This friendly village

By Marilyn Jones, Schoolcraft’s Poet Laureate

Everyone seems to know I had a birthday
Lovely cards, visits, and gifts were fun,
My kids took me out to eat
March days showed off, with a warm sun.

How many towns have a library delivery service?
I just make a list of books and DVDs,
When they come in, a library friend delivers
For that personal service, there are no fees.

Their smiling faces are such a welcome sight
Cyndie and Bobbie will be having Book Club soon,
The pandemic is on its way out
I’m hoping things will be “normal” by June.

Cheerful greetings from Tom, Roxanne and Pam
Always give me a happy lift too,
They have all become good friends
During lonely months, they provided
Something to do!

The phone rang and Sheri told me
“I’ll drop off a movie you asked for”
What a surprise…she had a gorgeous bouquet
Spring flowers were such a lovely surprise,
With a special card, it made my day.

I asked, “Do all your customers get flowers?
She laughed and said, “No, only you.”
The special treatment is a blessing to me
Isn’t that a generous thing to do?

Brenda’s pretzel Jell-O salad in 3 layers

INGREDIENTS:

Base Layer
2 cups pretzel sticks
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
1/3 cup sugar

Middle Layer
8 oz. (1 block) cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
8 oz. Cool Whip

Top Layer
1 large packet of strawberry Jell-O
2 cups pineapple juice
2 10-oz tubs of frozen strawberries

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Break by hand 2 cups worth of pretzel sticks into 1-inch pieces.

Melt 2 sticks butter in a bowl and then stir in 1/3 cup sugar until well mixed.

Add pretzels to melted butter/sugar mix and stir until all are coated. Take mixture and spread into an even layer in a 9×13 glass baking dish.

Bake pretzel mixture for 10 minutes. Take out and let cool to room temperature.

Next, in a large bowl, cream together with hand mixer the softened 8-oz block of cream cheese and 3/4 cup sugar. Then fold in 8 oz Cool Whip. Once the pretzel layer has reached room temp, spread the Cool Whip mixture evenly on top. Pro tip: make sure the edges are sealed with mixture so the next layer doesn’t seep through.

Last, in a medium saucepan, heat up 2 cups of pineapple juice. Once it reaches a boil, whisk in the large packet of flavored Jell-O. Whisk until dissolved, then turn off burner. Now add in your 2 tubs (10 oz each) of frozen fruit. The fruit will begin to melt in the warm mixture – continue to stir. Once fruit has fully unthawed in Jell-O mixture, let the pan cool to room temperature. Pro tip: if needed to speed up process, rest sauce pan in an ice bath for 20 minutes.

Once the pan/Jell-O mixture has cooled completely, pour over Cool Whip layer.

Place glass pan in refrigerator. Let set for at least 2 hours.

Your pretzel salad is now ready! Enjoy! 

Schoolcraft village council sets goals for 2021

By Rob Peterson

The Schoolcraft Village Council set 2021 goals at a March meeting, following a discussion at a special meeting in February where two overriding themes were creation of a sanitary sewer committee and strategizing for economic development and revitalization.

The council also indicated its intention to continue working on goals it had set in 2020, which include encouraging economic development and reviewing all possible revenue generating options. Revenue generation may include asking voters for a Headlee override.

The 1978 Headlee Amendment to the Michigan constitution requires a local government to reduce its millage rate to prevent total valuation of all property in the community from rising faster than the rate of inflation. A Headlee override asks voters to increase a millage to previous limits authorized by charter, state law or previously voter-approved limits.

The amendment did not limit how quickly tax revenues must be reduced when property values decrease, as they did during the recession. As property values rebounded, another constitutional amendment restricted Schoolcraft from increasing taxable value to keep up with market prices.

Schoolcraft may look at three choices: find a way to grow tax revenue through new development; grow tax revenue through a Headlee override; or cut services.

In recent years, the Village has been able to stave off all three options because of an unusually large fund balance, which today is nearly 100% of a typical year’s revenues. To balance its budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, the council approved dipping into this balance by $106,000.

Related to this discussion, Finance Director Tammi Youngs noted that the Village does not have a fund balance policy. She presented a draft policy to the council that was based on her research of federal standards as well as policies in similar municipalities in Michigan.

