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Survey: School restructuring



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October 17, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- Change in the use of school buildings in the district is coming. What remains unknown is what that change will look like in December, when a facilities review concludes.

At the Oct. 15 school board meeting, Steve Gaynor of the Michigan Association of School Boards presented results from an online facilities review survey that garnered "a remarkable" 1,172 responses as well as input from focus groups that recently met with the MASB team to share their thoughts on possible restructuring of schools.

"It's a well-organized report—thorough and captured a good cross-section," said School Board President Kevin McClellan. "We are pleased so far. There will be changes, but we don't know what those will be yet."

The possible restructuring of buildings was first publicly proposed during an April finance committee meeting.

McMahon has estimated the district could save as much as $400,000 by consolidating grades into specific buildings. School officials have been looking for ways to cut costs in difficult economic times as revenue, as well as the district's fund balance, takes a dive.

Two restructuring options were presented to the board in May, both of which would have Oakwood Elementary house all first and second grade classes and Harvey Swanson having all third and fourth grade classes. The options differed in that in one, Belle Ann Elementary would house all kindergarten classes and preschool programs and H.T. Burt would continue to be home to the alternative high school and the early childhood wing of Burt would be available for rental or closed. The second option would have the alternative high school moved from the H.T. Burt building to Belle Ann, and have kindergarten and preschool classes at H.T. Burt. Under this scenario, part of Belle Ann would be closed.

Savings would be realized through the reduction of about six teachers, which would be possible because consolidating grades into separate buildings more evenly distributes class sizes. However, the plan sparked backlash from many parents in the community and it was determined more discussion was necessary.

The possible closing of Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School has also been discussed, with fifth grade being added to the elementary schools and sixth grade moving into the middle school.

The survey responses from 952 parents, 185 teachers, and 35 other stakeholders including area business owners and senior citizens, found the top seven strategies that respondents supported or strongly supported for cost savings in the district were: adding or increasing facility usage fees for outside groups (80.1 percent); offering/exploring online opportunities to save money (50.2 percent); an additional millage to pay for technology and maintain buildings (49.7 percent); consolidating or closing a building (43.2 percent); eliminating/consolidating classes with fewer than 20 students (37 percent); reducing athletic offerings (17.5 percent) and increasing class sizes (8.8 percent).

The top seven cost-costing strategies that were opposed or strongly opposed were: increasing class sizes (76.8 percent); eliminating non-required courses (76.8 percent); reducing athletic offerings (67.6 percent); reducing art and music (67.6 percent); eliminating or consolidating classes with 20 students or less (41.3 percent); increasing athletic fees (38.6 percent); and implementing or increasing extra-curricular fees (34.4 percent).

Other suggestions for cost reductions in the district included reducing administrators; being more energy efficient; across the board cuts for all staff; lengthening the school day and shortening the school year; outsourcing transportation; and "numerous other strategies," including volunteers, fundraising donations, close pool, eliminate textbooks and opt for online, eliminate professional development and more.

Revenue enhancement strategies included promoting the renting of facilities, selling advertising to be displayed on buses, in the cafeteria, stadium, etc., recruiting more students through schools of choice, charging soc students tuition, hiring a grant writer, promotion and increased fees for community/adult education, and more.

The focus groups, of which there were eight, with 59 total participants, brainstormed guiding principles they felt the school board and the MASB team should use in determining what course of action to take regarding changes in the district as it pertains to facilities, and the groups also offered advice.

During the board's Oct. 15 meeting, they adopted the following guiding principles and advice, essentially unchanged (except to avoid some redundancies) directly from the focus groups. Recommendations from MASB, led by Steve Gaynor, will be guided by: Maintaining/improving the quality of instruction; considering the characteristics of the school buildings; developing a big picture plan; considering the needs of the students; considering the impact on the budget; basing decisions on facts, not emotions; considering the importance of quality staff; and looking for opportunities to innovate. Advice taken will be: Ensuring transparency in decision-making; doing what's right, not what's easy; and communicating comprehensively with the community.

At the beginning of his presentation, Gaynor noted, "Each focus group was reminded they provide advice, but the board is not bound to that advice."

"This review is very transparent, with community involvement and it's being done by an outside source so that it is impartial," said McClellan. "We anticipate (MASB) will have ideas that we will put into place. My expectation is they will bring us something we want to do that will be a change."

Gaynor plans to bring the MASB recommendations to the next school board meeting, planned for 6:30 p.m., Nov. 19 at central district office, 1025 S. Ortonville Road.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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