November 21, 2018

District restructuring being placed back on Standish-Sterling board’s February agenda

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STANDISH — A motion to consolidate the Standish-Sterling school district from four buildings to three, leading to the closure of Standish Elementary, will be back on the board of education’s February agenda.

A motion to restructure the district failed 3-4 in December, and in January board President Annette Ratajczak appointed a three member committee to further investigate the subject. Board members Patricia Kipfmiller, Jeff Ryan and Allen Schmidt were appointed to the committee. Superintendent Darren Kroczaleski said he and the committee met on two occasions to further discuss the subject.

Ryan and Kipfmiller, both of whom voted no on the motion to consolidate in December, posed several questions about the issue to Kroczaleski prior to the vote being taken. Their concerns included costs of renovations that would be incurred by restructuring, and the lack of a third party review regarding it.

Kroczaleski said he believes their questions have been answered during committee meetings. He told the Independent he did reach out for a third party to take a look at what he had prepared regarding savings and costs, but there were not many candidates willing to do a full-fledged review and study.

Plante Moran, an accounting and business consulting firm based in Flint, was in contact with Kroczaleski, but would have cost between $25,000 and $50,000 to complete a full review and feasibility study, Kroczaleski said. He said the district also sought out other districts that consolidated on the Michigan School Business Officials website for suggestions on a third party to review the plan, but found others had either uses Plante Moran or done their own research.

A cursory review by Plante Moran, which would be less intensive, would’ve cost $10,000-$15,000, Kroczaleski said. He did contact the firm and shared what he prepared, and he said he was told he did about 80 percent of what their employees would’ve done in reviewing the proposal. Plante Moran recommended a 10-year enrollment projection performed by their staff, but Kroczaleski said he has already had a Middle Cities Education Association projection done for the district, which takes into account birth rates in the community.

In his conversation with Plante Moran, Kroczaleski said he was told the savings would be $200,000-$500,000, depending on layoffs. However, large-scale layoffs are not expected.

“I said, 'Well, we’re not losing any teachers,’” he said. “We’re keeping our same staff. I told them I took the ’15-’16 Standish Elementary budget and looked at three areas. I looked at the office of the principal, because I knew I wouldn’t need a principal. The other areas were parapros, librarians, because I knew I wouldn’t need a librarian. I looked at the custodial staff. I accounted for one less custodian."

In the food service budget, there would be two fewer cooks, Kroczaleski said. Despite acknowledging a reduction in the food service staff, Kroczaleski said that was not accounted for in potential savings, since food service is separate from the general fund budget.

Savings in the principal’s office are expected to be $139,271, Kroczaleski said. The majority of that projected amount is $81,796, which is the salary a new principal hire would start out at, he said. Currently, the principal costs the district around $96,000, but Kroczaleski said Principal Roger Fritz was contracted as principal after retiring from the position, and he is paid more than a new one would be paid.

Operation building costs are expected to be heavily reduced if Standish Elementary is closed. With one part-time and two full-time custodians on staff, the reduction of one full-time custodian is expected to save $33,500, Kroczaleski said. Land and building maintenance, a $52,000 line-item on the budget, would be reduced to $10,000.

The full $52,000 cost could not be eliminated, as there could still be maintenance issues that arose, Kroczaleski said. That was the case in some other areas as well.

“I left money in for Standish Elementary for the water and sewer,” he said. “I left money for trash disposal. I left money for the telephone. Not the full amount, but we’d still have the alarm system, so you need the phone.”

With everything taken into consideration, the projected savings came in at $313,885.

Along with savings becoming clearer, the cost of renovation in the buildings is also more specific, Kroczaleski said. He said when he first started to propose consolidation in summer 2016, he talked about moving kindergarteners to the current middle school, which would be an elementary building if consolidation were approved.

Now the plan is to place kindergarteners in Sterling Elementary, which had already been slated as a location for the Great Start Readiness Program and Young 5’s early childhood building. Kroczaleski said this helped decrease renovation costs, as individual classroom bathrooms would not need to be added to rooms in the middle school, which is a first- through sixth-grade facility in the restructuring plan.

Kindergarteners would not have individual classroom bathrooms at Sterling Elementary, either, but Kroczaleski said kindergarten teachers told him it would not be a huge deal, because unlike, now, those students would be the oldest in the building and could use the hallway restrooms.

“They said it’s nice, but not needed,” he said.

Having kindergarten students in Sterling could have other dividends, as it would cut down on congestion and increase opportunities for students in the 1-6 building.

“I was going to utilize every room available, and actually I was going to have to take out some of the computer labs, because right now there are three, and I would only be able to have one,” he said. “Now I can keep a computer lab in the upper elementary wing, and a computer lab in the lower elementary wing, which is a benefit.”

A dedicated science room for working on and storing projects could also be established in the upper elementary wing if kindergarteners were in Sterling, he said.

The biggest cost of consolidation would be in installing a playground at the 1-6 building. Kroczaleski said it would cost about $122,577 to purchase and install equipment. Outside the building now, there is only a basketball court with four hoops. Proposed purchases include a 16-seat swing set, a playscape and high-stepper set and fencing. Some of the cost might be able to be offset by 2 percent grants from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe or money from parent-teacher organizations in the district.

Other costs include replacing some toilets in the 1-6 school, adding two drinking fountains and lowering two sinks. Altogether, Kroczaleski said renovations are expected to cost $126,277.

Another issue that came up in the committee meetings was busing. Kroczaleski said transportation director Denice Migut met with the committee and explained how busing would change.

“She would look at doing group pickups,” he said. “It would not create another bus run. We would just utilize the buses that go through those areas now.”

There are two group pickups in Standish now, Kroczaleski said, and two more would be likely. He said group pickups would also be established in Sterling, possibly using the elementary as a stop.

If consolidation is going to be implemented, Kroczaleski said there is a bit of a time crunch. He said March 17 is the deadline for the first building needs assessments to be submitted to state and federal government officials. These assessments are critical in the district receiving its full appropriation of federal Title I dollars and other grant funds, Kroczaleski said.

The next Standish-Sterling school board meeting is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 5 p.m. It will be held in the Standish-Sterling Middle School band room.

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