Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Special meeting of the Grand Ledge Public Schools Board of Education: District Restructuring Plans

This special meeting of the Grand Ledge Board of Education began at 6:02 P.M., to a tremendously full Grand Ledge High School Auditorium. The line of traffic on Jenne Street to turn left into the Neff and High School parking areas was lengthy and at a standstill, but thankfully I'm a bike commuter. Board President Don Symonds laid out the broad agenda and the protocol, and Dr. Steve Matthews took over with a presentation on the flaws of Michigan school funding, as published by the Washtenaw Intermediate School District; the presentation is supposed to take only 15 minutes, and public commentary is supposed to begin at 7 P.M., leaving a precious little 45 minutes for Dr. Matthews' recommendations. The slide show, among many points, articulates the many ways school districts have sought to save monies. One of the bulleted historical points is "Closing school libraries and computer labs."

Notes (per Dr. Matthews):
  • Opens the reorganization talk with the notice that the Grand Ledge Public Schools had invited all state legislators from the Eaton, Clinton, and Ionia Counties, along with Governor Granholm. Only Representative Rick Jones accepted the invitation, but Grand Ledge Mayor Kalmin Smith is also in attendance.
  • Had difficult conversations with two colleagues in central office (does this mean there are administrative layoffs?). Seeks to be as "transparent as possible."
  • The reality of managing costs is to reduce the number of employees, and that's his recommendation.
  • Neighborhood schools were important (my emphasis).
  • Eliminate 2 central office administrative positions by March 2010, and restructure another. Projected savings: $210,000.
  • Reduce the general fund contribution to athletics by $227,000, and raise the participation fee to $100 per sport.
  • High School transportation will be eliminated, for a savings of $500,000.
  • Unspecified targeted employee concessions: $538,000.
  • Neff: Early childhood/Kindergarten Center
  • Beagle, Delta Center, Wacousta, Willow Ridge will become grades 1-6.
  • Hayes will become a grade 7-8 building.
  • Holbrook, Greenwood, Sawdon will close.
  • Physical education, art, and music will continue at the elementary level.
  • 2.5 elementary counselors will be added at the elementary level.
  • Middle school athletics will continue, with some modifications.
  • Choir, band, and elective options will continue at Hayes.
  • All 7-12 students will move together.
  • Much attention paid to at-risk students.
  • Teacher reductions: 32
  • Building administrator reductions: 2
  • 5 secretarial reductions.
  • Rent or sell Greenwood and Holbrook (University/College Center, or YMCA?).
  • What if the state's financial picture changes, or our enrollment stabilizes? Transportation restructuring and athletics will be reconsidered, but not to administrative or building proposal changes.
  • A timeline of 6 weeks is being proposed for the GLPS Board decision.
Public Commentary
  • John Ellsworth spoke eloquently about "Save our schools, save our state."
  • Jeff Turner asks about Sawdon's future, considering the closing of the alternative school.
  • Pat O'Keefe says he spent 40 years working with the best folks around, bus drivers, custodians, and teachers alike. He recommends that Rick Jones set education funding as a top priority, and legislators should be docked 5% of their salary per day until the problem is solved. The most important jobs are clergy and medicine, for saving souls and lives. Next in priority is education, and young people need adults in their lives. Finally, Pat enthusiastically recommends using Grand Ledge folks as contractors for the work being conducted in Grand Ledge, to much applause.
  • Minda Schneider (the GLHS Library secretary) is a Grand Ledge High School graduate, who thought enough of the school district to relocate back here to raise her family. She worries about the potential for growth, if we close and lose buildings. Minda calls the audience to stand up and be counted, rather than blaming the Board or Rick Jones for the State's problems.
  • Due to the difficult decisions he faced, Bruce Dunn now "really respects" Dr. Matthews. Kim Mulvenna leads the Board's applause for the positive remarks about the tenor of the evening's comments.
  • Sarah Storm's school funding analogy, humorously, is to fashion: she aims to dress well, but rather she's attired on a TJ Maxx budget. If only she could outfit herself like the neighboring Waverly school district, which receives several thousand more dollars per year per student.
Aside: Dr. Matthews discusses a November 10 (10 A.M. to noon) SOS rally at the Capital, fighting for fair and equitable school funding. More information will be provided on the website about how we can communicate with our legislators.
  • Ruth Ann Jacquette recommends a thoroughly researched and conducted transition plan to protect students and the changes, due to the fiasco of the Mulliken Elementary closing.
Dr. Matthews conclusions:
  • We cannot reduce the length of the school year, we are mandated to be open 170 school days.
  • Sawdon's closure does not make fiscal sense, due to the wiring and cooling systems. Additionally, what of Sawdon if central office were relocated to Holbrook?
  • An FAQ will be placed on the webpage.
  • Steve Delaney suggested to Sawdon that GLPS run an advertisement in the Tennessee newspapers to attract those displaced workers to relocate to Grand Ledge.
  • Despite the building closings, the District still has the capacity to grow by 400 students.
Board conclusions:
  • Wacyk overwhelmed by audience response, thanks is provided.
  • Sara Clark Pierson proud to be a member of this district, because of the respect with which everything was communicated. Heart-wrenching decisions, because of the 53.5 jobs lost. Finally, Pierson recommends that we cease the charge for parking at the High School.
  • Curiously, Kim Mulvenna affirms that we charge for parking at the High School. This is the tough meeting, because this is when the cuts became real. Curiously again, she says this despite the fact that custodians and transportation already suffered serious concessions.
  • Jim Shell states that without a plan such as the one proposed tonight, Grand Ledge would risk entering into receivership, the terms of which would be dictated by Lansing bureaucrats, which would be much more onerous.
November 4 Postscript: Here's the District's restructuring page, the Lansing State Journal recap, and the video rundown from WILX.

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