January 22, 2020

COOR ISD seeks to continue improving and expanding services to area school districts and students

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ROSCOMMON — The Crawford, Oscoda, Ogemaw, Roscommon Intermediate School District is actively working toward informing the communities it serves about its role and the services it offers to area students while also considering potential solutions to the barriers to the delivery and expansion of those programs, COOR ISD Superintendent Shawn Petri said. 

Petri, who has served as superintendent since Oct. 1, 2018, said he is pleased with the direction in which the ISD is heading as it continues to transition its career technical education programs away from the Kirtland Community College Roscommon campus to the various school districts served by the ISD, but there is still much to be done.

“It’s been a great year and a half,” Petri said. “There’s a lot going on and a lot more to do. We’re looking at what services we’ve done well at COOR and what services we can increase for the schools — looking closely at special ed and doing some redevelopment in career tech ed — and we’re making some nice strides there.” 

While CTE programs have for the most part left the KCC campus, they are still being offered at schools around the ISD, Petri said. 

“The programs we had at the Kirtland campus, we’ve moved to other districts,” Petri said. We have welding at Houghton Lake that all the COOR kids can go to. We also have nursing and public safety, as well as (recreational) engines which we placed at Roscommon Middle School for all kids who want to pursue that. We have cosmetology and automotive which are still on the old Roscommon campus currently. They’re looking to close that campus in 2021, so we’re going to have to find somewhere else to place those programs.” 

Petri said that while finding homes for these programs has been an ongoing issue, COOR is also continually working to maintain and expand services across the six public school districts it covers on a very limited budget.

“Our ISD is a very low-funded ISD if you compare it to the rest of the state, but we’re the second largest in the state geographically,” Petri said. “Those two barriers make it tough, so we’re looking at how we can properly use our funding better and how we can increase our funding. My biggest goal is to try and get money flowing back to the districts so they can use that money to better service their schools.” 

The ISD is currently funded through two millages — a general education charter millage which has been around since the founding of the ISD, as well as a special education millage. Petri said the general education millage originally taxed at a rate of .25 mils and the special education millage taxed at a rate of .75 mils. However, due to a rollback in accordance with the Headlee Amendment, which dictates that if the assessed value of a local tax unit’s total taxable property increases by more than the inflation rate, property tax millages must be reduced so the local unit’s taxable property yields the same revenue after being adjusted for inflation, the millages are currently taxing at a rate of .23 mils and .63 mils respectively.  

Petri said the special education millage is significantly higher than the general education millage because the state provides a higher level of funding for general education. Additionally, there is a higher cost associated with the types of services required to meet the needs of students in special education programs. 

“We also have a center-based program in Roscommon that is on our campus that services students who may have severe cognitive or other needs,” Petri said. “If other schools can’t service them, we transport them in to that building to work with them. Part of the millage was set to operate that.” 

While the ISD does not currently have a millage for CTE, Petri said it would be willing to consider requesting one. However, he said there is a lot of work that needs to be done before the ISD would approach voters with such a request. 

“I think we do need to look at a (CTE) millage for COOR, but what does that look like and how do we use it?” Petri said. “I’m formulating all of that before we go to the voters and ask them for that so we can say, ‘Here’s what we have, and here’s what we can do with that career tech milage for our kids in the four counties.’”  

Currently, the ISD’s CTE programming operates on three funding tiers: tuition of $1,500 per student paid by school districts within the ISD, state aid and federal funding through the Perkins Act. 

“Because we don’t have a career tech millage, we’re very limited on how we can expand without costing more to the schools to run those programs,” Petri said.  

Even so, the ISD is considering ways for its CTE programming to better serve its students on its available funding.

“CTE is popular for the right reasons, because there are a lot of jobs for kids right now,” Petri said. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with organizations that want to do heavy equipment as well as manufacturers. You have to look at the job market in the area, and then you have to look at what facilities can those programs be placed in. A good reason we moved the welding program over to Houghton Lake is they had a welding lab that wasn’t currently being used, so the cost factor of starting that program was minimal. We had to leave the old campus, so we moved to that location.” 

