Rochester school-board candidates square off

Four of the five candidates for three seats on the Rochester Community Schools Board of Education took part in a fast-paced forum Monday sponsored by the League of Women Voters. The candidates answered questions submitted by the public on everything from the latest state initiatives to the Pledge of Allegiance.

With only one incumbent, Beth Talbert, in the race, the board will seat at least two newcomers in the Nov. 8 election. The challengers are Tom Malysz, Jeremy Nielson, Jane Pierobon and Pat Piskulich. Malysz did not participate in the forum. All five candidates live in Rochester Hills.

Nielson, an engineer, has a 3-year-old son. He regularly attends school-board meetings and is critical of how the district spends its money. He believes many students are not ready for college when they graduate.

“I believe we live in a great school district but I believe we can do better,” he said, adding that he wants “more value for our dollar.”

Pierobon is a veteran of the Army nurse corps who currently works for Henry Ford Health System. She has four children and has been a PTA officer. She said she wants to protect students from the impact of shrinking school revenue.

“I will always evaluate how our decisions will affect students,” she said.

Piskulich teaches public management at Oakland University and has an adult son. “I’m running because he got a great education in our school district,” he said. He wants other children to have the same opportunity.

Talbert, who is completing her first term on the board, is director of the communications program at Oakland University. She has two adult daughters. She said she ran four years ago on the platform that the district could do more.

“And I believe we’ve done that,” she said. “The board has established a vision. … We have more work to do.”

With two educators among the candidates, a question was asked about union membership. Talbert and Piskulich both said they have opted out of union membership, instead paying an agency fee. Both also said they worked through a faculty strike at OU. But both said their union status is not in conflict with serving on the board of education.

“I think I’ve made tough decisions,” Talbert said, referring to the board’s decision to privatize food service.
‘You don’t run for office because you want to hand out goodies to other union members,” Piskulich said. “Unions need to recognize the economic times we’re in,” he added.

Nielson said he declined an invitation to be interviewed by the Rochester Education Association (the teachers’ union) for the purpose of an endorsement. He said he feels the union’s endorsement is a conflict for board members.

Pierobon disagreed. “I think that’s insulting,” she said. “These are people I will be working with, not against.”

The candidates agreed that the district offers students a quality education and has good teachers. They agreed more privatization may be necessary. They said they are comfortable with recent changes in teacher tenure laws coming from Lansing. All supported strong programming in the arts and for gifted students.

Nielson was critical, though not specific, about programs he said have been cut. He said he would like to see the district create its own International Baccalaureate school so more students could participate.

Piskulich, whose son attended the International Academy, wondered how much that would cost. “The IB curriculum is more than just courses,” he said. “It sounds very expensive to make our own school.”

Pierobon called the IA “a wonderful opportunity.” Talbert said there are other options for the district, such as magnet schools, to accommodate more students.

Interviewed separately, Malysz said he too has concerns about how the budget impacts students. An Adams High School graduate, he has two young children.

He said he supports using technology, including distance learning, to save money, and feels more privatization is probably necessary. He would support options like open enrollment as a way to bring in more revenue.

“The can has kind of been kicked down the road,” he said. “I think almost everything should be on the table.”

Malysz said he has a business background that includes budgets. He said he did not receive his mailed invitation from the League of Women Voters and didn’t know about Monday’s forum.

Avondale School Board

The Avondale Board of Education also has three seats up for grabs in the Nov. 8 election. Incumbent Tammy Muczynski chose not to run. Incumbents Ken Hedrick and Stephen Sucher will face off against newcomers Scott Bittinger and Roseland Lewis.

For more information on candidates in both the Avondale and Rochester districts, visit the League of Women Voters Web site at The Rochester candidate forum is available on demand on your local CMN channel.

Jeremy Nielson (left), Jane Pierobon, Pat Piskulich and incumbent Beth Talbert.

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