web analytics

Tag Archive | "Cedar Springs School District"

Presentation clarifies school board’s role


By Judy Reed

A special presentation at Cedar Springs Public Schools last week Tuesday, April 19, shed some light on what the community should expect from both the Board of Education and the Superintendent, and how the board operates under the open meetings act.

The presentation was given by Scott Morrell, a senior facilitator with the Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB).

Recently there have been complaints from some longtime school staff members about a negative atmosphere at the school brought on by a new administration, and complaints from members of the community regarding board members not responding to concerns. Other staff and community members have voiced their approval of the current administration. People have spoken at board meetings, and sent letters to the Post. Many who are not happy with the way things are going, cite the resignations of four long-time administrators in the last year and a half.

Morrell said he had seen the letters in the Post, both positive and negative, and didn’t think either were helpful. “How many of them were about kids?” he asked.

One person in the audience asked him, “You don’t think those letters were positive, encouraging?”

Morrell said no. “Some were positive but many were hurtful. That’s not looking at what’s best for kids. When we have scores that aren’t where we want, it’s easy to have peripheral stuff going on…Once we start focusing on adult issues, neither side wins.”

Another community member pointed out that some of those issues are affecting the kids. Another said that four administrators had left.

Morrell noted that the administrators won’t share why they left because they are looking for another job. “There are two sides to every story and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle,” he said. “At some point, we’ve got to let some of this stuff go. Change is hard. You could have staff leaving every year as expectations get harder. It’s not that they are bad people. Sometimes it’s just a bad fit.”

He remarked that he is also concerned about where Cedar Springs is headed, and that he wants the district to succeed. “I also have skin in this game. If it fails, I’m also partly responsible. I interact with the board.”

Morrell did a presentation for the board in the fall, and he also does classes that the board members take. He has been a board of education member elsewhere in Michigan, and served on the MASB board of directors. And he does not envy the board members in Cedar Springs. “As an outsider reading those letters, I’m glad that I’m not on this board,” he said.

According to Morrell, the board is in charge of developing policy that governs the district, setting the vision for the district, and adopting the budget. The superintendent is in charge of managing the day-to-day operations of the district, such as hiring staff, managing the budget, implementing the vision and policies that the board adopts, and communication with the board.

The board is also responsible for maintaining two-way communication with staff, students, and members of the community. However, while a board meeting is an open meeting that the public may attend, it is not a public meeting with the community. We are basically watching the board do their business. And while the public may have an opportunity to speak, the board does not respond.

They don’t do dialogue with the public,” explained Morrell. “If they answer one question, and nine others don’t get anything, they would be mad at the board.” He noted that instead, comments are referred to the superintendent to handle.

Morrell explained that the board also cannot do exit interviews. If a staff member is let go, they can appeal to the board under the law. “The board approves resignations and terminations because they are the legal entity, but they may not see why (someone was terminated) unless a grievance reaches them.” He also explained that the board cannot grant a closed session or hearing before the board for a resignation. “Boards don’t do exit interviews because they don’t hire (except for the Superintendent). Their hands are tied—they have to follow policy and the law. They have been advised by their attorney not to do exit interviews.”

Former Athletic Director Autumn Mattson had requested an exit interview with the board after she resigned and was turned down.

Dr. VanDuyn explained that the school has started doing exit interviews with human resources, and that the Superintendent or Asst. Superintendent can sit in when requested. “People can also write or speak to the board, or come to a board meeting and speak during the public comment time and share,” she said.

Morrell noted that when people speak at the meetings, that they shouldn’t be throwing people under the bus. “You (the speaker) are liable, not the district. You could be guilty of libel if it’s not true,” he explained. “And even if it’s true, you still have to be careful, because it could be violating staff members’ rights.”

A resident asked if a former administrator was identified as someone who made a mistake, was that ok? “Some people saw that as an attack on a person,” he said.

Morrell said that was ok. “It’s not an attack on a person, it’s on the process. There will be times it has to come out,” he said.

He also addressed whether letters read at board meetings and requested to go in the minutes should be recorded. “No, because it’s not a board action,” he explained. Morrell said that minutes are not recorded word for word. There is roll call, when the meeting was called to order, motions voted on, etc.

He also covered when the board can go into closed session, how to know when a board is in trouble, and other ins and outs of the system.

