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Community responds to proposed Brandon school building changes

November 28, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- A public meeting Monday night in which district residents were invited to give input regarding the proposed closing of one school building and major changes to others drew less than 70 people, many of whom were district staff.

The meeting was held Nov. 26 at the Performing Arts Center, 1025 S. Ortonville Road. High attendance was anticipated, but the vast majority of seats in the auditorium were empty as Steve Gaynor of the Michigan Association of School Boards repeated a presentation and recommendation he first gave during a school board meeting on Nov. 19.

Gaynor has recommended the district close the Burt portion of the Harvey Swanson/Burt complex, rehome the alternative high school at the current Belle Ann Elementary, house all kindergarten through third grade classes at Oakwood and Harvey Swanson elementaries, and have all fourth through sixth grade classes at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School. Oakwood and Harvey Swanson would also have all preschool and latchkey programs. There would be no changes to the middle school or high school buildings under Gaynor's recommendation. The overall expected annual savings would be about $200,000.

During the special public meeting, several questions and concerns were raised, most of whom by speakers who identified themselves as parents of current Belle Ann students.

"I understand we need to be flexible," said Julie Quinnell. "But this is looking like a Band-Aid to me. It seems so unfair that my kid loses their school and gets to be the new kid on the block."

Gaynor noted that with a projected $1.3 million shortfall for the district, the restructuring of buildings would be just one part of a larger plan to correct the deficit.

"One of the things we want to avoid is having to do this again," he said. "It's very unlikely (the district would have to restructure) again in a few years."

"My kindergartener is going to be disrupted over and over again," said Elizabeth Rowe. "She will be moving schools every couple years. $200,000 doesn't seem like enough savings to move my child this many times, disrupting her life. I know all districts are trying to save money, but these are extreme steps. Belle Ann is getting the short end of the stick."

"You are turning the district upside down to save the cost of a teacher, a secretary and $54,000 in utility costs," said Aalden Guilmette. "This is a real insult to Belle Ann parents and all parents throughout the district. It's a shame. You should look at administrative costs. This is the wrong answer."

The savings from Gaynor's recommended option comes from an expected reduction in teacher staffing ($80,001), secretarial staffing ($42,316), custodial staffing ($24,308), and $53,382 in utility savings.

The district is also anticipating long-term savings in capital improvements to both Burt ($643,494 over 5 years) and Belle Ann ($111,415).

The district hired the Michigan Association of School Boards at a cost of $14,000 to provide an unbiased, professional analysis of data, as well as lead focus groups to give recommendations on an appropriate course of action regarding use of buildings.

Superintendent Lorrie McMahon said there were a lot of good questions at the meeting and Gaynor will investigate further into the most efficient way for the district to transport students, as well as whether there would be a better way to organize school boundary lines.

"As soon as the board decides if there are going to be any changes, we will be able to let parents and staff know what things will look like for next year," she said. "I support the recommendation, it is a way to save significant money without harming our academic program. Saving $200,000 a year is a million dollars in 5 years."

The board will vote on the recommendation at a special meeting, 6:30 p.m., Dec. 3 at the central district office, 1025 S. Ortonville Road.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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