Schoolcraft school construction on schedule, budget

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Schoolcraft Schools’ Finance Director Kendra Drewyor delivered good news about the district’s budget: Property tax valuations are expected to increase by 5.4% instead of a previous projection of 4%.

The good fiscal news continued: Drewyor explained that as part of the school construction project, the district sought bids for technology. A Bond Steering Committee reviewed the bids and awarded a $160,000 contract to Sentinel Technology. A federal program that provides funding for schools for services such as internet access and internal connections, will reimburse the district for half of the cost.

Drewyor reminded those in attendance that KRESA is seeking renewal of an enhancement tax of 1.5 mills to be assessed for six years (2023-2028). The tax provides significant resources for the district. She encourages all residents to exercise their right to vote, whether for or against, on May 2.

Superintendent Rick Frens gave the board construction project updates. Frens stressed that the project continues to “remain on schedule and on budget.” He encourages residents to drive past the site on 14th Street to notice the changes. Most of the exterior of the building has been completed and crews are busy working on the interior. “Many of our classrooms now have paint on the wall, drywall is being hung, and we are hooking up many of our classroom air handling systems.”

Frens anticipates permanent power and heat soon. “Our large competition gym is in the process of being completely enclosed,” and a wood gym floor will be installed, beginning in early March. Frens says, “This building will be a state-of-the-art facility, and we are grateful to our community for their continued support and trust.”

Frens expects the district will welcome students and staff to the new space in September.

The school board opened with the election of officers and a welcome to new Trustee Chris Blodgett. Blodgett, a graduate of Schoolcraft High School said he “looks forward to serving the community in this capacity.”

School enhancement millage on the ballot May 2

By Jef Rietsma

Vicksburg Schools officials are urging the district’s voters to educate themselves in advance of a countywide millage-renewal on a May 2 ballot.

Renewal of the so-called “enhancement millage” is being sought by KRESA, the Kalamazoo Regional Education Services Agency.

At stake for the Vicksburg district is about $1 million annually. The measure was originally approved in 2005 and has been renewed every three years since. If approved, the request would be in place for a six-year period and would be expected to remain on a six-year cycle for renewal.

During the district’s Jan. 16 meeting, board President Skip Knowles explained the thought behind changing from what has previously been a three-year request to every six years.

“The reason the recommendation is to go to six years is so we get an offset in those millages and it gives local districts more time if they have to have elections, or the county needs to have an election, or something else,” Knowles said. “The other thing on the enhancement millage … it’s a KRESA millage only because when Proposal A passed, they said the only way you could pass an enhancement millage is for an intermediate system district to do it.”

Knowles said he has struggled to come to terms with the word “enhancement,” explaining that in his mind, it “sounds like we’re putting frosting on the cake.”

“It fills in big voids for all the local school systems,” he said. “KRESA doesn’t take any of that money, it distributes it to the locals, so that’s where it goes and that’s very important for everyone to understand.”

Knowles stressed that the 1.5-mill renewal request is not a tax increase. Rather, passage would maintain the current millage rate. Funds through the enhanced millage are to be used at the discretion of each school district.

VCS used its first enhanced millage funds to help offset the cost of constructing its football stadium nearly 20 years ago.

Knowles said the district receives more revenue from the enhancement millage than what its taxpayers put in.

“Because they use the county millage rate, for every dollar a Vicksburg taxpayer pays to that millage we get a dollar and a quarter, or real close to that, back,” Knowles said. “So, it’s a very good thing for Vicksburg.”

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said he plans to support the request.

In other action, Knowles was voted by the board to continue serving as president of the seven-member panel for 2023. Knowles has been a board member since 1984.

David Schriemer, a board member since 2005, was chosen to serve as vice-president. Carol Lohman remains on the board but wished to relinquish the role of vice president.

Amy Manchester will maintain her role as board secretary, a position she has held since 2018. Also, the board voted for Steve Goss to continue his role as district treasurer. Goss has been a district administrator since 2003 and also serves as the district’s assistant superintendent.

Board of education briefs on safety, security

By Travis Smola

School safety was again on the Schoolcraft board of education’s December agenda as Superintendent Rick Frens gave a short update on the results of a security assessment performed in November.

For security reasons, Frens said he didn’t feel comfortable sharing all the safety areas that were discussed in the assessment at a public meeting. However, he noted that the district’s employees received high marks on their dedication and commitment to the safety of the students.

Assessors made suggestions about improvements in window and glass treatments, improvements to room numbering, additions to emergency classroom go bags and an audit of the school’s PA system.

The assessment also suggested fixing a few door hardware issues and improvements to the school’s communication systems, something the district is already working on. It just bought some new digital radios to help with connecting classrooms with the office in an emergency, “putting some things in place even before the report came out that we had some areas we had to work on in communications,” Frens said.

For emphasis on how quickly things go bad in an emergency, Frens held up his cell phone: “These are not effective, especially in a crisis.”

Frens gave the board members packets with a more detailed breakdown of the assessment and the suggestions going forward. He also noted that the high school will receive wiring for a security camera system over the winter break, something that Frens has been pushing for since his arrival in the district.

“We’re feeling good about the direction we’re going, but we certainly have areas to improve on, and to always pay attention to,” Frens said. “Safety is our number one goal.”

In other news, board members and staff expressed thanks to Trustee Jill VanDyken-Hunt for her service during six years on the board. VanDyken-Hunt’s term expired in December, and she elected not to run for another term. At the end of the meeting, she thanked her fellow trustees and the community for their support during her term.

“We have done a lot in six years,” VanDyken-Hunt said. “We had a rocky start. We were not in a great place. And we have truly landed in a great place. I’m proud of it.”