Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education has no plans to revisit its decision on extending the school year—a move that has some local parents highly concerned.
Leslie Neilson, a parent of Boyne City Public Schools students, communicated her concerns in an April 25 letter to the board of education.
“It came to my attention, about a week and a half ago, that our children are going to school beyond what is required by the State of Michigan,” Neilson stated. “I question this decision on so many levels, it is hard to know where to begin.”
The school board extended the school year to June 14 due to the high number of school closings—for weather and illness—this past school year.
“The state will automatically forgive six missed days from the required 180 days and districts have the option of applying for an additional three days because of extenuating circumstances, taking the number of days required by the state down to 171 days, with schools still receiving full funding,” Neilson wrote. “Furthermore, there is a bill, HB 4206, which has passed the House and is moving into the Senate. When this bill passes the Senate, schools will be given an additional two days forgiven, taking the total required days down to 169 days for the 2018-19 school year or they will have the option of adding 30 minutes to their school day and have 14 days forgiven.”
She added, “As of the writing of this letter, we have had 13 snow days. Doing the math: 180 days – 13 days = 167 days; meaning we would have two days to make up, and school would have to go until June 10, which is a Monday. Granted, not many people would probably send their kids to school for a half day on a Monday, and I can only assume that is why the board set the last day of school for June 14.”
Neilson said that, when she contacted school board member Kristine Brehm to find out why the decision was made, Brehm told her the board felt it was important to have the kids in school.
“I feel if this was truly about learning … the better option would be to add 30 minutes to the school days as outlined in HB 4206. This could easily be done beginning school 15 minutes early and ending the school (day) 15 minutes later,” she wrote. “This would actually allow teachers more time each day to teach material needed for our children to be successful on the M-step testing, as well as give seniors additional educational instruction. Not only that, but the end of the school year would not change, and students would still be able to get out of school on June 6.”
Neilson claims the board has not been forthcoming on this matter with regards to its meeting minutes, agendas and public notices.
“As of the writing of this letter, there is no agenda posted for the next regularly scheduled board meeting on May 13,” Neilson wrote. “Why would the board withhold information from parents that extending the school year past what is required was being considered? Were the teachers consulted about this? Were they asked for their input? If so, what did they say? Why isn’t any of this talked about in the minutes prior to this decision being made? Why the rush to decide when other schools in our area are choosing to wait to hear the results of HB 4206?”
She further stated, “More importantly, and this is where I have a real issue with the board and how they handled this situation, parents were not made aware of the board’s decision or given notification that discussions of this were occurring or going to occur during the regular Board meetings. Why? Board members are elected by the citizens; they are not appointed dictators over our children and teachers. I believe most parents aren’t even aware our children and teachers are being forced to attend and teach classes past what is required by the state.”
Neilson is also concerned with what adding days to the school calendar will cost.
Based on the school’s budget, Neilson calculated that adding six days to the school year will cost nearly $70,000.
She is also concerned with how the move will impact students who have summer plans.
Little had discussed applying for a three-day waiver from the state but the school board did not take that route. When asked for a response to
Neilson’s concerns, Boyne City Public Schools Superintendent Pat Little deferred to the school board president’s response.
“Did the Board take into consideration there will be a fair amount of kids that choose not to attend school the last few days due to these prior commitments?” Neilson stated…. “Why didn’t the board listen to the recommendation from our superintendent? Why weren’t parents clearly educated and informed of what the board was thinking about doing? Why was this decision made at the last board meeting when, in January, Superintendent Pat Little sent out letters telling parents a decision would not be made until May?”
Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education President Ken Schrader responded to Neilson’s letter in a Thursday April 25 e-mail to Neilson, the board, and the Boyne City Gazette.
“Leslie, I briefly scanned your letter. I do not see a need to take the time to address all of the information—correct or incorrectly stated by you—that was listed or raised in your letter,” Schrader wrote.
Schrader said the discussion item was placed on the agenda for the February and March meetings.
He said that, at those meetings, it was discussed and decided that a formal action item did not need to be voted on because the board wanted to leave leeway in case the state made last-minute decisions, and to avoid having to call a special meeting to deal with the issue.
“Mr. Little had agreed to follow the board’s wishes without it being tied into a formal very defined motion,” Schrader stated. “The two discussions at two separate meetings by the board can be summed as: we wanted to notify parents well in advance of the end of the school year so that plans could be adjusted; we wanted to keep the three days’ worth of required school day waivers, that we expected to be approved for the school to have, to use for any future snow days so that the last day of (the) school year would remain consistent.”
He added, “We have received those and are currently using one because of an ice/snow day. There was no financial hardship. We felt that we have hired extremely professional and well-trained teachers and staff who can teach through an expected ‘Its summer’ attitude by the students. My personal guess is that some of the teachers will work that attitude into a unique learning situation for the students.”
Schrader said, ultimately, the change is no more than three days and this year’s last day of school is not that much farther out than some of the past years.
“Our goal, as a board, is to give students the opportunity to learn as much as possible,” he stated. “Forgiving almost a half-month of school does not contribute anything towards that goal.”
Schrader also said all minutes and postings were done legally, per policy, and correctly “without malice.”
[Editor’s Note: The fact is, boards in Michigan—from townships and villages to counties and schools—simply are not required to put much information in their meeting minutes.]
According to Schrader, Little used all available means to notify parents and students about the decision.
And, as of last week, nothing about this issue has been legally changed by the State of Michigan.
“Because I do not want staff, students, admin or anyone else to be confused about the end of school,” Schrader wrote, “I have no intention of putting the issue on any future board meeting agenda. The last day of school will be June 14.”