By Pat Maurer
After hearing nine supporters of the Chinese Immersion program at Farwell Elementary, the Farwell Board of Education may consider reinstating the program at a special meeting Monday evening.
The program was cut at the June 2 board meeting, part of $584,300 pared from the coming year’s budget. That cut alone totaled $214,000.
Joy Grundy was the first to plead with the board to amend the evening’s agenda and reinstate the program. “I have two children in the Chinese Immersion program. I am asking that you allow us to support the program. Lets look at some creative funding options…If we lose this program the district’s reputation will suffer. It’s not too late – let’s build a plan for funding this program. We can find a way to make this work.”
Jennifer Smith spoke next saying, “Look what we have done in just seven days. We have raised $15,500 in pledges. We have three professional grant writers and already have three grants ready to go. We want to save this program. Please reinstate the program.” She said Wednesday that the three grants ready to be submitted are to MEMIC, the Clare Community Foundation and the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation. “We are ready to send them in,” she said. Wednesday, she said parents interested in supporting, or donating to keep the program could email firstname.lastname@example.org.
With two children in the program, Curt Thornmeier urged the board to look at the statistics. “Overall, 37 percent of the Elementary students are in the Chinese Immersion Program. I urge you to amend the budget and reinstate the program.”
Margaret Morales, who has three children in the district, said, “Research has proven this program is beneficial. Students in the program get higher test scores.” She said, “The list of the benefits of the program include cultural sensitivity. Proven studies show this. These children will earn future scholarships and be leaders. One-fifth of the plant speaks Chinese. We are here tonight because we believe in you. I’m asking that you give them another chance.”
Holly Thrush said, “I believe it [the program] has enhanced my special needs kids. We need to look at the financials. I will cost $225,000 for
[Chinese] teachers. We will hire another fourth grade teacher and may have to hire another Kindergarten teacher at $61,000 each. That’s $122,000 of the cost.” She suggested combining Kindergarten and first grade in the program and third and fourth grade, under a single teacher for each. She added, “The House and Senate have given us a minimum of $50 more per pupil, up to $175 per pupil. This program brings in new students. We are the only school in the area where numbers are climbing.”
Spanish Teacher Sean Hill also spoke to support the program. “There is some confusion on continuing the program into Middle School,” he said. “We wouldn’t need to hire a new teacher every year. Classes would be for two hours in fifth grade and two hours in sixth. One teacher could handle the whole Middle School classes. We have got what we need in Elementary and we could have larger class sizes, if that would mean keeping the program.
Misty Haring came before the board with eight children, seven of them in the Chinese Immersion Program. Each of the children read a prepared statement with some consisting of “Do you believe in me? We can reach our highest potential. We need you to believe in us. You have helped me get where I am today.”
Finally, Deana Pitts spoke to “challenge and protest the vote [on the budget cuts] June 2. “On the superintendent’s list was elimination of the business manager,” she said. “Paula Sullivan is married to the business manager, Jacob Sullivan. Her vote was a conflict of interest. That should have been disclosed and discussed prior to the board voting. I am asking you to re-vote without Paula Sullivan. Please amend your agenda and reinstate the program.”
Seiter said Tuesday, “In the list of potential reductions that you have outlined in the paper there are many options available to the board for consideration. These were options shared by parents, staff and administration. All options totaled over $900,000. The board detailed $584,300 in reductions. This means that many of the potential reductions were not deemed feasible.”
He continued, “At the June 2nd meeting, the board was presented with four budget scenarios based on discussions at budget workshops and previous board meetings. The option where I was to take over the business manager duties in addition to being superintendent was presented and discussed by the board at budget workshops and at a regular board meeting. This was not viewed as a viable option by the board. Based on lack of support from any of the board members as a viable option, this item was not presented on June 2nd in any of the four scenarios. What Mrs. Sullivan voted on at the June 2nd meeting did not contain this item. There is no basis for the claim of conflict of interest.”
After everyone who wanted to speak had finished, Board President Rose Sharp said, “Thank you all for your comments.”
Board member Duffy Doxtader commented, “If we cut band, would we not look at it and see if we could reinstate band?
Board member John Gross also thanked the parents for coming and speaking. “You have given us a lot to think about,” he said. “I still feel we need to do what’s best for all students.” He said, “We need another meeting before the 30th.” Irene Hanner agreed.
The board agreed to hold another Special Meeting next Monday at 7 p.m. on the cuts before the June 30 Special Meeting to adopt the coming year’s budget.
Superintendent Carl Seiter said, “We have to adopt a budget by July 1.” He asked board member to give him ideas on what else could be cut in the budget if the program were re-instated before the meeting Monday, so he and Sullivan could prepare a list of cuts for the board.
Changes to the 2013-14 budget were approved by the board. Business Manager Sullivan presented a list of the changes to the board including an increase in revenues by $400,663 and an increase in expenditures of $601,173. The year ended with the district using $592,418 of the available fund balance and leaving a $473,912 fund balance to begin the next year.
Based on the board’s approval of cuts at the last meeting, Sullivan also presented a tentative budget for the 2014-2015 year with a total of $12,256,980 in revenue and $12,433,190 in expenditures. The budget would require using $176,209 of the fund balance. “The budet was put together based on cuts acted on at the last meeting,” Sullivan said. “With an increase of $175 per pupil in the State Foundation allowance, I am estimating $7,251 per pupil for the coming year.
Other business at the board meeting Monday included:
*Approval to purchase 231 laptop computers at a cost of approximately $106,260 to replace outdated models, with the purchase of an additional 159 desktops and 109 laptops coming from next year’s budget.
*A presentation on ACT data and how it is used to identify gaps in achievement levels of students over a four-year testing period.
*Approval of invoices totaling $494,969.67.
*Accepting the resignation of Elementary teacher Linda Agle.
*Approving a request for a senior trip for the class of 2015 next May.
*Approval of a Layoff resolution.