After again hearing from parents who were begging the School Board to get help for Kindergarten teachers, on Monday the board voted unanimously to set up a committee to figure out how to get volunteers into the classrooms to replace the paraprofessionals that had been eliminated.
Director of Curriculum Peggy Voigt will immediately form a committee made up of parents, a board member, building administrators, and others to meet and come up with a plan to help – then report back to the board.
“Set up a plan for what we can do,” said Trustee Toni Hunt. “This needs to be done quickly.”
At the Aug. 23 board meeting, the board eliminated Kindergarten paraprofessionals and since then parents have spoken up at board meetings telling of the out-of-control classrooms and pleading for help.
During Monday’s discussion, that lasted almost an hour, the board pled poverty and explained how federal and state funds that used to pay for the parapros are no longer available.
“The state was audited by the federal government two years ago and got their hands slapped,” Voigt said.
This resulted in over $1 million that couldn’t be used for parapros that can only be used for after-school programs, tutoring during lunch time, or similar programs,Voigt said.
“I do have large Kindergarten classes,” said Edgemont Principal Karen Mida, referring to the classrooms of up to 28 students for one teacher.
“It’s been difficult for the teachers … When I observe, there’s a lot of learning going on,” she said.
Mida said she has looked at different ways to help and asked pre-student teachers and parents to come in to assist.
She said a kindergarten teacher in her school took a medical leave in November and Mida put in a substitute teacher and there has been a learning curve.
She said since Christmas, the children have been adjusting to that teacher. Mida said the district is getting her professional development training and having her observe other classrooms in the district.
Mida said the teacher on medical was not expected to be gone this long, but now she won’t be back until March.
Kindergarten parent Tammy Jackson pointed out that Romulus schools still have all their paraprofessionals and Board President Martha Toth replied that Romulus has more money.
“They kept money in their Kindergartens,” Jackson said. “I’ve got nothing but shunned from this board, eyes rolled at me… I deal with politicians all over Michigan…Who should I be talking to?”
Trustee Hunt said she works in the Lincoln School District and there are no parapros in the Kindergartens there.
Jackson said Hunt was the one who rolled her eyes when she complained about the out-of-control conditions at the Kindergarten class at Edgemont at an earlier meeting.
“Shame on you for making me feel like that,” Jackson said.
Hunt said the removal of the paraprofessionals was a financial issue and, “We’re on the cliff.”
Jackson said it is against the law for a childcare to have 25 kids with just one teacher. She said the children in the Kindergarten class are learning that it’s OK to yell in the classroom and hit in class.
“It’s out of control. It’s time to do something,” said Brenda Jaszcz, mother of another Edgemont Kindergartener.
Earlier in the meeting Jaszcz told of her experience in that Edgemont Kindergarten when she, her husband and the teacher witnessed one student body-slam another student and while everyone was focused on them another child slammed a hand in the bathroom door.
Crystal Hurst, another mother, held her sick child Michael in her arms while she tearfully pleaded with the board.
She said her son told her that when he’s six he doesn’t want to go to school any more. She said he used to love school.
“Mrs. Mida has done the best she can,” Jackson continued. “It’s out of her hands.”
Jackson said she goes into the classroom to help and is upset that the teacher tells everyone to sit down and put down their heads. She said not much learning is going on and the district is going to see a whole group of people leaving with their children.
Hurst said she works for L&W Engineering and on occasion does graphics for the school district’s fundraisers.
“My kid is suffering in this school district,” she said, adding it has gotten worse since the beginning of the year.
Hunt pointed out there is a unique combination of students in that particular classroom, including a lot of younger students and a lot of boys.
President Toth asked the financial consultant how much short the district will be next year and he said they need to cut $3 million to balance the budget.
Toth said it saved the district $500,000, including benefits, to cut the parapros.
“You can’t be driven by money,” said Trustee Sherry Frazier. “Any time you’re driven by money, you’re going to fail … We advertised last summer that we would have parapros…”
“We are so close to going into bankruptcy,” Hunt said. “We can’t spend any more money.”
When the board looked like it was set to deal with only Edgemont’s problem, members of the audience spoke up for their schools. A mother from Tyler said they needed help and Linda Cobb, who works at Rawsonville, said she was speaking as a mother in saying Rawsonville needs help.
“I can’t believe there aren’t more parents here,” Cobb said, and Jackson said the others didn’t know it was going to be discussed.
Mida said she tried getting help through Michigan Works, but the workers were not reliable and within three weeks quit.
It was pointed out that Kindergarten teachers are bringing in their family members, church members, and friends to help in the classrooms since they are overwhelmed with the large class sizes and no help.
Trustee Kevin English said the board needs to set up a REAL volunteer program with a set schedule.
“We should have planned for this,” Frazier said and English replied that is in the past and the question is, “What do we do now?”
He pointed out the administration is doing a study on redistricting, since some of the classes are larger or smaller in specific schools.
In other business Monday, the board:
• Discussed the plan to use the portable units at 416 Sumpter Road for a community resource center, to service local people needing help. Trustee Scott Russell objected to the location near South Middle School, since young children would have to walk by the center and he was afraid they wouldn’t be safe, since the center would draw desperate people who might have criminal records or drug problems. A representative from Wayne Metro Action Agency gave a presentation on how their group helps people, screening them for programs and enrolling them. There will be more discussion before a lease is before the board for action;
• Listened to a letter of School Board Recognition from Wayne RESA Superintendent Chris Wigent, honoring the board as is done every January;
• Approved requested terminations of Florine Thompkins from Food Service at North Middle School after three years of service as of Jan. 14 for personal reasons and Paul Henning from Communications Specialist at the Administration Building after seven years for layoff, as of Jan. 31;
• Approved hiring Lola Dailey as a Food Service Worker at BHS and Timothy Dupuie as a Transportation Department mechanic, both as of Jan. 25;
• Approved hiring chemistry teacher Matthew deHaan for the high school starting Jan. 24 at a salary of $39,907;
• Approved a Resolution for Notice of Economic Layoff of Paul Henning, a legal document recommended by the school attorney. Frazier voted no;
• Heard a presentation on the BHS Bond Project, in which Sid Dottinga of Granger Construction pointed out there is some $4.7 million, of the $79 million bond, available for the board to spend on projects they can decide on for the school. The proposed cafeteria roof project is estimated at $1.8 million;
• Approved Change Order #7 for up to $95,214.50 in the high school project, including several regulatory mandates;
• Approved Bid Packets 4, 6 and 8 in an amount not to exceed $82,978 to low bidder of three, Janson Industries of Canton, Ohio, for stage equipment and theater rigging, stage curtains, and orchestra pit cover;
• Approved participation of BHS students for a second school year in the Wayne-Westland vocational programs at the William D. Ford Center and to explore creating a Health Occupations track for implementation in the 2012-2013 school year at the new BHS building. Graduate of the BHS Vo-Tech, Louis Jeffery, owner of Accurate Transmission in Belleville, spoke in favor of training students for jobs as technicians, auto body workers and welders, since those are forever jobs that can’t be outsourced to India. “Cars that crash need to be fixed,” Jeffery said. He said the BHS program should have been broadened, rather than closed;
• Approved participation by board members in classes, workshops, and conferences put on by the Michigan Association of School Boards for February through June, 2011;
• Tabled a discussion on a board retreat, since it was almost 11 p.m.; and
• Noted that the policy review would continue at the Feb. 8 workshop session, along with a study of Robert’s Rules of Order, as suggested by Trustee Russell. The next regular meeting is 7 p.m. Feb. 14 at South Middle School.