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Tag Archive | "Cedar Springs Board of Education"

School board gets a glimpse at citizen survey data


 

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education got its first look at the results of the citizen survey it distributed to parents, students, and staff last fall. A snapshot of the results were shown in a power point presentation at a special board meeting Monday evening, by Jeff Gartner, a marketing researcher who works with the Kent Intermediate School District and other area schools.

According to Gartner, the survey was similar to one he has done for Rockford Public Schools for several years. 

For the Cedar Springs survey, about 577 parents answered the survey, along with 240 staff, and 296 students. Some of the things that came out are that the majority of students trust their teachers and other staff; that there is a high level of satisfaction by graduates of CSPS; that parents feel more connected and know teachers better in elementary school; that many staff commented that there is too much divisiveness, too much us vs. them; concerns about security; classroom sizes are too large; that staff would like more support and intervention to help resolve problems with students with behavioral and emotional issues; students would like content to be more relevant to them; and that parents and community are not as involved as  in other districts. Detailed results have not yet been distributed to board members and staff.

Security concerns have already been addressed with the buildings’ new secure entries. This happened after the survey was distributed. 

Gartner elaborated on the students wanting relevant content. “Training works if it’s relevant to you,” he explained. “You don’t necessarily have to change what’s taught, just make it relevant to them.”

Community involvement appeared to be a big challenge. 

“People, not just parents, are way more involved in other districts,” noted Gartner. He specifically mentioned Lowell and Rockford as having 70-80 percent involvement by the community. “How do you get people to be more involved with your school?” he asked the board. He talked about it being a place where people come to do things, and gave examples such as in an area district that is putting in a KDL library, or Forest Hills’ Aquatic Center, where people swim. 

“We can see there’s a disconnect there,” said Board Vice President Matt Shoffner at the end of the presentation. “This is the first step. Now we know where to go.”

So where do they go from here?  

“Now our Board of Education work begins in that we will analyze this data as a board, in conjunction with our district’s established Culture and Climate Committee of over 30 people from all positions in the district, with Dr. VanDuyn,” said Board President Heidi Reed. “We will be using multiple lenses and viewpoints to look at the data with Mr. David Hulings, from Hulings and Associates facilitating this process.  

“This is a collaborative process looking at the greater understanding of how we handle change in our educational world. By using different viewpoints, personality traits, historical issues and progressive forethought, Mr. Huling’s established work process will ensure measurable results. 

“It is exciting next step work for the community and school district as Dr. VanDuyn ties this data into our CSPS Mission/Vision statements and Goals for the CSPS district. We thank Dr. VanDuyn for coordinating this effort, as we all continue to work together towards the CSPS brand promise of Purpose, Potential and Pride.” 

 

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School board selects new trustee


 

Matt McConnon was appointed on Tuesday, January 23, to fill a vacant seat on the Cedar Springs Board of Education. Courtesy photo.

But question arises on whether he can serve

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education held a special meeting Tuesday evening, January 23, to fill the board seat vacated by Patricia Eary last week when she resigned. The board interviewed six candidates, and voted 6-0 to appoint Matt McConnon, of Courtland Township, to fill the seat until January. He was sworn in at the end of the meeting by School Resource Officer Deputy McCutcheon.

Several of the board members felt McConnon’s 10 years of experience in policy making and budgeting on the Courtland Township board would be beneficial to the school board. It remains to be seen, however, whether they will get to use his expertise.

“After we appointed Matt McConnon to the BOE, it came to light that there could be an outside concern with the incompatible office law as Matt is a trustee on the Courtland Township Board,” said Board President Heidi Reed.

“With the first look, the two positions (Township Trustee and BOE) appeared to only have a ‘potential of incompatibility,’ which meant the law did not apply. Matt’s longstanding board service to Courtland Township is to be admired. We have been in contact with Matt and we will amicably resolve this situation after we have gathered the facts,” she said. 

The concern arose because at the end of the meeting, the Post found, after speaking with Mr. McConnon, that he was still serving on the Courtland Township board. He explained that Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn had checked into it, and told him that there should be no conflict of interest since Courtland Township doesn’t do much voting on school issues.

