Category Archives: Schools

Schoolcraft Schools Facing Potential Deficit

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft schools Finance Director Rita Broekema explained how projections show a likely deficit in the general fund of up to $170,000 for the 2018-2019 fiscal year at the school board’s June meeting.

There are several reasons for the potential deficit. Broekema said adoption of the unbalanced high school calendar was more costly than budgeted, primarily in the dual enrollment and early middle college arena. Broekema said when it was still in a conceptual phase it was difficult to project how many students would take advantage of the additional course offerings. More students ended up taking the courses than had been budgeted.

Early middle college and dual enrollments were budgeted for around $260,000. But participation among students was greater than anticipated and it ended up costing around $341,000. “Overall, our participation surpassed anything Ric (Seager), Rusty and I had projected for this year,” Broekema said.

Another surprise came in the form of utilities. The district changed lighting systems in the high school and that alone came in $15,000 over budget. “What we’re finding is our usage decreased,” Broekema said. “It was just the simple cost of utilities.”

Broekema said she would be comfortable with a deficit around $100,000, which would be more manageable by the district, in the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The biggest factor will be the amount of the state foundation grant, the per-pupil amount the school will receive as part, but not all, of the overall state aid budget. That amount hasn’t been determined by the legislature and governor.

While discussing the capital budget, board Vice President Jason Walther asked if it was possible to flow some funds from capital back to general. Broekema said it was and that the only funds that can’t be moved back and forth are from the debt fund. There would have to be a discussion and agreement on this prior to August 12, when auditors visit the district.

The board tentatively scheduled a meeting in early August to consider passing such a resolution.

The ideal scenario is the state budgeting more money for the upcoming school year. However, Broekema said if the state doesn’t come through, there are other options. Three new teachers are budgeted at a full salary, but that could be reduced. She said the district could also choose to make some difficult decisions in the middle or at the end of the next school year.

The board agreed to have more discussion on the matter at its July board meeting. But Broekema said she feels confident in how the district will handle the issue. She also said she is confident in the board’s judgment when it comes to making tough decisions.

“This board is really cognizant of doing the right thing in the big picture,” Broekema said.

Schoolcraft Plans Bond Purchase, Hires New Principal

By Travis Smola

In a 6-1 vote, the Schoolcraft school board approved a proposal that will put a $39.9 million bond issue on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The proceeds would build a new elementary school and additions to the high school to accommodate seventh and eighth graders. The issue was quickly passed by the board without much discussion. Treasurer Kathy Mastenbrook was the lone no vote.

Mastenbrook said “Given the scope of this project … I believe it is prudent to put out a request for proposals for comparative purposes. I am not certain a $39.9 million bond issue is needed to meet the needs of our district.”

The board also approved the hiring of a new social worker and high school principal at the meeting. The social worker, Shelby Getsinger, recently completed her master’s degree training and is a Vicksburg graduate who will now become an Eagle. The board also approved Matthew Dailey to take over as the new high school principal for Ric Seager, who has taken a job as superintendent for Watervliet Public Schools.

Dailey was previously principal at Hazel Park High School in the Detroit area. “He’s full of energy, he’s extremely bright and he really wanted to be an Eagle,” Superintendent Rusty Stitt said while introducing Dailey to the board. He was already present at graduation where he introduced himself to many community and staff members. “It’s been really exciting to be a part of this process,” Dailey said. He used the analogy of a new car to compare the excitement he has for moving to the community.

“Moving to Schoolcraft high school feels like getting the keys to a brand-new vehicle,” Dailey said. “However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t not put gas in it, you can’t not rotate the tires, can’t not do the oil change, that you don’t have to fix the windshield wipers. You’ve got to give it a little love now and then and put a polish and wax on it.

“Just know that by being awarded this position, we’re going to keep doing maintenance on what’s going on and we may put spinners on the wheels every now and then,” Dailey joked. “I appreciate everything you’re doing and I’m looking forward to being part of your community.”

Patrick Callahan Goes West After Four Years at MIT

Callahan mug
Patrick Callahan.

By Sue Moore

“Working for the Seattle Mariners will be everything I’ve ever wanted to do, all in one package,” said Patrick (P.J.) Callahan, Vicksburg High School valedictorian in 2015. He is a new mechanical engineering graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was a star pitcher for the Bulldogs and at MIT for the Engineers.

And he has his first real job as Project Coordinator in Sustainability with the Mariners baseball team. “This combines everything I’ve ever been interested in,” Callahan said. “I’ve wanted to make some kind of impact, make a difference in the world and be happy doing it.” His small-town roots are where it began, he said.

