Hale School Board answers questions from community at town hall meeting
Board also gives presentation on future of the district
By Greg Buckner
Staff Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
HALE —The Hale Area Schools Board of Education answered questions about the future of the district at a town hall meeting at the Plainfield Township Hall Oct. 24.
In a meeting that the board was invited to attend by the Hale Area Association, six of the seven board members, with Secretary Sarah Heuss absent, were present to put on a presentation and answer questions from the public on how the school is moving forward and trying to improve.
“We had prepared to give a presentation to show the positive things happening at our school, and I think we did that,” Board President Chad Brandt said following the meeting. “I thought the crowd was very engaged throughout the night and we were pleased with how things went.”
Hale Area Association President Jim Szafran, who served as moderator for the night, echoed Brandt’s thoughts on the meeting.
“I think the presentation went very well,” Szafran said. “It was a very amicable affair and I think as an association, it exceeded our expectations for the night.”
Szafran said he was very impressed with the board’s presentation, noting that he thought the way the board presented stats and information on the district was “very effective.”
The majority of the night focused on the board’s presentation, which covered a variety of subjects, and was followed by close to 45 minutes of Brandt answering questions on note cards from the crowd.
One of the major focuses of the presentation was on the district’s finances, as the district’s fight to get out of debt has been a hot topic of discussion since it first went into deficit at the end of the 2008-09 school year.
Brandt explained to the crowd that the district began the 2008-09 year with a positive fund balance of $154,000, but after the misuse of title funds, the district was in a deficit of $118,000 by the end of that school year.
By the end of the 2010-11 school year, Brandt said the district was in a deficit of $703,000.
With the Michigan Department of Education threatening to send an emergency manager to the district to try and fix the deficit, Brandt said the district had to make some tough decisions heading into the 2011-12 school year.
Some of those tough decisions included a 15-percent reduction in salary and higher health care costs for staff members, teacher contract buyouts, the closing of the high school building and the privatization of custodial services, among others.
Those moves helped the school cut its deficit by nearly $500,000 during the 2011-12 school year, as the district’s audit this September showed it had cut its deficit down to close to $200,000.
Brandt said with that positive movement, the district is on track to be out of deficit by June 2013; but he acknowledged that none of the progress would have been made without these tough decisions.
“These were very difficult decisions during critical times,” Brandt said to the crowd. “This involved layoffs of employees, consolidation of services, and a lot of sacrifices made by our staff and our community. Those sacrifices made by everyone is why we have Hale Area Schools today.”
Another area of high discussion, especially in the question and answer portion of the night, was the continuing decline of enrollment at the school.
Brandt highlighted a slide in the presentation showing a steady decline in both the population of the district area and student numbers every year since 2000.
This fall, the district had its student count drop from 576 last fall to around 470 students.
The district receives $6,846 in funding per student from the MDOE, based on a blended count between the count day in the fall and one in the spring.
Despite the continued student losses, Brandt said the district’s budget this year was based on having 512 students, so having less students than projected this year means the district is still on track financially.
He said he thought the main reason for the loss in local population and the resulting loss in students was economically-driven.
“We have some data that shows that 56 percent of the students we lost this last year either moved out of the area or out of the state entirely,” Brandt said. “The best thing we can do is keep offering the best education we can to our students.”
Part of the focus on bettering what the district offers has been concentrated on utilizing technology, which was another key portion of the board’s presentation.
Brandt highlighted such aspects as the district having 200 iPad for students and other tools like the “clicker” system that provides instant feedback for teachers during quizzes and assessments, and the mobile interactive whiteboards (Mobi) that are in each classroom.
Some teachers from the district were present to demonstrate how the clicker system and Mobi pads are used in the classroom, which Szafran said he thought was a highlight of the night for him and many of the people there.
“I thought the way they are using the technology in the classroom and the way they were able to show us how they use that technology was great,” Szafran said. “They answered a lot of the questions we had about how the new technology is being used to help our students.”
Szafran said he was also pleased with how the question and answer portion of the night unfolded.
“People might have walked away unhappy because their question might not have been answered, but they didn’t show it, which I was very pleased with,” Szafran said. “ I thought the board did a very good job of answering the questions presented to them.”
Brandt said he thought it was a positive experience for all involved.
“One of the biggest areas we’ve been working on is getting out in the community and communicating with people better,” Brandt said. “I concede that is one area where we need to improve, but we’ve spent a lot of time working on that area and I feel this meeting helped both us as a board and the community to keep moving toward that goal.”