However, the Post remembered that there was a similar case eight years ago, involving our own school board and the Cedar Springs City Council, and that the Kent County Prosecutor had deemed the two offices incompatible.

In that case, Pamela Conley, who was a Board of Education trustee, ran for Cedar Springs City Council in 2009 and won a seat. Both lawyers for the city and the school eventually agreed that the offices would be in conflict, and decided to send it to then Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth for a final opinion. He sent back his decision, explaining why the offices were incompatible. He also told Conley she needed to resign one of the offices by a certain date or he would file charges in Circuit Court. She decided to resign her BOE seat and still serves on the Cedar Springs City Council.

According to the opinion issued by Forsyth in January 2010, in which he cited the Public Offices Act, State Attorney General opinions and Supreme Court opinions, he noted that a person could serve on both boards if they do not negotiate or enter into contracts with one another, which the city and school do. “Of equal significance, an individual cannot avoid the incompatibility by abstaining from voting on resolutions…because abstention under such circumstances ‘is itself a breach of duty.’” He specifically mentioned the city collecting the taxes for the school, and the city conducting school board elections, and the school reimbursing the city for them.

Courtland Township does the same.

The Post emailed Board of Education President Heidi Reed and Superintendent Van Duyn to inform them of the prior case. Reed told the Post they would check into it. She then later issued her statement cited earlier in this article.

The Post will update this story when we know more.

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School board votes in new president


 

Heidi Reed

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education will have a new president to lead the board in 2018.

The board voted in Heidi Reed 6-0, at its annual reorganization meeting Monday evening, January 15. She was nominated by Brook Nichols.

“I am humbled and honored by the support of the entire board of education team to lead this year as President,” said Reed, who is just starting her second year on the board.

“Our CSPS administration and staff are doing great things, on so many levels. I’m grateful for all their committed work for our students! [I am] excited this year to continue the visionary, governance and policy work for the district, [and] honored to serve.”

Matthew Shoffner, who was previously president, was voted in as Vice President, 6-0. In his remarks during the “gratitudes” section of the meeting, he noted that the board had been through quite a bit and he would miss the board members that had left, but was grateful to those that had stayed. 

Brook Nichols was voted in as secretary, 6-0, and Shannon Vanderhyde was voted in as treasurer, also 6-0.

The board will meet again next week, Tuesday, January 23, at 6 p.m. to interview candidates to fill the seventh seat on the board, which was previously held by Patricia Eary, who resigned at the beginning of Monday night’s meeting. (See story here).

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School board fills vacancies


by Judy Reed

Tim Bauer

Traci Slager

The Cedar Springs Board of Education held a special meeting on Tuesday, December 19, to interview applicants for two vacancies left by the resignations of Michelle Bayink and Ted Sabinas at the last regular board meeting Monday, December 11.

The board advertised for applications for the positions in last week’s paper, and the deadline was Monday December 18. The advertisement did not say there would be a special board meeting on December 19, and the Post was not present because we were not notified that a special meeting had been scheduled for the interviews.

The board did video the meeting, although some of it was hard to hear due to quite a bit of background noise and some board members not speaking into the microphone.

The board interviewed 10 candidates for the position, and chose Tim Bauer and Traci Slager to fill the two open seats through the end of this year. Bauer is replacing Bayink, and Slager is replacing Sabinas. 

The board liked the answers provided by both candidates, although Heidi Reed did express some concern that Slager had not been around the board. She did still vote yes, however.

Bauer and Slager can run as candidates in the fall if they would like to for one of four open positions. There will be two six-year positions open with Brooke Nichols and Patricia Eary’s seats coming up for reelection; one four-year seat (for Ted Sabinas’ seat); and one two-year seat for the one vacated by Michelle Bayink.

The two were sworn in at the end of the meeting. The board will hold their reorganizational meeting in January 15 at 6:45 p.m.

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Two resign from CS Board of Ed


 

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education is looking to fill two of its seven seats after two board members resigned at Monday night’s evening.

Michelle Bayink

Michelle Bayink resigned at the beginning of the meeting. She said that her house had sold and that she would be living in Rockford, though her children would still attend Cedar Springs Public Schools. “I love Cedar Springs and really wanted to stay,” she told the Post. “But with everything I encountered, it really wasn’t that hard to leave.”

