By Sue Moore
The Schoolcraft School Board, after considerable deliberation, voted 5-1 to move forward with consolidating four buildings into three at a special meeting April 18. Trustee Ryan Ludlow was the lone dissenting vote. Trustee Mike Rochholz left before the vote.
The timetable for vacating the Early Elementary Building will depend on which of two plans are chosen.
Vacating the building by this fall is part of Plan A. Plan B provides a longer lead time, depending on proposals from construction managers.
“This isn’t a big project relative to the earlier bond issue that was defeated,” Superintendent Rusty Stitt said. Both plans involve moving kindergarten and pre-school classes to the Elementary building. Only a small amount of remodeling is needed, Stitt indicated. Two locker rooms will be converted to classrooms and a window will be installed for ventilation. A bathroom for pre-schoolers will be remodeled.
Just under 90 fifth grade students would leave the elementary and attend classes in the Middle School where there is space available for three classrooms. A larger issue involves the future of the Early Elementary school, built by the WPA in the 1930s. For the moment, the plan is to mothball it until a decision can be made about its future use, Stitt said.
“Our biggest concern is declining enrollment,” said Business Manager Rita Broekema. “We can’t graduate 95 and go forward with 68. With 13 years of declining enrollment the trend data is not encouraging. The birthrate is lower in west Michigan than the state average. Plus the school district is land-locked so we can’t expand, even though 18 percent of our students are from school of choice.”
Trustee Kathy Mastenbrook urged the townships and village to begin planning for growth in hopes of increasing population and reversing the trend. Trustee Skip Fox urged, “All board members and administration to be on the same page with the sequence of events and do it right.” By closing the Early Elementary, a savings of approximately $100,000 each year could be realized, Broekema estimated.
At the regular board meeting, Trustee Ledlow said he was still listening and wanted to take more time with discussion and communication. Board President Darby Fetzer assured the members the move would be well thought out. “We will want to talk to the village and the planning commission [about the future].”
Curriculum revision recommendations from Principal Ric Seager came to the board via a collaborative process with the teachers, led by Jennie Stull, Tracey Branch and Christy Winkle. The board authorized a six-year plan and an expenditure of $129,578 over a period of two years for an English Language Arts program offered by McGraw Hill and used in area school districts including Gull Lake, Comstock and Marcellus. Trustee Jason Walther congratulated the teachers and administration. “It’s the right solution based on teacher and staff excitement. This was a grass roots effort.”