But the bottom line was that everyone has their own job to do, and the board of education sets the tone. “As the board goes, so does the district,” said Morrell.

IT works best when everyone swims in their own lane. It takes a community to educate our kids. But we can’t do each other’s jobs. It’s when the district works best. We need to start working collaboratively, working together.”

For a copy of the powerpoint presented at the meeting, visit csredhawks.org.

Posted in NewsComments Off on Presentation clarifies school board’s role

School board bits: Bond funding & open meetings


Bond refunding question

Two weeks ago, the Post ran an article about the Cedar Springs Public School district and the fact that they were able to save the taxpayers money by the refunding of bonds, Series A and Series B. This should be good news for taxpayers. However, some have questioned the process and whether the Superintendent was conducting financial business for the district without the Board of Education’s knowledge.

The reason for this question has to do with a comment made at the March 14 board meeting, where the board adopted the ratification resolution. Several writers to the Post have noted that Board President Patricia Eary asked, “What do we have to do to make this happen?” To which Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn answered, “I’ve already signed.”

A delegating resolution that the board approved at the December 14 board meeting authorized the Superintendent to accept and execute the bond purchase agreement with the Underwriter, which she did on February 19. The board says that the ratification resolution on March 14 was an additional (but not mandatory) step to show transparency and support for the process.

See the entire statement from the Board about the bond refunding on page ??.

Role of the school board and the open meetings act

For those who have questions about the role of the Board of Education and how it should operate under the Open Meetings Act, there will be a special presentation on Tuesday, April 19, from 6-9 p.m. at the Hilltop Community building, in the 3rd floor boardroom. The presentation will be given by Scott Morrell, of the Michigan Association School Boards. The public is invited to attend.

Posted in NewsComments Off on School board bits: Bond funding & open meetings

Board of education works for the community


I am a past member of the Cedar Springs Board of Education (BOE) serving for 12 years as a trustee, VP and President.

When elected to the BOE, we had just experienced some very difficult times in the district, including a split BOE with a fractured agenda, a failed BOE recall election, major budget issues and a teacher strike. We began to heal with a devoted BOE and Superintendent whose first concern was the students and the quality of their education. Over time mutual trust was restored and we moved the district forward, including the construction of new buildings to accommodate our growing enrollment. None of this would have been possible without the support and cooperation of the entire community and staff. Our school district was respected in the community as a place where people wanted to raise their kids. It is heartbreaking to me and many of those who did the hard work, to watch the effects of a divisive climate in our community, and to know ultimately the ones who will suffer will be the students.

Comments by the board president like, “we only have one employee,” are shocking! Who is the employer of all the other employees? The Superintendent is only one of the many employees the BOE is responsible for. Comments like this do nothing to build trust and community.

When high paid consultants present at a BOE meeting, no one asks a question? No discussion? Shouldn’t our district employees be able to prepare reports/presentations like the “Budget Projections” presented at the March 14th BOE meeting?

Why do three District Office Administrators live outside of the Cedar Springs school district? What a message that sends to the very people who pay taxes and their salaries! While we may not be able to require that the Superintendent live in the district, it is the right thing to do. Our administrators who live in other school districts pay taxes that benefit the school where they live not the district that pays their salary.

I understand that the BOE has been told, in a statement, not to talk to community and staff. They should be reminded that the BOE actually works for the community! When there is avoidance, people will think you have something to hide. Please do not let anyone silence you! Please have open discussion at the BOE table—yes, in open meetings. Ask questions, ask the hard questions—show leadership to the people who elected you!

Jan Wallace, Solon Township

Posted in Post Scripts, Voices and ViewsComments Off on Board of education works for the community

Don’t get down on teachers


Thank you for your paper. I enjoy it. I’m sorry to hear you’re all having problems with staff at school.

You know I would have stayed in school if it was not for rumors about me. I feel students are harder to teach now days because some people do not get after their children enough. One of the reasons I left Cedar Springs is people coming up to our trailer in Cedar Springs Mobile Estates. They threatened my life and my children’s. Then they used the C.B. radio to say terrible things.

There is something definitely going on in Cedar Springs. I hope our teachers and school staff does not have problems that they have to be ashamed about. Our schools there in Cedar Springs had good teachers when I went there. I wished I would have stayed in just for them working so hard trying to help me.

