*Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the occupation of one of Steve Singer's daughters. She works at Columbia University medical school.
Steve Singer has served on the Clayton Board of Education for nine years. He has been involved in various aspects of local government, in part because it stands in contrast to federal and state governments.
"We can still do great things," said Singer, who is one of three people seeking to become the next Ward 3 representative on the Clayton Board of Aldermen. A will publish at 6 a.m. Saturday; a will publish at 6 a.m. Sunday.
Singer illustrates his point by describing , the community center for which he serves as president. The facility is jointly owned by the city and the . People of every age group use the facility, he said. It has a high participation rate, but that never would have happened without the support of both entities.
"It's a great example of leveraging resources and coming up with something really great," Singer said.
Singer has been married to his wife, Miriam, for 28 years. The couple have three daughters, Deborah, Ruth and Rebeccah. One works for Google Inc. in Australia, one works at* Columbia University medical school and one is a sophomore at Syracuse University.
For the last 24 years, he has operated his own business, Lincoln Finance Company. For the last four years, he has operated that business in Clayton. Before that, he operated a retail furniture business. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in economics from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Singer has served on Clayton's economic development advisory committee and its parks and recreation commission.
Likes About Clayton
Singer said he likes Clayton's great neighborhoods. The city and schools provide great services to the community. It has a lot of financial resources thanks to a large tax base, and it has a dedicated pool of volunteers.
Challenges for Clayton
Singer said the city is operating on a deficit. At the same time, "It's not a disaster like many of the states you read about," he said. Clayton has a fairly sizable operating surplus, he said. But there's no reason to think an economic turnaround is going to happen in the short term.
Singer said he would bring analytical skills to the table that could be used in examining ways to reduce the deficit. He would want to have specific cuts recommended by the city manager and departments. The board could then share its insights.
A word of caution: "There are lots of budgetary games that can be played," Singer said. He points to an early retirement program the district once offered. The goal was to save the district money by providing more experienced teachers with an added incentive. But in reality, the move wasn't saving money, Singer said, and he was instrumental in leading the conversation about alternatives to the program.
A much more difficult problem, he said, will be filling vacancies in Clayton's . In general, St. Louis is over-retailed with a population that has remained relatively flat. At the same time, there are a lot of smart people in the city—residents and business owners who can come up with solutions for the vacancies. Part of the solution will likely be commercial real estate.
Singer said he sees a role for the city's economic development advisory committee in addressing the issue. He would also like to pull business owners together to do some brainstorming.
A Difficult Decision
Asked to describe a situation in which he had to make difficult decisions, Singer talked about the school district's effort in the past several years to perform a major review of facilities. It led to two bond issues, Proposition S and Proposition W.
Each was a major initiative in which many people were involved.
"I've been a strong advocate for the themes behind both those initiatives," Singer said.
It's very exciting to see that the district's science facilities have been upgraded, he said. As studies have indicated science education is declining nationally, the board decided to push the envelope and make it a focus. At the elementary level, for example, science classrooms have been constructed and full-time science teachers hired to staff them.
He also referenced a customer survey that was issued to determine why people weren't joining The Center of Clayton. The board that manages the center discovered that several factors were important. Among them were the proximity of services, and the quality and availability of workout equipment.
Because of that, board members have made a push to keep services at a high level, Singer said. They work well together and work as part of a team.
Observations of the Aldermen
Singer sees similarities and differences between the operations of the aldermen and those of the school board. The Board of Aldermen tends to be a more formal institution, he said—male members, for example, wear coats and ties.
Both groups focus on budgets and other financial issues. They are governed by a need for due process. The groups must give the public notice of policy changes, he said.
One factor that distinguishes the Board of Aldermen: It focuses on construction and development, an area in which the school board has less involvement.
Smoking Ordinance Lawsuit
Singer declined to comment on , tied to a section of an ordinance that bans smoking in parks. He said one has to be careful when commenting on lawsuits.
Wydown Middle School
Singer said he doesn't see for the new as a liability.
Several things were clear from the beginning, he said. For one, "It's a very difficult site," he said. For another, no facility could have been used cost-effectively to house 600-plus students during construction, so they had to be kept at that location during the course of the project.
The Wydown project enjoyed widespread support. More than 60 percent of the community favored the bond issue that will fund the new Wydown, Singer said. That's not to minimize the concerns of neighbors. At the same time, the community wanted a state-of-the-art facility.
"Most people are very excited, that I've talked to, about the new building," Singer said.
It frustrated him that a number of Clayton aldermen spoke so publicly about their opposition to the project moving forward as designed. Traditionally, the members of that board and the school board don't speak publicly about topics over which their respective board does not have jurisdiction. Although the city's architectural review board advised that the project not move forward at designed, the school board had sole discretion. When members of both bodies speak out on such an issue, there is a risk that the public will become confused. But he said it is a free country and not the end of the world that they spoke out. The two groups will continue to work together on issues of importance to the city.
Singer knows Holtzman and has met Winings. Both are also seeking the Ward III seat. He said what sets him apart from them is his depth of experience serving in local government in Clayton.
Experience in that area matters, he said, for several reasons. First, he has nine years of experience serving as an advocate for residents as a member of the school board. He has shown that he is accessible to people. Second, he said, he he has a lot of experience with local government budgets.
Third, Singer said, he is experienced with initiatives that require community engagement. He worked extensively on the process leading up to the school bond issues and helped work on an updated food-allergy policy for the district.
On the Campaign Trail
Singer said he is still meeting with people ahead of the election. He has been using yard signs and mailings.
"I'm hopeful that I'll be successful," Singer said. He said he is working hard but taking nothing for granted.