While at MIT, Callahan majored in mechanical engineering so he could pick what he liked by minoring in energy studies and economics. Now he gets to work helping people understand about climate change. He will be taking on waste and energy management at the T-Mobile ball park on any given day. Management has created the role for him even though it was further ahead than most big-league teams in recycling trash. The organization has a compost facility south of Seattle and hand-sorts most of the waste stream that goes to this operation for recycling. Callahan did a 3 ½-week internship in January. The organization liked his ideas on how to take the information it has and move the effort forward to educate and calculate the carbon footprint of its recycling program. He begins the job on July 15 and reports to the vice president of operations.

Although Callahan won’t be pitching batting practice for the Mariners, he just finished his baseball career by throwing two successive winning games for MIT in its league tournament to beat Babson College and qualify for the team’s entry into the NCAA playoffs. Callahan is a lefty but hits and writes as a right-hander. His dad, Tim, taught him this way as he opined that it would have more opportunities as his son grew older.

At MIT, “P.J. was basically our hero, throwing two complete games to lead us to the NEWMAC championship. Never seen anyone do something like that on a baseball team I’ve covered in 20 years in athletic communications,” said Ken Johnson, director of promotions and marketing.

“I’ve had a baseball in my hand since I was born,” P.J. said. “I would hit the ball off a tee in our backyard, just going back and forth all day long. Nobody ever forced me. I just did it because I loved playing baseball. My dad was a good athlete in his heyday, playing for Dearborn Divine Child. He and my mom, Audrie, headed off to Alaska before I was born with my three siblings who now live in and around Vicksburg. We returned to Michigan because dad got a job teaching government at Vicksburg High School and my mom went to KVCC to become a nurse.”

“P.J. is the most disciplined kid I know,” said Tim. “Ever since he was little, if he said he would do something he would stick with it. He used to study physics on our 20-minute car ride into school each day. There is not a lot of science interest in the family but he was inspired and pushed himself all the time.”

P.J. applied in middle school to the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center (KAMSC) but got cold feet when he was accepted. “My parents asked me to try it for one year but I was scared and didn’t love it. Just get through it, they told me. So, I went a second year and it was a little better. Then in my junior year, my physics teacher, Michael Sinclair, was demanding and tough, which was just what I needed. Being both a geek and a jock meant no social life and that was even harder as I loved the lunch room chat with my friends. I had played baseball with them for eight straight years,” P.J. recalled.

“When it was time to look at colleges, I still wanted to play baseball. Case Western was my choice and then MIT’s coach came calling. I was put on the deferred admissions list which was disheartening as we hadn’t visited the campus. Then when I was accepted, we took a 14-hour drive to Boston and spent one day there. I can’t say that I was in love with the place so it took me a few more weeks to decide to attend. I have no regrets now but those first few months were a challenge to make adjustments to the city and the school. It was a cultural shock and four straight years of stress. I learned it’s OK to get a B and not be perfect every single time,” he said.

Callahan helped his team win its league championship in 2019 with a starting pitching record of 6-2. He throws a 4 seam, 85-mph fastball and has a good curve ball and slider to go with it. He learned to throw a change-up his senior year. He credits his teammates with having a lot of talent and great work ethic. And it helps that they are really smart, he said.

Vicksburg School Board Congratulates Laura Chang

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Laura Chang, Vicksburg and Michigan’s Teacher of the Year in 2018/19.

By Sue Moore

Laura Chang, finishing her stint as Michigan Teacher of the Year, gave the Vicksburg School Board at its June meeting her insights on what she called a life-changing experience.

“I served on several state level committees with one that will be ongoing for special education. I was able to facilitate workshops with diverse learners around the state, often with the topics tied directly to the Vicksburg school system in one way or another,” she said.

“Our national group of teachers spent a week together in California. They are all passionate teachers, immersed in professional learning. We examined equity while working in teams to figure out how to get the necessary resources when and where we need them,” she said.

A trip to the United Arab Republic (UAR) brought her in close contact with that country’s teachers who were concentrating on STEM education. She spent a week in Washington, DC with 56 other teachers of the year while they concentrated on professional learning. The group visited the White House, toured its West Wing and met with Betsy DeVos, secretary of education in the Trump administration.

“My life changed the day I was announced as teacher of the year last May. I have been an advocate for teachers and our school district, allowed to grow while also pursuing my Ph.D. during this time.

Ben Rosier, high school band director, presented the “state of the band program” to the board members. There are now between 185 to 192 in the marching band. He and Ravenna Kaylor teach the three concert bands, a symphonic band, a wind ensemble and two jazz bands. They are in need of new instruments and have partnered with the Band Boosters and the Vicksburg Foundation to purchase $64,000 worth of instruments, he said. They have raised $75,000 for the new trailer that will house instruments, uniforms and everything the band needs for travel to competitions and on its trip to New Orleans in 2020.

Trustee Tina Forsyth asked about starting an orchestra program. Rosier said he would love to have one but the cost might be the limiting factor. Trustee Rudy Callen wondered how big the band could get without sacrificing quality. “It’s all about student leadership,” Rosier explained. “They own the band and take it to a competitive level. The students have to buy in with their peers leading them. That’s very important.”