A fund balance policy is not an exact science and must be based on a number of factors. “Because we are a smaller community, we are more susceptible to swings in revenue and expense,” Youngs said.

Based on her recommendation, the council approved a policy that will set its fund balance to 40% of expected annual revenues. With that policy, the council has roughly four years of excess cash before it will need to make major adjustments to revenue or expenses.

Council members discussed whether they could increase revenues by investing their fund balance rather than keeping it in cash. Youngs replied that there are restrictions on how a municipality can invest, adding that “The goal is to keep everything safe; to keep the money we have and not lose it.”

The current year budget, as well as budgets going back to 2016, are available on the Village’s website.

In other action, the council increased water rates by 3% for the third year. Council member Mike Rochholz asked if the Village has set aside enough for capital improvements in the water system. Village Manager Cheri Lutz responded that staff will review the needs for capital improvements and include them in any rate increase recommendations next year.

Village staff and the council had decided to step up enforcement of ordinances which create safety issues, and the pushback from residents has caused the council to create an ad-hoc committee to review regulatory ordinances.

The Fourth of July celebration has been officially postponed until 2022. After discussions with those who plan the event, it was determined that there is too much work and expense that must take place now with no guarantee that the event will happen.

The council also postponed the usual July 4 community-wide garage sales.

Vicksburg sidewalk removal required tree removal

By Jef Rietsma

Trees along downtown Vicksburg sidewalks were cut down because the sidewalks must be removed as part of the coming water and sewer infrastructure project, Vicksburg Village Manager Jim Mallery said at a March village council meeting.

New trees will be planted.

The manager responded to social media posts questioning removal of the downtown-area trees. He said the village gave public notice as far back as January that the trees would be coming down at the onset of the infrastructure work.

“Once this project gets downtown, all of the sidewalks eventually are going to be dug up and those trees appropriately had to come down before April 1,” he said. “On a positive note, there are going to be trees downtown, in a downtown that is going to be as progressive as any small village downtown is currently.”

“Every tree that came down was connected to the infrastructure project,” he said. “There are going to be additional trees that come down as sidewalks along the area of Spruce Street are getting replaced. Staff makes contact with the actual home’s residents and homeowners well in advance.”

He said Spruce Street sidewalks are more than 50 years old and are buckled in many sections.

On another subject, Vicksburg will once again fund a goose round-up in an effort to control the Canada geese population in the village.

Mallery said the round-up will take place in the vicinity of Sunset Lake. During the village council’s March 1 meeting, Mallery said he feels past round-ups have had a positive impact.

“In the summer of 2017, we unfortunately had to shut down Sunset Lake beach for a time period due to the testing results of the water,” he said. “We’ve looked at an all-encompassing plan – DPW continues to implement that plan by quite frequent clean-ups of the beach – but one of the key things we thought we were successful in was the annual goose round-up, which has moved to the addition of capturing eggs.”

Mallery said the company charged with the task repopulates the geese elsewhere in the state. He said the process is regulated by the state and that this is the second consecutive year the procedure includes gathering eggs.

“It is a live capture; the animals are just placed in new homes in another location in the state of Michigan,” Mallery said.

A resolution in support of the process is required and was approved unanimously.

In other business, Mallery outlined the process leading up to approval of the village’s 2021-22 fiscal-year budget beginning July 1. He said the procedure involves internal meetings with department heads for their input on needs, wants and wishes for the 12-month period.

Mallery said input will be sought from business owners and Vicksburg residents before the council approves the budget, probably on June 28.

Council member Denny Olsen said the former Plainsman Motel in Schoolcraft Township will be intentionally set on fire to provide training for the South County Fire Authority and other area fire departments.

Olsen said the burn will take place over the May 1-2 weekend. Coordination will involve Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Department, the Michigan Department of Transportation, Schoolcraft Police and other agencies.

“(U.S.) 131 speed limit is probably going to have to be cut down to 30 to 35 miles an hour simply for the fact we’re going to have gawkers,” Olsen said. “In fact, we may have to detour off of 131 … that’s all a possibility.”

He said the procedure is scheduled on a weekend to allow fire personnel to manage the blaze a room at a time and allow for a follow-up investigation.

Vicksburg deals with summer learning, construction

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Community Schools officials are preparing for a busy summer at some of its buildings.

In addition to juggling a few significant construction projects, administrators face the task of coordinating summer-learning programs.

