Parents speak up over potential cuts at Tecumseh schools
By DEB WUETHRICH
An audience largely made up of parents with concerns on a variety of issues filled the Tecumseh Public School Board meeting room on Monday night as the board continued to review various cost-cutting options for next year’s budget.
Parents of Level II Special Education students spoke again during public comment, reminding the board that moving cognitively impaired students, currently at Sutton Elementary, to another district would be detrimental to them and ultimately cost more. Michele Wollard also told the board that her child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) had been altered, with Sutton removed from a “location of services” line, and request answers as to why this had been done.
“This is a complete and utter betrayal beyond my comprehension,” Wollard said. Carolyn Rathsack, another parent of a cognitively impaired student, said, “The issue with the IEPs is a breach of trust. They were not given back to us the way we signed it.”
Board members said this was the first they had heard of the matter, and at least two board members, Kevin Packard and Louis Englund, assured the parents the matter would be looked into.
Several parents also addressed the board regarding the possibility of sharing an elementary principal at Herrick Park next year, possibly assigning Sutton Principal Debbie Langmeyer to split her time. Concerns ranged from safety issues with principals being first responders, overloading school secretaries and teachers to handle a flow of people in the school, to administrative accountability. One parent said if it must be done, why choose a principal “almost down to Adrian,” and suggested utilizing one already in the city. Board discussion included mention of how similar situations had been successful for temporary periods in the past.
Still another group of parents spoke of their concerns regarding Advanced Placement courses that would not be offered this fall. Supt. Mike McAran said the problem is a matter of enrollment and commitment, with only 70 percent of students actually showing up for the courses in the fall.
Some of the parents acknowledged the district’s budgetary constraints as they lobbied for various areas, such as one who said, “I know we’re bare bones and it’s hard when cuts have to be made, but we all want what’s best for our kids.”
Board Vice President Karen Januszek, presiding, said that the board has been looking at a number of recommendations, including those made by the Special Economic Advisory Committee.
“One of those was to close an elementary building,” Januszek said. “This time we’re considering sharing a principal as a solution which would seem to be less disruptive to students and families than actually closing. We’ve done it in the past. There is protocol and steps to follow.”
Packard said the finance committee had been looking more indepth at restructuring options, as well as at athletic cuts that might be made. Dan Gunder reported from the facilities committee that moving out of the Administration Building was likely to begin this summer.
Chief Financial Officer Bill Wright said that final recommendations for the cuts would be unveiled at a June meeting for board approval. He also pointed out that although the news out of Lansing regarding the school foundation allowance for next year is more optimistic than in the past, a lot could still happen as the state works toward its own budget.
“We’re trying to support our curriculum and staff and move into a new school year with the same revenue levels we had in 2002-2003, even though expenditures continue to be on the rise,” said Wright. He noted that even with the recent buyout for teachers, which will considerably help the district’s budget over the next couple of years, TPS should still plan on making cuts of around $2 million next year.
“That’s where the challenge is,” Wright said. “We’re trying to stay away from cutting programs, we really are.”
In other business, the board members:
• Heard from David Lacasse, who said he and his wife, Ann, were district supporters but will enroll their daughter in Clinton for her senior year due to lack of cooperation by TPS regarding credits received while she is in Mexico as a Rotary Exchange student, nor did the district offer a test-out option. “The board needs to know that as important as it is to bring students in, not enough is being done to keep kids here,” Lacasse said.
• Heard from a parent who asked that the “oppressive” atmosphere at THS be addressed as a joint effort between parents and district staff.
• Heard a report/request from an orchestra committee regarding assistance in locating storage space for instruments at THS next fall as eighth grade strings students move up.
• Confirmed its intent to continue to provide Level II Special Education Services within the district with classroom placement options to be determined by the IEP process, and to offer the services to surrounding districts as well.
• Approved a phone system change to TC3Net with estimated annual savings of $40,000.
• Unanimously rejected the LISD budget. Board member Jimmie Rice stated that in his opinion the LISD has switched from a function of distributing and monitoring funds to individual districts to a function of offering special ed programs from a central location. “To me some of the programs offered at a central location could be offered in the individual school district if funding was there to do it,” he said. “And I feel we would actually end up serving more students than the way it’s done now.”
• Heard board comment from Lou Englund who encouraged parents to “keep digging,” because board members don’t always have all the information and there are issues to be resolved. He cautioned, however that people who bring matters before the board should refrain from being “judge, jury and executioner,” since board members need time to explore a situation.