitment to the education, safety, and well-being of LPS students. The 2013 bond allowed the district to make much needed updates to buildings. The Wayne County Enhancement Millage has provided additional funding directly to our classrooms with a focus on literacy, and the renewal of the sinking fund helps to maintain our facilities which again, leaves dollars in our classrooms.
Bradford: I have been involved in the Livonia Public Schools for the last 20 years as a parent, a volunteer, and an educator, with the last four serving as a current Trustee. Experience is needed right now as we seek to maintain proper school funding and offer our students consistent, rigorous, and engaging curriculum. Again, my goals: advocate for students, be fiscally responsible, and keep quality education a top priority in LPS.
Centers: I am proud of all of the work our staff and community have done to create a plan for COVID-19. We had a comprehensive group of stakeholders who spent the summer preparing a plan to return to school. As a board member, I served on one of these subcommittees. Ultimately, we have provided two options for families. First, students who would like to be virtual have the ability to do so. Also, those students who…
Frank: This pandemic has been hard on Livonia Public Schools, its staff and families. There is a continuum of thoughts on how it should be handled and how best to educate students in the midst of it. Now more than ever, LPS needs strong, experienced leaders to guide our district through these turbulent times. I have the experience, capability and knowledge of the breadth and depth of LPS to lead into a strong future.
Contact reporter Shelby Tankersley at email@example.com or 248-305-0448. Follow her on Twitter @shelby_tankk.