“We have ramped up our discussions around the summer … one of the big maneuvering aspects of summer services is, as we’re doing construction, where can we put the kids?” Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said. “We certainly will be working through that and we’re confident we can put together a plan. We’re working with our staff right now to see the interest in doing some summer school, so, stay tuned.”

Board member David Schriemer acknowledged the district’s staff has gone above and beyond this year, and deserves a break. Still, Schriemer said he hopes there are some enthusiastic teachers willing to help out this summer.

“I think it’s so critical and if we have more dollars available to do something, I really hope we’re able to do something even bigger than we’ve done before,” Schriemer said. “I think that’d be fantastic.”

In response, O’Neill referenced House Bill 4048, which would provide funding from the state for teachers and support staff involved in K-8 summer programs or high school credit-recovery programs.

Assistant Superintendent Steve Goss elaborated on the pending construction work taking place this summer at Sunset Lake and Tobey schools, financed through last year’s voter-approved bond issue.

“The work is about $5.2 million worth of construction and it’s going to relate primarily to upgrading the mechanical systems at those two buildings. There’s a lot of work that goes along with that,” Goss said.

He said the work will include new windows, replacing curtain walls, a stucco-like façade, mechanical upgrades to bring cooling systems into the buildings, new piping, electrical upgrades including a conversion to LED lighting and acoustic ceilings.

“It’s very daunting when you look at the summer construction season and every year the needs to use the building for the summer go up and up and up,” he said, adding that a number of discussions have taken place with principals, O’Neill, the district’s curriculum director and others in an attempt to coordinate summer-instruction options. “I feel like we’re walking a tightrope because we have a limited amount of time to do a lot of work, and we have a limited amount of time to work with our students.”

Goss said the added expense of running air conditioning at the schools will be largely offset by savings realized through the installation of energy-efficient windows, exterior insulation and LED lighting. Replacing the single-pane, glass windows – which are original from the building’s opening – at the east side of Sunset Lake, for example, will result in a substantial degree of energy efficiency.

Work at Sunset Lake will be done over two summers considering the magnitude of construction there.

Sixteen bid packages related to the summer work were subsequently approved by the board. The board in coming months is expected to review bids related to stadium improvements at the high school. The work will include replacement turf on the football field, and replacement asphalt and track coating.

Meanwhile, O’Neill said the majority of the district’s employees have had their second COVID-19 vaccination. As a result, some parents have inquired about class sizes, as some families want to move their children from virtual back into in-person learning.

He said the district has capped its elementary rooms to 23 students and is has started to add potential returning students to a waiting list.

“If there’s no room in their home elementary school in that grade level, we ask them if they would like to attend a different elementary for this school year only,” he said. “We’ve had some success there.”

O’Neill said there has been no consideration given to increasing class sizes beyond 23 students per room.

VHS students qualify for DECA state conference

By Justin McDonald, DECA advisor

Vicksburg High students Max Dinzik, Alyvia Bailey and Jacob Wood qualified for the state Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) state conference. DECA is a business club that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe. DECA students compete in live role plays in front of a judge and take an exam for their event category for district, state and international conferences.

Max Dinzik qualified for the Sports and Entertainment Marketing series event. This is his second year in DECA. He is a two-time state conference qualifier. Alyvia Bailey is a first-year DECA member and qualified for the state conference in the Principles of Marketing series event. Jacob Wood is a third-year DECA member and qualified for the state conference in the Quick Serve Restaurant Management series event. He is a two-time state conference qualifier. All three students are district conference champions, which is a requirement to qualify for the state conference.

DECA was conducted virtually this year due to the pandemic. Normally, students would have traveled to Detroit for the state conference and to Anaheim, California for the international conference if they qualified.

Students continue service activities in Vicksburg

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Vicksburg Middle School Student Senate Serve and Create “Fun Fridays”

While many of the activities Vicksburg Middle School students usually promote were cancelled this year, members still worked on a service project and promoted some fun for everyone in the building. Melissa Tutt, the group’s advisor, said meetings have been limited, but the students did make five blankets for a fire station in Battle Creek, a project that has existed for several years. Tutt says the students are excited because they get to deliver the blankets this year. “Places we have donated to in the past haven’t allowed us to deliver them ourselves. We will not be able to go inside the fire station, but they will be able to come outside, and the students can give them their gifts.”

