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School board votes to privatize transportation


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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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School board bits


 

Contracts, privatization of transportation

By Judy Reed

Board votes on administrative, other contracts

The Cedar Springs Board of Education found themselves split 4-3 Monday evening, March 13, when voting on contracts for administrators, executive assistants, and administrative assistants.

Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent of Cedar Springs Public Schools, brought the contracts to the Board that evening. She told them that all the administrators, except one had agreed to the contracts.

Trustee Ted Sabinas said up front that due to the lack of time they had to review, read, and compare the administrator contracts to the previous contracts, and due to the lack of collaboratively working with the administration on the contracts, as had been done in the past, he would be voting no.

VanDuyn assured the board that she and Carrie Duddles, human resources director, had met with the administrators several times, fielded phone calls, and gave them opportunities to ask questions.

A vote was taken on whether to table the administrator contracts, and it was defeated 3-4. Sabinas, Michelle Bayink, and Brooke Nichols all voted to table. A motion was then made to approve the contracts, and it passed 4-3. Shannon Vanderhyde, Heidi Reed, Patricia Eary, and President Matt Shoffner all voted to pass the contracts.

The Board voted 4-3 to table the executive assistant and administrative contracts, because they had not seen them. Sabinas, Bayink, Nichols, and Shoffner all voted to table them. Shoffner said that he voted to table them because the contracts were not in the packet and he wanted to see them. He said he voted to pass the administrator contracts because they did see that information.

The Board then had to vote on a non-renewal of contracts for two employees—high school principal Ron Behrenwald and transportation supervisor Jerry Gavin.

VanDuyn said that Behrenwald was the administrator that did not approve his contract. She explained that he had asked for more time to review it because he had a question about salary. She then explained that in order to meet the requirements of Section 1229 of the Revised School code, and to meet contract language, the board had to give 30 days notice that they were considering non-renewal if there was any delay in signing the contract. The Board would have to give final notice on April 24, so the process needed to start that evening, March 13. According to the law, the administrator would be notified with a letter, which was reportedly dated March 10, and would give the reasons for non-renewal. VanDuyn said Behrenwald could still sign his contract up to April 24.

Nichols questioned the letter. “I feel like if we pass this, it’s a non-renewal,” she said. “I feel like there should be reasons in the letter, with written statements on why we’re doing non-renewal,” she said.

VanDuyn told the board their attorney drafted the resolution and the letter, and that the letter spoke to multiple discussions or opportunities to discuss the contract, and spoke of the delay.

The Post sent a FOIA request for the letter, among other items, but the administration opted not to fulfill the request for another 10 days.

The Board also needed to vote on non-renewal of Gavin’s contract, due to the fact that they are looking at restructuring transportation, and possibly privatizing it. VanDuyn said he would not have the same contract, and they currently haven’t offered him another contract. She said that they can’t give him a definitive yes or no on his job, and that they have had discussions with him. “We will wait and see as we explore privatization,” she said. “He’s well aware.”

VanDuyn noted again that the process of non-renewal needed to start that night to meet the timeline, and that waiting until March 27 would be too late, since they need 30 days and the final vote is April 24.

The Board voted 4-3 to pass the non-renewal of Behrenwald’s and Gavin’s contracts. Sabinas, Bayink and Nichols all voted against it. Shoffner said he only voted to pass them in order to make the needed time line.

Under Section 1229, those getting a non-renewal notice are also allowed a hearing before a majority of the Board. According to Thrun Law Firm: Strict adherence to the Section 1229 timelines is critical, as a school must give the affected administrator notice that the board is “considering” nonrenewal along with a written statement of the reasons for nonrenewal at least 90 days before the affected administrator’s contract expires.

Section 1229 also requires a period of 30 days before the board can make a final determination on whether to nonrenew the affected administrator. During this period, the affected administrator must be given the opportunity to meet with a majority of the board members to discuss the stated reasons for the nonrenewal.

The school board then must make its final determination and give the administrator notice of that decision not later than 60 days before the affected administrator’s contract expires. Under Section 1229, a school may not nonrenew an administrator’s employment contract for a reason that is “arbitrary or capricious.”

Privatization of transportation

Supt. VanDuyn spoke to the Board about the plans to explore privatization of busing. She said the one of the recommendations made by the Excel Consulting Group last year was to get a quote on privatizing busing. They received an informal quote from Dean’s Transportation, and they brought them in to meet with the bus drivers, first in small group, then in a larger group. She noted that they wanted the bus drivers to weigh in on this, and that there would be meetings with them last week. “It’s been a great collaboration process,” VanDuyn told them. She said that she would have information for the Board at the March 27 meeting.

According to the most recently amended budget, the budget for transportation is $2,926,976. And, according to statistics posted on their website from April 2016, they had 41 buses in their fleet.