Bayink has been vocal in her disagreement with some of the decisions of the board and Superintendent Laura VanDuyn. But she told the Post that she really had wanted the board to work together. “When we had that workshop session with MASB, I threw my heart and soul into that,” she said. “I really wanted us to find a way to work things out.”

Bayink publicly thanked VanDuyn for her leadership. “I really wanted to leave on good terms,” she said. 

She was about halfway through a 6-year term.

Ted Sabinas

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Board member Ted Sabinas resigned during the public comment time. 

He also has been vocal about his disagreement with decisions of the board and the Superintendent. “I have served on this board of education for 12 months and had hoped that my 34 years of teaching experiences in Cedar Springs could help guide this district to the high levels of education that it once had 5 or 6 years ago when our district was considered a leader in the county and state. Unfortunately this has not happened. I learned that if it is my idea, concern or issue it is quickly dismissed,” he said.

Sabinas filed a complaint against VanDuyn for bullying earlier this year, after the Superintendent said at a board meeting in April that the bus drivers felt they were being “stalked,” as a reason not to let Sabinas attend a meeting being held with the bus drivers on privatization. Several other people also filed complaints. The board later dismissed the complaints 4-2. 

“No Supt. in public education should have been allowed to lie about one of her employers. Apparently it is OK with most of the members of this board,” said Sabinas, in his resignation statement.

He has also been unhappy with the amount of spending on the “Orange Frog” program—over $100,000—to create a more positive climate at the school. 

“During the past 12 months I have listened to many lies and misleading statements and poor judgment by the Superintendent. Stating that we should spend upwards of $100,000 on training the staff to be happy when many classrooms exceed 30 or more students is poor judgment, and not what is best for kids,” he said.

Sabinas was the top vote getter out of four contestants in a hard fought election in 2016. He and Heidi Reed won the two available seats.

You can read his entire resignation letter here.

The Board of Education will now take applications for the two open seats. Submitting an application does not necessarily mean a person will be interviewed, however. See specifics on page 17. 

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Consultant to CS Board: “You have to start working together”


By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education heard some straight talk last month from the MASB consultant who went over the results of the board’s self-assessment.

Scott Morrell, from the Michigan Association of School Boards, told the Cedar Springs Board of Education that when he looks at them, he sees possibilities. But when he showed his staff the results of the board’s self-assessment, their one word to him was, “Yuck.” He added that it may be one of the worst spreads they’d seen.

Six out of seven of the board members took part in the self-assessment questionnaire. They had to rate themselves from 0-5 (0 meaning don’t know and 5 meaning excellent) in areas of leadership, academic performance/accountablility, board responsibilities, board effectiveness, data-driven decision-making, board-superintendent relations, and community engagement/advocacy. 

They scored lowest in board-superintendent relations, with only an average score of 1.97, which is between unsatisfactory (1) and needs improvement (2). Their second lowest score was in leadership at 2.02. In fact, they scored between (2) needs improvement and (3) satisfactory, in every category.

Morrell told the board he suspected they had trust issues, and that they had lost the respect, responsiveness and professionalism they should have when dealing with each other. “You need to listen to each other,” he told them.

For some time now, various community members and staff have been coming to the board to express their concerns about not being heard, and with the things they see happening.  Morrell had a remedy for that.

“When the board starts functioning better, these community members are going to stop coming. They have better things to do. I’m sorry, but you guys are crazy. You’ve got better things to be doing than this monsoon that’s been going on. But as long as your board is not functioning, you are going to see this…What we have to do is build trust and respect versus setting our hair on fire. When you set your hair on fire, it’s a good show. So here comes the community, “Ok, what are they going to do this time?”

Morrell urged them to make a decision that evening, October 23, that they wanted to improve. “If you don’t make a decision saying we want to improve, you are sending a clear message to the whole organization tomorrow morning that the board doesn’t care. And can you tell me those people aren’t going to talk tomorrow about what the board did tonight?”

Morrell recommended they do a retreat and take the DISC personality profile to learn more about themselves and each other. But there didn’t seem to be a lot of buy in from the board for that. He did also go around and ask each board member one thing they could do to improve. 