Just remember some kids are mean and say things that hurt sometimes.

I wish you would not get down too hard on our teachers. They have a hard enough time with students.

I hope in some way I can help because I love Cedar Springs but just cannot live there.

Darlene Kay Rhineberger Fuller, Big Rapids

Posted in Post Scripts, Voices and ViewsComments Off on Don’t get down on teachers

A House divided against itself will not stand


Due to recent events in our school district, many friends now stand divided. Our family relied on many of these past administrators, teachers, and community members as we faced a horrific event that almost took my life. They rallied beside me and my family as I recovered from a massive stroke. Prayers went up on my behalf, a refrigerator full of food was delivered to our home, gift cards filled our mailbox, our driveway was plowed, our laundry was done, and volunteers took me back and forth to therapy. Even my children’s teachers stayed after school to offer an encouraging word or a shoulder to cry on. The list goes on and on. I couldn’t even begin to thank everyone for their support! The Cedar Springs School and community were there for me and my family. They did this because they cared.
Years later, there are new people that have moved into our community. Some of them have had to face unbelievable heartache and circumstances much greater than mine. They have experienced a new set of administrators and teachers that have shown their family the same remarkable love and support that we were shown.
Being a school employee, my heart is torn. Why are there so many harsh words being said towards our school board, a group of volunteers that is working for our school district and our Superintendent? Hearing of their credentials, the school board has hired some highly qualified individuals. Recently, they have completed a Strategic Plan to offer a new vision and mission. I was excited to be on that committee and am looking forward to what the final decision will be. I have not experienced the hostile environment people are talking about.
Are we going to be a community divided or united? We can’t expect the students we work with to get along with each other and show respect if we don’t show respect toward one another ourselves. How about that Habit Of Mind that says “Be thoughtful and considerate of others” that we teach our students? It’s okay to disagree. My concern is the manner in which we are modeling our disagreements to the students we work with. Let’s be a school and community that’s united in a common cause greater than ourselves; the well-being of our students!

Shelley Bauer, Parent As Teachers/New Beginnings Alternative Ed.

Posted in Post Scripts, Voices and ViewsComments Off on A House divided against itself will not stand

What are you?


I would like to begin by saying thank you to each board member for your willingness to be on the board. It is often a thankless job that requires much of your energy and time. With that said, I ask the Board of Education, “What are you?”

During the Public Comments portion of the Board of Education meeting held on March 14, 2016, Lee Mora asked the board in his comments why Autumn Matteson had not been granted an exit interview. After he finished, board president Patricia Eary made a comment that the board did not grant the exit interview because “they had been advised by the board’s attorney to not grant the interview.” Patricia Eary then went on to say that the board did not give exit interviews to people who were not their employee. Patricia Eary ended her comment by saying, “The only employee of the Board is the superintendent.”

If that is true, then why do all the contracts begin with a line such as “The Board of Education of

Cedar Springs Public Schools and _____ enter . . .?” In other words, the Board of Education is the employer.

In the same meeting on March 14, when the school’s attorney was discussing moving some of the debt from one area to another to gain a better interest rate, a question was asked at the end of his presentation by Patricia Eary wondering what the Board needed to do to move in that direction. Dr. Van Duyn made a comment that “I already signed.” This amazed me! Not one board member questioned the fact that Dr. Van Duyn was making financial decisions for the

district. Although I agree 100 percent that the district needed to change the funding, I am appalled that the Board would so easily let others make decisions and fulfill their responsibilities for them.

So I ask the question again, “What are you?” Are you the board member that swore an oath to fulfill all the duties and responsibilities of the office? Think long and hard before answering as your actions speak so loudly, I can’t hear a thing you say.

Bruce Marvel, Nelson Township

Posted in Post Scripts, Voices and ViewsComments Off on What are you?

Community encouragement


In a world of terrorist attacks, diseases, life threatening illnesses, devastating earthquakes and tornados….what if every day WE EACH strive to become a better person.  Having had a student in CSPS since kindergarten, students have been taught Habits of the Mind and Be Nice. On April 14, high schoolers will be taught about OK2SAY, a comprehensive communication system that empowers students, parents, school personnel, community mental health services  programs, and law enforcement officials to share and respond to student safety and school violence threats. I pray that our community will soon move forward with each of us focusing on being the best person we can be and think about the type of influence we are being.  I am proud to be a part of CSPS as an employee, parent and community member. I believe there are great things happening in our district and am blessed to be a part of it. 