Tutt’s group also decided to create activities that encourage everyone to have a little fun. Students came up with a list of fun things for students and staff to do on Fridays. The group labelled it “Fun Fridays.” Senate members select a theme from an approved list. The theme is announced on Monday so students have all week to decide what they will be wearing. Some of this year’s themes include hat day, favorite television/movie T-shirt day, wear a specific color by grade day, and mix-matched clothing day. The activities generate some excitement and are allowed because participants can remain six feet apart.

In April, the group will plan for teacher appreciation week, and Tutt remains optimistic the students can include one more activity before the end of the year.

Indian Lake Elementary Students Help as They Can

Most of Indian Lake Elementary Student Council activities have been done virtually this year. Diana Haring, the group’s advisor, said that while it has been an adjustment, her students have created and continued activities to improve their school.

This year, students have written and recorded announcements for teachers to play. They have promoted spirit days while students were in school face-to-face, and for days when the district’s schools were shut down during the pandemic. The school’s spirit week before the holiday break included festive hat day, holiday socks day, ugly sweater day, elf day, and pajama day.

The students purchased social/emotional tools for classrooms and held a virtual talent show last spring, with one in the works for this year. One project the group worked on for the whole year is assisting with building recycling. Students collect the recycling materials from classrooms and offices and take it to the recycling dumpster.

Haring acknowledges that there haven’t been the usual “monthly” projects the group has done in the past, “but we are helping our school where we can during this pandemic.”   

Sunset Lake Lighthouse Team Meets Virtually and Plans to Grow

Michelle Malito and Kristina Newhouse, staff advisors for Sunset Lake’s Lighthouse Team, hope to increase the group’s size for next year. This year, the group student leaders, committed to making a positive contribution to their school, held virtual bi-weekly meetings. During this time, students sit in the hallway with their headphones and Chromebooks. Malito said they also have two fully virtual students who are part of the group and join the scheduled meetings.

Even with the challenges of COVID, this year’s group has been busy. Emma Welch, a 4th grade Lighthouse Team member describes this year’s efforts. “In February we did a black history event by highlighting a famous black American in history on morning announcements for all the school days. Also in March we created a calendar for the ‘March is Reading Month’ theme. In April we plan on doing a Sunset Lake Elementary school Earth Day service which is still being decided by the Student Lighthouse Team.”

The pandemic limited the group’s recruitment at the end of the last year so this year’s group was smaller. The applications for next year’s group, which includes teacher recommendations, begin in May. Malito intends to grow the group for next year, including students from every grade level.

Schoolcraft hires new superintendent

Schoolcraft school board members welcomed the district’s next superintendent. Front row, from left, are board Secretary Katie Redmond, superintendent-designate Rick Frens and President Jennifer Gottschalk. Back row, from left, are Trustee Adam Haley, Treasurer Wade Rutkoskie, Vice-President Jason Walther, and Trustee Randy Blankenship. Frens starts July 1.

By Travis Smola

The Schoolcraft Board of Education in March hired Rick Frens as the district’s next superintendent effective July 1. He will replace Superintendent Rusty Stitt, leaving after 10 years with the district.

Frens is originally from Grand Rapids and attended Grand Rapids Christian Schools before going on to Hope College, where he played football and majored in special education. He taught special education in nearby Wyoming before moving to southern Maine where he taught special education at Noble High School in North Berwick, Maine. After his wife Meg was offered an athletic trainer position at Hope College, they moved back to Michigan.

From there, he resumed his special education work at Grandville High School while also earning a master’s degree in educational leadership at Grand Valley State University. Frens’ first job in administration was assistant principal at Kelloggsville Middle School. He also served as assistant principal at the high school there. For the last eight years, Frens has served as Hamilton Middle School’s principal.

In addition to his administrative work, he has also served on the executive board of Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals. Frens has also been highly involved with athletics, serving on the executive board of the Ottawa-Kent Athletic Conference and coached football and track at Grandville.

“I feel my professional and personal experiences have prepared me well to lead in Schoolcraft and maintain the positive forward momentum of the district,” Frens said in an email. “We have so many great resources including strong academics, a top-notch team of staff members, a bond construction project and solid community support.”