The Post asked the Superintendent some questions about the possibility of privatization, savings, what would happen to the buses, and other things, but she declined to comment, because the board had not yet seen any information.

SPECIAL MEETING

Please note that there will be a special board meeting on Monday, March 27, and it will start at 5:45 p.m. That is an hour earlier than normal.

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Power outages cause problems at school


 

Falling snow weighed down tree limbs Monday evening, causing them to break and fall on power lines, which led to power outages for several thousand people in Kent County on Sunday evening, December 4, and more problems on Monday morning, December 5, which resulted in students being sent home early from school.

According to Cedar Springs Public Schools Superintendent Laura VanDuyn, Operations director Ken Simon monitored the outage in the area Sunday evening/early Monday morning, and worked with the administration to ensure it was appropriate to hold school.

“There was not a problem at 5:00 a.m. this morning and therefore, school began as usual,” explained VanDuyn. “However, later in the morning, well after school began, power outages began to occur in several buildings. During those outages phones and computers were inoperable at those sites. The boilers at both Cedar View and Red Hawk became an issue as smoke was coming from them.”

Both schools were evacuated and the fire department was called was to investigate the cause of the problem. The students were eventually told to return to class at the direction of the fire department.

“Due to the fact that power issues continued and eventually affected every building, the safest manner in which to proceed was to send students home, as many related issues can arise in the absence of power ﴾i.e., loss of heat and ability to communicate﴿. Consumers Energy was working on the outage and shared an estimate of 4 p.m. for power restoration. We do apologize for the inconvenience.”

“I thank each and every one of you who worked through this today,” wrote VanDuyn in a letter to parents and staff, “including parents who had to return home to receive their children early or who had to pick up their children at an earlier time.”

She also thanked the transportation department for their quick response to come back in the middle of the day to transport students, and thanked the Cedar Springs Fire Department on their quick response for assistance. “We are always so well supported and it is greatly appreciated,” she said.

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Financial review of school shows tighter control needed


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By Judy Reed

UPDATE Sept. 23, 2016: The section on p-card credit limits and purchase limits has been revised to reflect more accurate information.

A forensic audit into record keeping in the athletic department at Cedar Springs Public Schools did not show any intentional misuse of funds or fraud, but did show that the district needs to have stricter policies and procedures on procurement cards and ensuring employees have the guidelines on how to use them.

“The investigation was a reflection of concerns brought to us about athletic accounts,” explained Dr. Laura VanDuyn, Superintendent at Cedar Springs Public Schools. “When several concerns mounted, the board decided to go ahead with the investigation. We are accountable to the community, staff, and parents. We are stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

According to the report, Rehmann Corporate Investigative Services was contacted on December 11, 2015, by the Thrun Law Firm (representing CSPS) to request a review of financial transactions and internal controls at Cedar Springs Public Schools. The review included forensic accounting analysis and interviews. Additional investigation involved purchase or “P-cards” issued to 13 unique employees, and a more detailed review of all transactions impacting the football team’s agency account during the 2015-2016 school year.

The results of the Rehmann report, which was printed in June, was initially suppressed from the public under attorney-client privilege. The Cedar Springs Board of Education voted on August 8 to make it available to the public. According to the board minutes, the vote passed 7-0. No video was available for that portion of the meeting, but according to the Superintendent’s office, there was no public discussion about its contents.

The Post asked Supt. VanDuyn why they decided to release the report now. “People would ask whatever happened with that investigation, and we are accountable to our constituents, so decided to release it,” she explained.

The report explained that purchases made using the p-cards are generally allocated to a specific fund. At CSPS there is a general athletic department fund, a general fund for each team, and an agency fund for each team (which is generally restricted to funds raised through boosters and other sources). The report said that according to their investigation, there does not appear to be any consistent practice with regards to when purchases should be paid using agency funds instead of general funds, nor when a general athletic department expense account is charged for a purchase instead of a team account. It said there also didn’t appear to be any consistent methodology for allocating expenses between more than one team when there was shared expenses.

The report also indicated that during review of p-card purchases and receipts, that in only a few instances was the reason for the purchase adequately documented, and little indication that the purchase had been reviewed and approved by anyone (such as a supervisor). Detailed receipts could not be found for purchases in some instances. One such instance they mentioned was a credit card purchase in July 2013 by then Athletic Director Autumn Mattson from Daktronics for $8,437. The company sells scoreboards, audio systems, message boards, etc. The report said that no detailed receipt was attached to the credit card statement, so they couldn’t ascertain what the purchase was.

VanDuyn said that many of the instances referred to happened before either she or Finance Director Rosemary Zink took office. She did say, however, that she has confidence in the accounting department. “They do make sure there are receipts, they are very strict about that,” said VanDuyn.

The report noted that “based on our limited review of the purchases initiated on the p-cards for the Athletic Department under the control of Autumn Mattson, we did not note any purchases that were inherently inappropriate. In many instances, the lack of a detailed receipt hindered our ability to review what was purchased and make a determination with regards to its appropriateness.”

