AE board votes to contract with Standish-Sterling
TWINING — A motion to contract Arenac Eastern students out to the Standish-Sterling School District was approved 4-2 by the AE school board March 8, meaning the district will not open its doors to students next year.
Board members Mark Heideman and Yvonne King voted no on the motion.
Contracting students to another district, which would allow AE to continue to collect non-homestead millage monies to pay down its debts, was first discussed during a Feb. 22 board meeting as an option going forward for the district. Under the plan, Arenac Eastern will remain a school district for three years, but no classes or activities will be held at the school. After year two of the contract, the school board can vote to reopen or close its doors for good.
If the school closes, the Bay-Arenac Intermediate School District would re-draw the district’s boundaries, splitting it with Standish-Sterling and Au Gres-Sims.
Prior to the board meeting being called to order at 6:30 p.m., a community question-and-answer session was held for approximately one hour. Around 50 community members attended and asked several questions to Board President Ann Brown and Superintendent Darren Kroczaleski.
Sandy Ledin, who lives in Whittemore and chose to have her student transfer to AE, asked how some schools have been able to operate with a budget deficit, which is the projection going forward for AE.
Kroczaleski said those districts have to prepare a deficit-reduction and have it plan approved by the Michigan State Treasury. Deficit-reduction districts have to travel Lansing often to meet with the treasury department and update it on how the district will dig its way out of the red, Kroczaleski said.
“You have to have a viable plan to show treasury that you can eliminate the deficit,” he said.
Ledin also asked if any other school districts that contracted students out ever reopened, to which Kroczaleski responded no. Board Vice President Mark Heideman said he hoped AE could be an exception.
“We can break the record,” he said.
Community member Wayne Wallace said he had concerns about busing for students and the cost of transportation.
On the matter of transportation, Kroczaleski said in the past, Standish, Au Gres and Arenac Eastern all had a “gentlemen’s agreement” not to cross into other district’s territory with buses, but he said that could be adjusted if the need arises.
Brown said transportation would be the most difficult detail to thoroughly plan for going forward. She said the school board would work closely with community members to make sure students’ needs are met.
“Just be patient with us,” she said. “There are going to be a lot of details to work through.”
Questions weren’t only posed by community members. When the official meeting began, Heideman asked if there was a way to split the contract with Standish and Au Gres.
“I’m not trying to muddy the waters here, but I want to know, say we have 60-40 and that’s how they want to split,” he said.
Brown said the possibility of splitting did come up when she and Kroczaleski met with the Thrun Law Firm about the issue, but they were advised it would create a greater cost for transportation than necessary.
Although the board did vote to contract with Standish-Sterling, students will still have a choice as to which school they attend. Heideman said choices made in the past to not enroll students are what put AE in the position it is in now.
“If every resident of Arenac Eastern School District sent their children toe Arenac Eastern, we wouldn’t be having this discussion right now,” he said.
Kroczaleski said class sizes, whether students attended SSC or AGS, would be larger, and that was something he and the board had tried to point out to parents in the past when they moved students.
“The chances of having these small class sizes, no matter where we go, are not going to happen,” he said. “That’s what our board’s been saying the last three or four years, why would you take your child from these small class sizes?”
AE currently has 106 students and is projecting to have a deficit of $64,000 at the end of the 2017-18 school year if it were to remain open.