Kathy Sue Corwin, Solon Township, Proud to be a Red Hawk

Posted in Post Scripts, Voices and ViewsComments Off on Community encouragement

What is communication?


Communication is a two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, where participants exchange information, news, ideas and feelings. Communication is a means of connecting people or places. It is the backbone of any high-performing team. Trust is linked to transparency and two-way communication. This has dissipated from our district and community.

We all have passion and dreams for our children and their education. People want their concerns and opinions heard and respected, not ignored. We expect that our Board of Education and our Superintendent are going to listen, be objective, be curious, act, and adjust when needed. How we provide the foundation for our children’s education is critical and that is where the debate begins.

As a district we have been through ups and downs. Think back to the various millages (bond, operational, renewals, and sinking funds) needed over the years. Difficult times made us stronger. For the last 10 years, we have built our reputation to be leaders in education in West Michigan in progressive strategies for children’s learning. People were benchmarking us. Now they ask “What is going on up there in Cedar Springs?” and “How have you lost your way?” We need to get back to what is important, our children’s education. We achieve that through respect, teamwork, communication and trust. Vision can change, and if communicated clearly, people can understand and align.

We need to understand where we have been to understand where we need to go. This district was stellar and we were proud to be a part of it. Today we are lost, more focused on gossip, rumors, and attacking individuals rather than on what is best for our children. Our leaders need to lead; you need to choose to move this district forward in a way that respects the value of those that are here and move together into the future.

Board Members , we need you to step up, be brave, and courageous. Please seek out all the facts and documentation from all possible resources. Discussing all the information brought before you—the good and bad—must occur in order for our district to move forward. Hold each other accountable and make the tough choices and decisions that protect a quality education for our children. Each of our board members has an equal voice.

Tammie Drake, Cedar Springs School District

Posted in Post Scripts, Voices and ViewsComments (1)

School saves taxpayers money on bond sale


But must work on maintenance, balanced budget

By Judy Reed

There was good news and bad news at the Monday, March 14 Cedar Springs Board of Education meeting. The good news is that the board approved the sale of the 2016 Refunding Bonds, which will save taxpayers over $2,000,000. The bad news is that the school district has numerous deferred maintenance problems to address, and needs to solve those problems while trying to come up with a way to offset a $1.3 million shortfall in next year’s budget.

Sale of bonds

The 2016 Series A refunding bonds are being issued to refund a portion of the district’s 2006 refunding bonds, and pay a portion of the costs of issuing the bonds. They were sold at a true interest rate of 2.77 percent. This will reduce the school district’s interest and save taxpayers approximately $1,017, 252 through lower debt payments over the next 16 years.

The 2016 Series B bonds are being issued to refund some outstanding indebtedness of the district to the State of Michigan under the State of Michigan School Bond Qualification and Loan Program, and to pay a portion of the costs of issuing the Bonds. They were sold at a federally taxable rate of 1.98 percent. This will reduce interest and payment costs to the state, saving taxpayers an estimated $1,500,000, according to Rosemary Zink, Director of Business and Finance. The estimated reduction in repayments is based upon the current School Bond Loan Fund interest rate of 3.50%.

“Cedar Springs Public Schools’ Bonds were well received by the bond market,” said Brenda Voutyras, Managing Director with Stifel, the brokerage firm that helped with the sale. “We saw good demand and were able to take advantage of current low interest rates that resulted in a very nice savings for the District and its taxpayers.”

Deferred facilities maintenance

Matthew Losch, with Excel Consultant Group, LLC, completed an assessment of the Cedar Springs Public Schools facilities, which are valued at $50 million. He found several issues that need to be addressed, including some that would could cause the school to be fined by MIOSHA. He told the board, in his presentation, that he mainly looked at safety, efficiency, and effectiveness. “This report is not about a staff or person not doing their job,” Losch said in his report. “It is about a department structure or organizational system which requires improvement, positive change, and support. We want to make a great school district even greater.”