The Post asked why the yearly auditor would not find the discrepancies that the forensic auditor had. “The difference between an annual audit and this one is that the annual audit is making sure you are spending federal money the way you are supposed to,” explained VanDuyn. “They might do random samples of two credit cards. They don’t go through all the transactions detail by detail.”

There were several exhibits attached to the original report that included the policy and guidelines for the p-card holders, and referenced purchases. The school did not release those exhibits. “We only released the executive summary,” explained Van Duyn. “The rest would’ve been problematic. We wanted to protect the confidentiality of those employees,”

The Post asked if there were guidelines that all the p–card users have, and was told all p-card holders have to sign off on them. We asked to have them sent to us but the guidelines didn’t seem to be readily available.

Another problem noted was that the different departments keep track of their budget on an Excel spreadsheet, while the accounting department then gets together with them every so often to reconcile the account. The investigator was not able to reconcile an error in the athletic department’s Excel spreadsheet for funds available for the football team at the end of 2014.

The report said it was important to note that the accounting department maintains the agency funds for the various teams and other groups at CSPS. “As a result, we believe that it would be difficult for a member of the athletic department to misappropriate funds once they had been remitted to the accounting department for deposit in to the bank. During our meeting with Coach Kapolka, he was provided with a copy of the invoices and other expenditures pertaining to the football team for his review. During this analysis, Kapolka did not indicate that any of the expenditures were inappropriate.” They felt the accounting records were more accurate than the athletic department records.

The report made a variety of recommendations. One was limiting the number of p-cards. CSPS currently has in excess of 70 p-cards, which they said means that the accounting department has to spend too much time reviewing statements and tracking down receipts. “The school is also at a heightened risk for financial loss due to the number of cards in circulation in the event of an abusive or tempted employee,” it said. They recommended cutting it down to 10, and to make as many purchases as possible through the accounts payable process.

The report also recommended lowering both the credit limit and purchase limit on p-cards, noting that they are mainly for small transactions. The AD had a credit limit of $20,000; the supervisor a limit of $5,000; and TV production of $35,000.

Many colleges and universities don’t have credit limits that large. For example, Cornerstone University p-card holders have a credit limit of $3,000 with a per purchase limit of $1,000; and Western Michigan University has a credit limit of $5,000 with a purchase limit also of $5,000.

The Rehmann report recommended lowering the purchase limit for Cedar Springs p-card holders to $50 to $100 for the majority of the cards.

Other recommendations included employees getting approval before purchases; including an explanation on why items were purchased using the p-card; developing and implementing clear guidance on when general funds should be used and when agency funds should be used; using a corporate Amazon account instead of individual accounts; requiring the submission of detailed receipts; and more.

Dr. VanDuyn said they haven’t implemented any of the recommendations yet. “We will look at all the recommendations from the Rehmann Report. It’s up to us to go through them and see what works for us. We are looking to review them and see which things we will address,” she said.

So what’s the bottom line? “It basically says we need to clean up our business practices. We want accountability and have high expectations of all of our employees,” remarked VanDuyn. “Anytime you can work hard to make things better, it’s worth it.”

The Post asked for a statement from former AD Autumn Mattson regarding the report and the information it contained. “I was aware that CSPS was reviewing their financial processes and procedures. And after reading the report, I can see that no illegal activity was found. I wish CSPS the best of luck as they implement the recommendations that were in the report,” she said.

Anyone wishing a full copy of the report may file a Freedom of Information Act with the school.

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Happy with school superintendent


 

As a follow up to Lyle Perry, Jr.’s comment last week, Superintendent VanDuyn’s letter in the post was outstanding! I am very excited and hopeful about the direction I see her taking our school district. It was also very encouraging to hear the school board members voice their support of Dr. VanDuyn and all she is accomplishing at this week’s school board meeting. As a parent with four children in the district I would also like to thank Dr. VanDuyn, the administrators, teachers, and support staff for the way the lock down situation was handled on Monday. I think you all did a great job, thank you for keeping our kids safe!

Jenny Skelonc, Sand Lake

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National Reading Month


Guest reader, Amanda Litz, a local author, reads to the kindergartners

Guest reader, Amanda Litz, a local author, reads to the kindergartners

March is National Reading Month. Superintendent VanDuyn stopped by Cedar Trails and read to Mrs Bellamy, Mrs. Dault, Mrs. Shoffner and Mrs. Debri’s Kindergarten classes at Cedar Trails Elementary. Additional guest readers included Associate Superintendent Cairy, Local Author Amanda Litz and WOOD TV Miranda.  Thank you to all our special guest readers!

 

 

Gators night at Beach Elementary was a great night of families focused on kids and reading!

CSPS-Gators-Night-at-Beach CSPS-Gators-Night-at-Beach-2

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