When it comes to funding challenges, Petri said COOR is constantly seeking relevant grant opportunities. 

“Every time we have a chance to write (a grant), I want us to do it, but we have to be able to show that we have a purpose for it, and we have to be able to show how it will benefit the kids,” Petri said. “But I will say that every ISD, ours included, can always be better at grant writing. We’re good, but we can get better.” 

In addition to improving and expanding ISD services, every avenue of funding COOR can pursue presents an opportunity to help its school districts better serve their students.

“If we’re able to assist them in special ed, assist them in general ed or any other way way with money that we pull through federal or state grants or millage money that comes into the ISD, then they don’t have to use their money for that process; it can be freed up for other uses for their kids as well,” Petri said.

While the ISD has been able to maintain its CTE services, it has yet to overcome the ongoing issue of student transportation. Petri said the student busing for COOR CTE programs were eliminated years ago.  

“Now the kids have to self-transport,” Petri said. “(The programs) are open to all kids, and kids do come, but if we had a way to get them all there at once, you’d see more. Not everybody is able to drive to a location — even though they can get a lot of great college credit, a lot of great industry credentials and a lot of great opportunities — the barrier of transportation comes into play. In the future, if we do ask for a millage, transportation can be rolled into that to help move kids. We cover 2,600 square miles. It’s a lot for a kid to drive from Mio over to Houghton Lake. This has been a problem logistically for years.” 

In addition to its regular CTE programming, COOR also has a partnership with KCC to offer vocational early middle college for automotive, criminal justice and welding. Petri said it is a unique opportunity for students interested in those fields to get their initial college education without having to pay tuition fees. 

“If a student takes the COOR program their junior year with our instructor and they dedicate to the early middle college and take the curriculum the second year, they take coursework through Kirtland … during their senior year,” Petri said. “Then, instead of graduating, the school holds their diploma, and in their fifth year, they go to college full-time to get completely through the program and graduated. Once they graduate, they get their high school diploma as well as their associates. The beauty of that is there is no cost to the student through any of that process at all — it’s all funded by the State of Michigan through the early middle college program.” 

Petri said COOR is also looking into the potential of enrichment programs for adults to learn marketable skills.

“There have been conversations about doing enrichment programs for adults in the future,” Petri said. “It’s just a matter of handling the things we’re doing right now — we want to make sure we’re doing them well before we expand. And that’s what we’re doing right now — looking at what we’re doing well and how we can do better.”   

Petri, who was a teacher at Ogemaw Heights High School until 2011, when he left to take a position as CTE director and principal of the CTE center at Tuscola ISD, said his prior work experience has proven invaluable to his current role and his understanding of the challenges faced by COOR. 

“Spending 15 years in the classroom and understanding how teachers work with kids was a big benefit going into administration,” Petri said. “I was in charge of the career tech ed budget and the millage budget (at Tuscola ISD) — making sure millage money that was coming in was properly spent and making sure that we were keeping revenues over expenses — (as well as) ordering equipment, taking care of staffing and hiring and working with the local schools … to make sure the CTE programs they had were working properly. I was going into my eighth year, but when I had the opportunity to put my hat in the ring for the superintendent position here at COOR, it was like coming home.” 

Even so, transitioning into his current role was not without its own unique set of challenges.

“The biggest thing about becoming an ISD superintendent is learning all the areas — what you don’t understand in special ed, you have to research and learn. What you don’t understand in general ed, you have to reasearch and learn, because as a superintendent, you have to have a feel for all tiers of the services you provide,” Petri said. 

Petri said he is happy to be where he is, and looks forward to continue to improve services to students in the COOR ISD.

“My belief is every kid can and should be educated,” Petri said. “We just have to put in the effort to provide it for them.

For more information on COOR ISD and the services it offers, visit www.coorisd.net or the COOR ISD Facebook page.

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Frank

Matt Keeton

Such an informative article about the plans and future of COOR. The superintendent should be congratulated for reaching out to the local school districts in the Coor district and reaching out to each community to seek input. The city of westbranch will be inviting COOR to present to the city council soon.

Frank Goodroe

5 days ago | Report this

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