The Post also asked board members that question, and received answers from four of the seven members—President Matt Shoffner, Vice President Brook Nichols, and trustees Ted Sabinas and Michelle Bayink.

“My response for improving myself was to seek clarity before board meetings, whether that’s asking the President or Superintendent for clarification on an item or if it’s reaching out to other board members,” said Nichols. “Other board members must have done this as well for Monday’s meeting. Earlier on Monday, Laura sent an e-mail answering multiple questions that board members had on various agenda items so we could all have that information ahead of time, which was very helpful,” she explained.

Michelle Bayink was quite animated during the workshop, asking for ways they could improve and what Morrell’s recommendation might be. “I want to speak up, I want to work together as a board. I’m trying to get solutions,” she said.

Matt Shoffner sent out a general press release stating that the board took a major step toward demonstrating its commitment to governing effectively on behalf of the students and communities it serves by formally adopting the Board of Education Governance Standards at its meeting on November 13, 2017 (click here to read story).

“After working with Mr. Scott Morrell, from the Michigan Association of School Boards during a Cedar Springs Board of Education Self-Evaluation Workshop on October 23rd, 2017, I believe BOE members listened to Mr. Morrell. There is a commitment to be better and do better. To that end the board passed the MASB Board of Education Governance Standards Resolution with a vote of 5 to 1. “   

“We are excited to be among the many school districts in Michigan to adopt the BOE Governance Standards,” said Board President Matt Shoffner. “We believe these Standards are an important tool that will help us with the vital task of governing our district. They will help us raise the bar, live up to expectations as elected officials and better understand our roles as board members.”

Ted Sabinas was the lone member who voted against adopting the Governance Standards. “I don’t agree with everything MASB is trying to communicate,” he explained. “They are pretty generic standards. We struggle with the ones we already have and then to try to add more without a plan on what to do if it’s violated or not followed correctly doesn’t make sense.”

One of the things Morrell told the board was that in certain instances, such as on actions that have to do with vision, the vote should always be 7-0. He also noted that there should be a lot less split votes. But Sabinas doesn’t agree. “I’m not that type of personality that if it’s on the agenda it’s automatically going to pass. I was elected to speak up and point out things that don’t seem correct,” he said.

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Board of Education adopts governance standards


 

The Cedar Springs Board of Education took a major step toward demonstrating its commitment to governing effectively on behalf of the students and communities it serves by formally adopting the Board of Education Governance Standards at its meeting on November 13, 2017. 

 “After working with Mr. Scott Morrell, from the Michigan Association of School Boards during a Cedar Springs Board of Education Self-Evaluation Workshop on October 23, 2017, I believe BOE members listened to Mr. Morrell,” said Board President Matt Shoffner. “There is a commitment to be better and do better. To that end the board, passed the MASB Board of Education Governance Standards Resolution with a vote of 5 to 1.”    

“We are excited to be among the many school districts in Michigan to adopt the BOE Governance Standards,” he added. “We believe these Standards are an important tool that will help us with the vital task of governing our district. They will help us raise the bar, live up to expectations as elected officials and better understand our roles as board members.”

The Board of Education Governance Standards were developed by school board members for school board members through the Michigan Association of School Boards. The Standards provide a shared, research-based framework for effective school board governance. Not only do they define the principles that should affect board decisionmaking, they also identify the specific behaviors of school boards and school board members that contribute to positive outcomes for students. And they do so in simple terms so as to be easily understood by board members and the entire school district community.  

“We believe that locally adopting the Standards not only helps our governance team be more effective, but it sends a strong message that all of us as local school leaders are willing to step up and serve professionally,” said Shoffner. “We have standards for students, teachers and administrators, and now we have Board of Education Governance Standards for our board as well.”

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School board dismisses complaints against Superintendent


 

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education passed a resolution 4-2 Monday evening to dismiss several complaints filed against Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn, including one filed by board member Ted Sabinas.

The board went into closed session Monday evening before voting on the resolution. The two board members voting against the resolution included Vice President Brooke Nichols and trustee Michelle Bayink. The resolution was read but there was no discussion.

The Post asked for a copy of the resolution, which was handwritten, from both Board President Matthew Shoffner, and the Superintendent’s office, but received no response from either.