Frens and his wife have three children. Their son, Sam, is set to graduate from Hamilton High School this year and will attend Hope College in the fall. Their older daughter, Nora, is a freshman. Their younger daughter is a fifth grader. It seems they already have the spirit for Schoolcraft too.

“Paige hasn’t taken off her Schoolcraft Eagles hat since it was dropped off the other day,” Frens told the board at the meeting.

Board members and building administrators at the end of the meeting congratulated Frens on having earned the job.

Vicksburg schools, union, reach agreement

By Jef Rietsma

An agreement between Vicksburg Community Schools and the Vicksburg Education Association dealing with changed working conditions due to COVID-19 will provide an extra $1,000 and three more sick days with pay for the school year ending in June.

The agreement ended months of negotiations.

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said the agreement was “totally appropriate.”

“It definitely wasn’t just Vicksburg, it was all across many public school districts to get an agreement – whether it was financial working conditions, agreement to work in a hybrid, to teach virtual – anything that was a change to what we would consider a normal teaching duty,” O’Neill said. “Yes, absolutely appropriate; I couldn’t be any happier that we finally did reach an agreement. On top of that, when the vaccinations came out, it relaxed everybody.”

He said the process of ironing out the letter of agreement started last summer and continued through the end of January, with multiple proposals going back and forth. The agreement was completed in early February. Its provisions were announced at the March meeting.

Completing his third year as Vicksburg superintendent, O’Neill said the agreement required the services of a state mediator. He said the process was good for both sides and drastically helped expedite the pact.

“At this point, we’ll start looking forward to the fall, try to figure out what that’s going to look like and what we have to get done from now until then,” he said. “It’s difficult to predict, of course.”

Kelly MacDonell, VEA secretary, said the agreement included a provision for the district to provide staff with personal protection equipment needed to clean desks and classrooms.

“The [agreement] also extended the Families First Coronavirus Response Act paid leave for staff members who contract or must quarantine due to COVID-19,” she said. “Staff members are grateful to be vaccinated. However, we are still concerned about transmission between students and home to unvaccinated caregivers.”

She said secondary and intervention staff continue to sanitize classrooms between every class period – more than eight times daily.

MacDonell said it was also important to the VEA to include language that teachers will continue to be compensated for their work on extra-curricular clubs and events.

“Many teachers are finding safe and creative ways to complete the activities the community has come to enjoy such as yearbook, band and musicals,” she added. “The VEA is still awaiting judgment on whether the changes to our working conditions to teach virtual and in-person students at the same time violates our contract.”

Besides the additional pay and paid sick days, the agreement includes a stipulation that a teacher may choose to work remotely but is not required to.

Schoolcraft student activities continue amid COVID

Some of the food collected by students.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Students and staff at Schoolcraft High School have adapted and adjusted to many difficulties during the last year. Despite the challenges, student opportunities exist.

Matthew Dailey, Schoolcraft High School principal, speaks highly of his staff. “They have transitioned through all forms of teaching and learning this year and have done so with grace, the utmost professionalism, and a high degree of effectiveness on behalf of our kids.  I am proud of the challenges they have accepted and the opportunities they have continued to create for our kids.”   

Lori Pelton, Schoolcraft High School’s National Honor Society advisor, shares that the Society’s induction ceremony is April 7. Last year’s ceremony was cancelled due to the pandemic, so this year’s induction will include those members who were eligible last year as well as this year’s inductees. Masks will be worn, and the ceremony will be held in person.

Chris Kato, Schoolcraft High School’s Student Council advisor, said activities continued this year with modifications for COVID guidelines. The Student Council meets via Zoom on Monday mornings, which is the school’s virtual school day. The group consists of 40 members, representing grades 9 through 12. 

In the fall, the student group planned and facilitated Fall Fest 2021, an adapted version of the school’s traditional Homecoming festivities. The group sponsored spirit week activities at school, including hallway decorating and dress-up days. The school held an outdoor socially distanced ceremony to recognize the high school’s fall clubs and athletic teams, as well as to present the homecoming court.

The group also sponsored two blood drives this year. Kato said, “Typically those are held in our building, but due to COVID restrictions, we have partnered with Connections Community Church in Schoolcraft to hold the drives at their location.”

The National Honor Society and Schoolcraft High School’s student council teamed up to fill the shelves at the Eagles Nest this year. Both groups are collecting food and hygiene items until April 9.