Losch said that one of the problems is that the maintenance department needs a managerial supervisor to work with Jerry Gavin, Director of Maintenance and Operations. He noted that Gavin is doing a great job, but needs someone to help oversee work assignments, regulartory compliance, project coordination, safety inspections, recordkeeping, and more.

Losch also said that their regulatory compliance requires serious work because there are various safety issues, and several written programs are not MIOSHA compliant. One photo showed a saw without a guard, which he said is a $1,500 MIOSHA violation. “If someone got injured, I can’t imagine what the blank check the board would be writing,” said Losch.

The district must also develop a preventative maintenance program. He supplied photos showing asphalt cracks, roof leaks, problems with door jambs, thermal insulation falling off, a fence needing repair, etc.

Department documents also need to be organized. Photos showed blueprints and other papers piled randomly on file cabinets and in storage areas. They also need to work on safety inspections, an annual review of the district’s emergency management plan, training and instruction, certifications, etc.

Losch recommended they plan for preventive maintenance, taking care of deferred maintenance, cyclical replacement, and capital repairs. Funding strategies could include sinking fund projects, grants, performance bonds, and utility company services and funding.

Long range financial projection

The board saw a long range financial projection for the school district last week, and could be looking at a possible shortfall of almost $809,000 this year, and $1,360,000 next year, with only $2,075,000 in the fund balance. By 2017-18, with declining enrollment, and no increase in state aid, the projection shows a shortfall of of almost $2 million with only $120,000 in the fund balance.

Donald Sovey, CPA, CFO, of School and Municipal Advisory Services, PC, gave the presentation to the board. He noted that the modeling is based on if things stay the same, and that the current projections would change as new facts become available, such as enrollment, retirement contribution rates, facility and equipment needs, staffing changes and related costs, and state and local funding levels. The state aid in the long range projections was based on the governor’s proposal for the 2016-17 school year. Some maintenance that has been deferred is included in the forecast.

Sovey said he sat down with the building principals and showed them their budgets. “Some of them saw it for the first time,” he said.

He also noted that he recommended a stop to purchasing of all budgeted items for this year. “If it’s not been purchased by now, they probably won’t need to,” he explained.

This is one of the most stable districts I’ve worked with, but there are still some challenges,” remarked Sovey. “The population numbers are shrinking some over the next few years, and state aid is tied to that. We need to eliminate surprises and upgrade documention.”

Sovey explained to the Post that there is a good accounting system in place, it just needs more refinement. “My job is to process, improve on, and tighten up procedures—to set up an accounting system to provide timely and useful information that can be used to make good decisions.”

He also noted that the audits at the school are always really good. “It’s a great district, and they’ve had some excellent people working there,” he remarked. “Finances in school districts are always a challenge, with the state aid remaining flat.”

Sovey said that the model forecast was done without seeing a new budget. “A zero-based budget is underway. This long range modeling can help us project what could happen if no changes are made. It’s not carved in stone. There may or may not be a deficit by the time the board gets done.”

 

Posted in Cedar Springs Public Schools, NewsComments Off on School saves taxpayers money on bond sale

Three arrested in after attempted break-in


Three suspects are in jail and another suspect is being sought after an attempted break-in at the Cedar Springs Public Schools Hilltop administration building early Wednesday morning, March 23.

According to the Kent County Sheriff Department, they responded to the call at 3:22 a.m. of several suspects trying to break in to Hilltop. A witness reportedly scared off the four suspects. It was initially reported that they could be armed with weapons, but detectives haven’t been able to verify that any weapons were used.

After an intensive search by the deputies on scene, two white males were taken into custody for questioning.

The two suspects admitted to breaking into at least two homes and at least six motor vehicles over the past month. According to Sgt. Jason Kelley, they took place in the City of Cedar Springs.

During the interview, the remaining two suspects were identified. One was located in the Cedar Springs area and taken into custody for questioning. This suspect also confirmed the break-ins.

Two adult males and one juvenile have been lodged in the Kent County Jail for charges ranging from Home Invasion 1st, Probation violation and Larceny from a Motor Vehicle. The fourth suspect has been identified and is currently being sought for questioning.

Names of the suspects are being withheld until after arraignment.

This investigation remains open.

Posted in Featured, NewsComments Off on Three arrested in after attempted break-in