Adams Township School Board candidates make case in forum

PAINESDALE – Four of the five candidates vying for two six-year seats on the Adams Township School Board expressed their views Monday evening during a candidates forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

The open seats belong to Annette Butina, who is not seeing re-election, and Chad Snell, who was not present, having told the league he may not be able to attend due to a work conflict.

Because he is unopposed for the single four-year term up for election, incumbent Eric Mattila was not part of the forum.

While candidates John Asiala, Jason Coffey, George Eakin and Bruce Heltunen generally said they supported the students, School Board and district, they differed on what they saw as challenges and would like to accomplish or change by serving on the board.

A Jeffers High School and Michigan Tech University graduate, Asiala has seven children in the district and has taught at Calumet-Laurium-Keweenaw Public Schools for 13 years. He saw state funding for schools and teacher retention as some of the biggest challenges facing Adams schools.

“They don’t have a lot of options anymore because of funding,” Asiala said. “We need more students to get more money.”

Coffey agreed, and proposed school organizations change things up and find more creative ways of fundraising.

“I guess you have to do what you can with the funding you’ve got,” responded Coffey. “There’s never going to be a school without funding issues. Jeffers is a great place to graduate from.”

Regarding his children’s and many family members’ educations, he said, “This is where I feel they can get the best education around.”

George Eakin, a Houghton High School graduate whose children attended Adams Township Schools, has been attending board meetings all year and was aware of current issues tackled by the board.

“They’re doing a fantastic job with what they’re working with,” Eakin said, citing increased enrollment and a healthier food service budget. “How many schools can say they have a pool? That’s an attraction.”

Coffey and Heltunen each said they had attended one Adams school board meeting, while Asiala has not attended any outside of CLK’s.

“No gripes from Mr. Keteri,” Asiala joked about the reaction of School Superintendent Tim Keteri to his absence, getting a little chuckle from the audience.

Another Tech graduate, Heltunen would like school to start when it’s lighter out at 8:30 a.m. instead of 8:05, and sees skilled trades as the ticket to attract students to the district.

“How do you attract students and how do you retain students, especially with schools of choice?” Heltunen asked. “Skilled trades will help.”

All four cited work experience as qualifications for the school board, but Asiala also touted his years as a teacher and master’s degree in education as advantages he’d bring to the board.

“I kind of come from both ends, so that will help,” he said.

Eakin wants to give back to the district, and make sure students find a good example in him.

“I wish I knew then what I know now,” he said of his public school experience. “I probably would have gotten more out it.

“Living a positive lifestyle,” he said of his life today, “I want to be someone to look up to. I try to give back now.

“We’ve got a good machine,” he said. “I just want to keep the wheels spinning. The district has been good to my kids. I just want to keep that momentum going.”