The Van Buren Public Schools are likely to close at least one elementary school this fall, School Board President Martha Toth told those at Monday’s regular board meeting.
“We have excess capacity in our schools and that’s not going to change anytime soon,” she said.
This was after hearing a report by Paul Wills of Plante Moran CRESA who did a study on the school population and the facilities and reported that in four years the student population is likely to be down 500 more students.
Trustee Scott Russell pointed out this would mean the loss of some $3 million more in per-pupil funding from the state.
Wills said having the study done is “best practices” and it is very important to tell the public about the study before implementing any changes.
Two public forums have been set to give results of Wills’ study to the parents and community. They are set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1, and Tuesday, Feb. 7, both at Rawsonville Elementary School.
School Supt. Michael Van Tassel said at the end of February he will come to the board with a recommendation. He reminded them that the district has a commitment to the state to close one or more schools as part of its deficit elimination plan.
“The community needs to be involved,” Toth said, adding that if the district also changes its middle schools to have one all 5-6 grades and one 7-8 grades, “That means that more than half of the students will be changing schools next year.
“It’s very important for people to attend the forums,” Toth continued. “At least one school will close and we don’t want it to be a surprise.”
Supt. Van Tassel said if the board approves the recommendations at the end of February, “We are in a bit of a time crunch. I will be scrambling to get it right.”
He said the change in staffing assignments is needed and the work ahead is huge, he said.
“We have to completely redistrict the elementary schools,” Van Tassel said, adding there are so many attendance deviations, “We almost have more deviations than we have students going where they are assigned to go.”
Van Tassel said it’s all about what’s best for the kids.
“We’re not serving our students well in small elementary schools, as far as services go,” he continued. “It’s very hard for me to justify running an elementary school with 200 students.”
He said the split classes necessary in the schools with small populations are not good situations.
“I’d like to make sure it’s what’s best for the kids,” Van Tassel said.
Trustee Scott Russell added, “Maintaining control of our district is what’s best for the kids,” referring to a possible takeover by an emergency financial manager if the $2.5 million budget deficit isn’t solved.
Trustee Russell noted there will be disappointed people, but that can’t be helped.
At the public forums, Wills will explain how the study was made, starting with getting the live births in Wayne County, (without Detroit) which is down to 13,122 in 2010, from 16,551 in 1990.
Estimated births for 2011 are 13,028. Public schools in the Van Buren Schools area will get about 3.05% of that number, Wills said.
The most recent head count of 5,332 in Van Buren, K-12, is expected to fall to 4,862 in 2016.
These and other projections will be a part of the public forums and parents and members of the community are invited to attend and ask questions.
In other business at Monday’s meeting, the board:
• Approved the retirement of Brian Brice after 27 years of service as of Jan. 31. He was director of Building and Grounds and took a leave for hip surgery on Oct. 21 and now is recovering from heart surgery;
• Approved a $75,000 annual contract for James Williams who has been acting as interim Director of Plant Operations and now will have this position permanently;
• Approved creation of a new job description of Auditorium Supervisor and hired Brian Rupnow for the job at $45,000 per year;
• Approved 22 new course additions for Belleville High School for the 2012-13 school year in an effort to grab the attention of students. Curriculum consultant Bonnie Riutta said the courses may be rotated in order to get enough students signed up to run a course. New courses will include Zumba Fitness, Introduction to Children’s Theatre, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Animal Science, and Introduction to Meteorology. The basic curriculum continues;
• Approved a textbook for spring reading by New Tech students: “The Omnivore’s Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind what You Eat” by Michael Pollan. It is planned as an interdisciplinary unit in the Bio-Lit class. Riutta said it is not the goal to make the students vegetarians, but that might be what happens. The book supports Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. High school funds will be used to purchase 125 copies;
• Approved a proposed collaborative project with Eastern Michigan University for BHS students in German 3 and 4 to get 5 hours of college credits for Beginning German from EMU if they pass the class. The total cost to the district is $10,000 for college tuition (with no cap on how many can be in the class) and $1,800 (approx.) for textbooks. The students will get EMU student IDs and be able to use EMU facilities, but classes will be taught at BHS;
• Heard a report from Diane Kullis, Supervisor of Special Services, on Developmental Reading Assessments for third-grade readers, which were better than the MEAP results which were still under state embargo. (A school official tore out the MEAP information from the press packets in reporters’ laps, explaining reporters weren’t supposed to have that.) Supt. Van Tassel apologized, saying he wanted the board to see MEAP results before the embargo is lifted (which is allowed) but they couldn’t be discussed yet. The DAR and MEAP apparently show very different reading results for the same students. Van Tassel noted, “We’re not hitting the mark we’re supposed to” of 90% of the students reading at grade level;
• Discussed the recent changes in state law governing terms of board of education members, allowing term changes from four to six years, so elections can be held in even-numbered years only, as mandated. Whether the board wishes to change to six-year terms will be discussed at a future meeting. The terms of Brent Mikulski, Kevin English, and Martha Toth have been extended to six years by the legislation;
• Was introduced to the Employee Handbook developed by Shonta Landford-Green, Director of Human Resources. “Right now, employees don’t have information they need,” she said, noting the district doesn’t have a handbook
• Was reminded the board will hold a retreat to discuss how it should function as a board at the Superintendent’s Library at Wayne County RESA facility in Wayne beginning at 8 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 4. Since there will be a quorum, it is an open meeting, but there is limited seating, Toth said;
• Heard Toth announce that this is interim School Supt. Tom Riutta’s last week on the job. Riutta didn’t want any public fuss and he was not at the meeting. He signed up for a temporary position and ended up staying three years, Toth said. Bonnie Riutta, who has been a temporary curricular consultant at BHS, also is winding up her time with the district. The couple will be heading to Florida immediately;
• Was honored by Van Tassel with certificates of appreciation for their work on the board. Van Tassel read a resolution from RESA commending their efforts. January had been proclaimed School Board Recognition Month; and
• Heard Trustee Sherry Frazier ask for a report at a future meeting on how the substitute process is working. She also wanted the board to take a stand against privatizing services in order to alleviate the fear of employees. Van Tassel said he fears the state is going to require more privatization and Toth said the board can’t make promises when it doesn’t know what the state will require.