Skip Knowles, board president, remarked that he has seen how cool it is for students to be in the band. “There is lots of pride. It’s the passion that Ben has. His program is great training for life.”

In other business, Superintendent Keevin O’Neill presented a home school partnership between Vicksburg Community Schools and Lighthouse Connections Academy that the administration is preparing for board approval at the July meeting. He said the benefit would be in helping kids who are out of district gain access to elective online courses. “This partnership supports our mission to maximize the success and potential of all students and provide a way to give kids a more well-rounded experience,” O’Neill said.

Steve Goss, assistant superintendent reported on the budget process for the 2019-2020 school year. “There is a little more uncertainty this year with regard to the budgeting process, particularly with per pupil funding, which will not be determined until the state of Michigan finalizes its budget. The proposed budget for 2019-2020 assumes per pupil funding will closely resemble the Michigan House proposal, only recently released. Enrollment is projected to be flat, and compensation levels are subject to collective bargaining, which is currently in process.”

The school levies 18 mills, $18 per $1,000 taxable valuation, on non-principal residence properties.That raises $1,936,000 in revenue and is required in order for the school district to receive its full allotment of state funding. The total revenues and expenditures for the 2019-2020 fiscal year are projected to be $28,499,079 and $28,450,301, respectively.

Seniors Honored at Reception by Rotary and Lions Clubs

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From left to right: Kyle Kelly, Sam Gearig, Joey McCowen, Casey Hall, Grace Wile, Maia Flect, Kali Yant, and Mia Mulhern.

By Sue Moore

Vicksburg High School was fortunate to have 12 seniors recognized by Education for Employment and Education for the Arts, (EFE/EFA) for Outstanding Senior Awards. Principal Adam Brush reported on the recognition as he introduced the students to the school board at its May meeting.

Approximately 2,500 students from 10 area schools are in more than 30 EFE/EFA programs. This year, 64 students received $64,285 in scholarships.

The 12 Vicksburg students won scholarships in computerized manufacturing, law enforcement, cooperative education, marketing, accounting, health science, veterinary science, creative writing and dental assisting that totaled $11,000.

A week later, the Vicksburg Rotary and Lions clubs banded together to honor 91 graduating seniors from the class of 2019 at the annual Honors Reception. The seniors received awards for academics and sports with a grand total of $68,000 in scholarships handed out by local organizations.

The board heard Transportation Director Karen McKinstry’s annual report on school buses and drivers. They began the year needing three more bus drivers. Eric Rietsema, in charge of recruiting, came up with three to fill these important slots. “We have had three people with perfect attendance records for the three years I have been with the school district,” she said. “That shows dedication and loyalty to the job and to the kids.”

The board voted to buy three new gasoline buses at a cost of $201,890 on McKinstry’s recommendation. “The emissions systems on diesel buses are costly to repair, so we have had to start using premium fuel to unclog them. Gas-powered buses will give us more savings,” she said.

All buses were inspected by the state at the end of April. All passed with only one yellow tag, McKinstry said. “It was a team effort.”

Schoolcraft School Roofs Need Work

By Travis Smola

Schoolcraft Community Schools recently teamed with Tremco, Inc., to do thermal surveys of the district’s roofs. The results were concerning.

The school board was shown results of the survey at its May meeting. They showed stress fractures and seams in every roof in the district. Another big concern is areas of wet insulation in the high school gym and athletic hall. Some problems were known to the district, but the survey revealed new problem areas. The recommendation is to replace the roof.

At the elementary building, the recommendation by Tremco was to maintain and restore the gymnasium roof , nearly 30 years old, to try to get five more years out of it. The middle school roof is the worst of the bunch. The drains are insufficiently small and Superintendent Rusty Stitt said there were four inches of standing water on it at the time of the survey. A worst-case scenario would be huge areas of saturated insulation.
The estimated costs for repairing or replacing the entire middle school roof in that scenario would be around $700,000.

Another $600,000 is estimated for maintaining or replacing the high school roof.
Stitt said under the current language of the proposed bond issue, approved at the same meeting by the board, there is no money for a roofing project. “I think you’ll find that’s a concern, that’s a red flag for us,” Stitt said.

Stitt noted that the numbers by Tremco were not a bid. The company doesn’t do that kind of work. It is only an assessment. Board Vice President Jason Walther wondered why these issues weren’t caught by the facilities study done by C2AE and Christman Construction.

Bob McGraw of C2AE told the board that some of the issues were known. The ideal scenario would be for the district to pass the bond so the elementary and middle school roofs would become a non-factor other than maintenance to keep them going until the new facilities are built.

McGraw said this new extent of some of the damage at the high school wasn’t immediately recognized mainly because some roof repairs done via an insurance claim masked some of the damage.

The board took no action on the issue. Stitt and the board agreed more assessments to look at the issue more closely are needed before any decisions are made.