According to Sabinas and others present at the meeting, the resolution dismissed complaints filed by Sabinas, Sue Wolfe, and Tammie Drake, which all asked for an investigation into whether Dr. VanDuyn had violated the school’s bullying and harassment policy (1162) in a statement she made to Sabinas in a previous board meeting on April 24, 2017. It happened during a presentation on privatizing the transportation services. Sabinas had tried to attend what was listed as an informational meeting between the bus drivers and administrative team, but was locked out. Sabinas said he was told that the drivers voted it down during that meeting, but that VanDuyn and Transportation supervisor Jerry Gavin then walked out and met privately, then went back into the meeting and told the drivers that if they voted against it, Gavin would be out of a job, but if they voted for it, he would work for Dean. The vote then passed. The statement under question from VanDuyn was uttered in an effort to explain why she and Gavin went outside.

“You had your truck backed in the parking lot and they felt stalked or intimidated by you sitting in the parking lot. And, so we had to check and see if things were safe for our drivers,” she said.

Sabinas had asked for an independent investigation. It was reportedly handled by Shoffner and treasurer Heidi Reed.

Sabinas reported that under the resolution, there would be no mention of the complaints in the Superintendent’s file.

The passage of the resolution did not stop people from airing their complaints during public comments. Many people addressed the board Monday evening, including current and former employees, and at least one high school student.

Teacher Erin Cairy (wife of former Asst. Superintendent Dave Cairy), who took a leave of absence this year to stay home with her three-year-old son, said the 2015/16 year was demeaning and toxic, and she had feared returning to the vicious things said about her family both verbally and on social media. After she submitted her leave of absence in August, many of her colleagues reached out to her, as did parents of the students she was to have, but the administration did not communicate with her at all. She said she sent emails and texts asking how she could help with the transition but they were not answered. She wrote a personal letter that she hoped to have delivered to the parents of her students, but it was not. She said she sent emails asking if she still had insurance. Those also went unanswered. On Sept. 4 she said she sent one final email begging for communication, but it also was not answered.

Kristina Cassiday also spoke. She worked for 13 years in the teaching and learning office. She said that she had always felt respected and well-liked by the principals, teachers and support staff, and had been thought of as dependable, trustworthy, knowledgeable and hardworking. However, she said that prior to her leaving, she was accused of unprofessional and unethical practices, including deleting appointments from Asst. Superintendent Jo Spry’s calendar; inappropriate charges on a purchase card; releasing confidential budget information to staff members; and cheating the system, in regard to vacation, sick and personal days. “This kind of leadership (false truths, devious, accusatory, strong arming and deceit) has spread fear and distrust throughout our district and community,” she said.

Senior Peyton Elliston spoke about how “our once cohesive, friendly town has turned into a divided battleground that has pitted teacher against teacher and student against student.” She talked about how teachers help students, and not just academically, but also as a mentor, and how several of those teachers she relied on as mentors were now gone. “I’m standing before all of you today to tell you that this—without a doubt—affects the students,” she said. She questioned how the people that are supposed to help students feel safe can do that when they don’t feel safe themselves. “Multiple staff members have stood before you over the last two years, simply asking for your help because they feel bullied and intimidated, yet you haven’t even acknowledged them, because they keep coming back. Imagine having a playground bully you can’t escape, and your repeated cries for help fall on deaf ears.” She noted that they are sending a message to students that their voices are insignificant.

Retired teacher Peggy Hansen asked why the board is turning a blind eye to all the controversy. She said teachers need to be reassured that they can speak out without retaliation. She also asked why the board is not getting back to community members regarding the questions they ask.

Teachers Union representative Brett Burns also spoke while 30-plus teachers stood behind him. “We stand before you this evening as a unified group of educators who you trust with your children every day. We want you to know that we love our kids, we are positive, we are united, we are hopeful. We want to begin the very important process of mending fences in order to build bridges to a bright future. Knowing that you want the same thing for our community and its children, we are extending an invitation for an open dialogue between educators and you, the members of the Cedar Springs Board of Education. We look forward to working as a team on this shared goal. Thank you for listening to this positive, caring majority who deeply desire the best for our staff, our community, and most importantly our kids,” he said.

