Facilities Consolidation

Amy Al-Katib

Next Monday, the Mason Board of Education will announce the elementary school it will close as part of the facilities consolidation plan.

The school closure is a response from the Board to issues such as the state budget crisis, declining enrollment rates, and what Superintendent James Harvey referred to as a structurally flawed system of funding public schools. “What I’m really referring to is the switch to Proposal A,” he said.

Proposal A, which was adopted in 1994, raised state sales tax from 4 percent to 6 percent in order to use the revenue to fund public schools based on a per pupil basis rather than a uniform taxation process. School districts provided the majority of the funding prior to Proposal A. Based on their previous budgets and other pertinent data such as income in the surrounding area, the per pupil rate is determined separately for each district. The goal is to provide a minimum amount of funding and to reduce the financial gap between districts. The minimum as of 2003 was $6,700 according to the Michigan Department of Education. Mason schools currently receive approximately $7,000 per student, but some schools receive up to $11,000. “What we have right now is an uneven playing field,” said Harvey.

But, Jim Lockwood, the finance director for Mason schools says that although saving money is a big and important issue for the schools, it has never been the driving force behind the consolidation plan. “It has also to do with the public perception of how we’re using the buildings,” he said. With the declining number of students, the classrooms are getting smaller, and it makes sense, for the time being to redistrict the students. However, Dawn Stark, who currently has a child, Kaysie Stark, attending Cedar Elementary disagrees. “I don’t like the idea, and most parents don’t, I think,” she said.

The Board hosted several community forums to allow public discussion. Lisa Francisco, the principal at Cedar Elementary, says they receive a lot of feedback from the community and that even though there is a feeling of sadness in closing the institution, it is viewed as a necessary action. “We all certainly understand it,” she said.

Harvey said that the building will definitely not be sold or torn down. In the future it could be used for other office facilities or be re-opened as an elementary school. “So if it happens that Mason experiences a large influx of students, we’ll be prepared for that,” said Lockwood.

Based on the closure analyses included in the School Consolidation Report that was submitted by Harvey, it appears that Cedar Elementary School is the most likely nominee. The analysis for closing Cedar listed 5 cons and 15 pros while Steele Elementary School showed 12 cons and 6 pros. “My assignment was to gather all the pros and cons for closing each school, but the Board set the criteria,” said Harvey.

Due to the potential of high Schools of Choice losses, the far distance to other Mason schools, and the large size of geographical area covered by these schools, Alaiedon and North Aurelius elementary were eliminated from consideration in October 2007.

In addition to removing these schools from the list of possible closures, the following list of evaluation criteria was developed based by the Board on input received by the Board after conducting staff meetings and public forums: Schools of Choice losses, ease of integrating students to remaining buildings, potential for population growth in the area, students within walking distance, building condition and infrastructure, balanced distribution of at-risk students, transportation, utility costs, academic achievement levels and school setting.

When the Board announces which school they will close, they will also reveal the closure plan. One closure plan is to perform a phase-out where the students in Kindergarten or first grade will be relocated starting in the 2008-2009 school year. Based on enrollment rates and the financial status of the school, the Board will determine how the remaining transfers will take place. The other plan is to close the school in one action. “I recommend the phase-out,” said Harvey.

Following the announcement, the Board will conduct parent and community forums as needed throughout March. Beginning in March and continuing until August, the Board will prepare to implement the plan.

Although Harvey said all the employees will be placed in other buildings, Francisco pointed out that they have built family units within the school, and it’s going to be difficult to let that go.

“For lack of a better word, I guess it’s a necessary evil,” said Tim Hensley, a custodian at Cedar Elementary. And although most agree that it’s not something they want to happen, after almost four years of research and planning, the Board has decided that this is the best option. “We don’t want to somewhere down the road have to answer the question to anyone, ‘Why didn’t you plan for this earlier?”” said Lockwood.

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