Guest commentary by Leslie Neilson
This past year in Michigan, schools across the state experienced challenges in getting our children to school.
From extreme weather to illness, schools were left with no option but to close.
In addition to the usual snow days we experience in Northern Michigan, our Governor declared a State of Emergency, due to extremely cold temperatures, for the week of Jan. 29 to Feb. 2.
Some schools chose to close during this time, and in Boyne City our schools were closed for two of these days.
In addition to this, our school district was also hit with Influenza A and made the choice to close for three days to protect our students.
All total our district experienced 13 missed days of school.
As a result of this, on April 8th the school Board for Boyne City Public Schools made the decision, prematurely in my opinion, to extend our school year from June 6 to June 14.
This decision was made with no input from parents, teachers, taxpayers and against the recommendation of our Superintendent.
In letters received from our Superintendent after the Board’s decision, for all intents and purposes, parents were led to believe the end of the school year needed to be extended so we did not lose any of our state funding.
On May 10, the Governor signed HB 4206, a bill forgiving days missed during the Polar Vortex Emergency Days.
All schools are automatically allowed six snow days without penalty, and in addition to this superintendents can apply for a waiver asking for forgiveness of up to three additional days.
Our superintendent did this and in a letter to parents in January stated, “I am optimistic, due to the documented Influenza A outbreak earlier this month, that our appeal may be granted.”
And it was.
Our board has made the decision to not use two of the days received from the waiver mentioned above and they are also choosing not to use two days granted to us by HB 4206.
Further communications from our superintendent asking for clarification resulted in, “It is the board’s objective to give the students every opportunity to be in the classroom learning as close to the 180 days that is expected in the law while keeping them safe on the roads on the way to and from school each day.”
It should be noted that we do not get any additional funding from the state for the days the board has added on to our school year and the state has reduced the required attendance from 75 percent to 60 percent for the additional days added to the end of our school year.
At the most recent superintendent coffee talk, when I asked our superintendent what would happen if we fell below 60 percent attendance for any of the additional days, he said we would use our unused waiver days.
Does this really sound like a decision made in the best interest of the education of our children, when up to 40 percent of our children are anticipated to not be in attendance?
When I challenged superintendent Pat Little and asked him if he truly believed his statement in a letter to parents, “The 10 days of school in the month of June are as valuable as any other two weeks of the 2018-19 school year,” his response was, “Yes I do, philosophically speaking.”
I do not believe any learning will be occurring during the additional week of school the board has added.
In my opinion, we are asking our teachers to be glorified babysitters.
When I inquired to other parents to see if they felt the same, the responses I heard from many were, “one less week I have to worry about what my kids are doing this summer” and “one less week I have to pay for childcare.”
Wow. I feel incredibly sad our teachers are viewed with so little respect by not only our board but some of the parents in our community as well.
I believe the board’s decision to not use all the days granted to us by the state, so that we can end school as close to the original end of school year as possible, is fiscally irresponsible.
Through a FOIA request to our school, I received documentation stating Boyne City Schools daily operating costs are $20,000 per day—this does not include the salaries of the teachers or administrative staff.
When I brought this information to the board’s attention, and questioned the cost of their decision to extend school past what is being required by the state of Michigan this year, I was told by board president Ken Schrader, “Because I do not want staff, students, admin or anyone else to be confused about the end of the school I have no intention of putting the issue on any future board agenda.”
Note the use of the word “I” in his response to me.
The last time I checked, there were six other board members. And not only that but all Board members are voted and elected to their positions by the taxpayers in our community.
At this point, I feel our board has dug their heels in and are refusing to take into consideration the financial impact of their decision to our school district and their stubbornness is coming at a cost of up to $80,000.
They will argue this money has already been allocated, but this is a gift we are being given by the state.
When I look at the donations the board receives throughout the year from the booster foundation, other donors, and the fundraisers our children have to do throughout the year—Elementary School Raffle, Middle School Raffle, Band Cards, Magazine Sales, Fruit Sales, donations for the Elementary School Carnival Baskets—just to make ends meet, I can’t help but call “financial irresponsibility.”
All these donations and fundraisers don’t add up to $80,000 … and for the board to just throw this money away does not sit well with me, and I hope it doesn’t sit well with other taxpayers.
Our school will be asking for more money for school improvements in the near future.
I normally support all improvements our district asks for, but if the board refuses to look at the savings of not extending school past what the state is requiring, I will be taking pause on the next school bond issue and I believe other taxpayers will as well.