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School board member files complaint against Superintendent


 

By Judy Reed

The Cedar Springs Board of Education meeting held Monday evening—where at least 10 people spoke against Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn during public comment—culminated with trustee Ted Sabinas stating that he was filing a complaint against her for bullying.

Sabinas read his complaint aloud during board comments and then gave it to Board President Matt Shoffner to process.

“During the board meeting of April 24th, I believe that Dr. VanDuyn made an inappropriate calculated statement in an effort to discredit me,” said Sabinas. “Her statement is clearly a violation of our Neola policy 1662 Anti Harassment. Making this comment by stating someone else originally made the comment cannot be considered appropriate.” He also asked for her to be put on immediate leave and an independent compliance officer be hired to investigate the complaint.

His complaint refers to the April 24 board meeting, when they were discussing the possible privatization of transportation, and Dr. VanDuyn made a comment about the bus drivers feeling stalked or intimated by Sabinas.

Prior to that meeting, Sabinas had attempted to attend a meeting between the bus drivers and administration to learn more about the privatization and speak to staff but was locked out of the building. (He had been given permission to attend during March’s board meeting by Board president Matt Shoffner but that was later rescinded.)

At the April 24 Board meeting, bus driver Becca Fisk was speaking about the bus driver vote and how it was done. Sabinas said that he had heard that there was more than one vote by the bus drivers. He said he was told that the vote was initially no, and that the Superintendent and Jerry Gavin (the transportation supervisor) then had a private meeting, and then went back into the meeting with the drivers and told them that if they didn’t privatize, Mr. Gavin would be done in June; but if they did privatize, that he would then work for Dean’s Transportation for 5-7 years. He said he was told that another vote was then taken and it had passed, out of loyalty to Mr. Gavin.

It was then that Dr. VanDuyn made the statement that Sabinas is filing a complaint about.

She said she could speak to this. “There was an issue—we had bus drivers who were very uncomfortable because they didn’t want you to enter their meeting, and you were insisting you would be at their meeting, and you had your truck backed in, and they felt stalked or intimidated by you sitting in the parking lot and so we had to check and see if things were safe for our drivers.” She then looked at Becca Fisk. “You can attest to what you said about anyone being in the meeting other than Ken, Jerry and I with the departments.”

“And so Jerry and I did step out,” she continued, “and talked about whether you (Sabinas) were still there, this was a problem for our drivers, and Becca you can attest to…”

At that point she was interrupted by VP Brooke Nichols, who said she thought they should stick to the agenda.

Dr. VanDuyn responded with, “Ken, Jerry, and I know what happened in the meeting and what the votes were.”

Sabinas said in his complaint that “for Dr. VanDuyn to make bullying comments towards one of her employers shows a total lack of respect for the board and is an act of insubordination. If we allow these types of actions by the district leader we are telling the staff and students that it is completely OK to make bullying and harassment comments to anyone they encounter. The example that Dr. VanDuyn chose to demonstrate does not represent the core values of our district.”

Sabinas asked that Dr. VanDuyn be placed on immediate leave of absence and be restricted from school activities until an independent compliance officer can be hired and rule on the harassment and bullying complaint.

According to the Board’s policy, the Superintendent is the compliance officer that would normally investigate complaints. But Sabinas said he consulted with the legal division of the Michigan Association of School Boards, and they advised him to request an independent compliance officer.

“You can’t have her or a close associate investigate a complaint about her. I know we’ve had other complaints about the Superintendent that she or someone who works for her has investigated. The school lawyer is also not the right person because he has the needs of the school in mind,” explained Sabinas.

Earlier in Monday’s meeting, there were many public comments supporting Sabinas and condemning Dr. VanDuyn’s statement about stalking. Staff also spoke about fear of speaking up about things, saying that they had felt intimidated and manipulated, and were afraid of being targeted or reassigned. Several speakers asked for an investigation into Dr. VanDuyn.

Board member Heidi Reed spoke up and said that if there were an investigation, she would bring forth evidence showing that Sabinas had also bullied Dr. VanDuyn.

Sabinas said that he is not the type of board member that just takes what he is told by administration at face value. “I ask a lot of questions. I don’t rubber stamp things,” he explained. “People expect me to do what I say. I campaigned on being thorough, investigating, and talking to people.”

But Sabinas said that right now, it’s hard to do that. “I’m being blocked. Various staff members have said they were asked not to talk to me, and were told they would be fired. So they won’t talk,” he said.

He said it’s not routine in a school district that board members cannot speak to staff or ask them questions. “We have a lot of uniqueness going on here,” he said.

During Monday’s board meeting, Dr. VanDuyn listened but did not respond to complaints from residents and staff.

The Post emailed Board President Matt Shoffner on Tuesday, May 23, asking for a statement on what he was doing with the complaint, but did not have a response by Wednesday evening at press time.

The Post also emailed Dr. VanDuyn and gave her the opportunity to make a statement, but did not receive a response by press time.

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School board votes to privatize transportation


CSPS-logo-vertical

By Judy Reed

The buses transporting students to school next year will still say Cedar Springs Public Schools; the drivers will still be the same familiar faces; the supervisor and dispatcher will be the same; and the buses will be housed at the same bus garage. What will be different is that the buses will no longer belong to and employees will no longer work for Cedar Springs Public Schools. Ownership will shift to Dean’s Transportation, after the Cedar Springs Board of Education voted 6-1 Monday evening to privatize transportation and to go with Dean’s.

The one lone no vote came from board member Ted Sabinas, who said he had too many concerns. “Once we make that decision there will be no turning back—ever. We will never be able to buy buses again,” he explained.

Last year Excel Consultants did a transportation study and recommended the school district sell some of their old buses and compare what the cost would be to privatize versus keeping it in-house. In the end, they chose Dean’s, after the majority of the bus drivers decided that’s what they wanted to do.

The Cedar Springs 2016/2017 Transportation Budget is $2,943,208, The 2017/2018 Transportation Budget is set at $3,683,314, which includes six new buses and two mechanics instead of just one, because they cannot keep up with the repairs.

The proposed budget from Dean’s will be $1,774,274, without fuel. The school will still be responsible for the fuel ($270,000) and payments to other schools ($1,146,000), for a total of  $3,190,274. That’s a savings of $493,040.

Dean’s will also purchase their bus fleet at blue book value, which causes a one-time infusion into the budget of $638,600. Between the savings and the purchase of the bus fleet, the school would see a financial impact of $1,132,640.

Dean’s will automatically replace nine buses next year that are past their prime.

“Let’s look at the safety of the students,” said board member Patricia Eary. “The average age of a bus is 12-1/2 years old. Our oldest bus is 22 years old. Who drives a 22-year-old bus?” she remarked.

Bus drivers met with administration and with Dean’s before voting on the issue. Sabinas asked driver Becca Fisk, who spoke on behalf of the drivers, if there was more than one vote held. Both she and Supt. VanDuyn said no. Sabinas had tried to attend one of the meetings, but was denied entrance.

“Some of the drivers were uncomfortable about you being at the meeting,” VanDuyn told Sabinas. She noted that his truck was still parked there in the lot, and some of the drivers felt like they were “being stalked.”

Board VP Brooke Nichols then asked that they stick to the agenda.

Fisk explained the procedure they took of voting by paper ballot, and that there were 16 yes votes, 3 no, and 2 undecided. She also knew of a couple people that weren’t at the meeting who said they would be leaving.

One person told the Post she knew of nine drivers that wouldn’t be back.

“”It is not ideal for every transportation employee but rather the great majority; hence their request to privatize. We regret any employee will leave our CSPS if it was not of their choosing,” said VanDuyn, in a letter to parents in the district. “We value every employee and the time they each have served here.”

Dean’s said they will hire the drivers and requested a letter of recommendation from the school district for them. CS drivers will have super seniority, which means that another driver from Dean’s who drives for another district but has more seniority won’t be able to bump them. They will also have the opportunity for more hours with Dean’s.

Cedar Springs transportation has been short staffed for several years, and going with Dean’s will also alleviate that problem. “With our recruiting practices, we have better resources to fill those shortages as soon as possible,” said Kelly Dean, owner of Dean’s Transportation.

Dean’s has transported Cedar Springs special education students for several years, and other area districts use them, including Sparta and Tri County.

The board will vote on the contract with Dean’s Transportation at their next meeting on May 22.

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