Hopes were dashed for parents and students at the Farwell Board of Education meeting held Monday as the board refused to reinstate the Chinese Immersion Program. The room was standing room only as the community came out to support the Chinese program.
“I have been over it and over it and this cutting of money from line items by the board scares me. We shouldn’t be messing with that,” Board Member Irene Hanner said. “This immersion program is wonderful, but we also have an awesome Spanish program already established in this school that runs from the elementary and through to the high school.”
Even with parents stating their love and devotion for the program as well as reports stating its benefits the board believed it was in the best interest of the district to end the program.
“The Chinese immersion program has many attributes but the bottom line is finances,” Hanner said. ”I don’t like that this financial crisis was not brought to our attention sooner. I don’t like the last minute decisions and it hasn’t been fair to the parents and students of the Chinese Immersion Program.”
The board had given the public hope that the program could be saved at the last meeting, June 23, saying that fundraising to pay for the program might be an option.
John Gross had said, “If we vote for the reinstatement of the program, we are challenging parents to use the time (this coming year) to work towards [funding] for next year.” He added, “I don’t think people realize we are strapped. There’s no money.”
At the last meeting Jennifer Smith presented the board with a list of the pledges that have been made to help support the program totaled $17,216. At this meeting that amount had been raised to $20,500.
“We volunteer our time for all kinds of events and raise money for the PTO and none of us have children in the fourth grade yet. We just want to make the point that we are involved and we want you to support us the way we›ve supported the school,” Jennifer Smith said. “That support means everyone the teachers, the board, the administrators behind us; we will work hard and will do the best we can. Please don’t set us up to fail don’t send us out there saying you have to earn the money, but there is no one backing us.”
Several parents also spoke about how the community has come on board to support the program now that parents and students have gone out and spread the word about the benefits of the program. Many supporters realized that members of the community didn›t understand the complexities of the program, but now support it because what it could do for the school and the community as a whole.
Holly Thrush was out collecting pledges and speaking with the community to save the program that her four children enjoy.
“Almost every single person ended up pledging once they had heard what this program is. My point is that we are not just getting parents to fund this program, we are getting the community involved in this program, we having businesses backing this program … because they are hearing it can actually create our future,” Holly Thrush said. “The parents are out trying to help find funding, so I just wanted to make it known to you that more people are actually knowledgeable and it may be just what our community needed.”
At the previous meeting three board members; Duffy Doxtader, John Gross and Terry Ellenwood said they would support the budget scenario that adds five Chinese teachers back into the budget. Irene Hanner said she would tentatively support that scenario, while Shari Buccilli, Rose Sharp and Paula Sullivan all said they don’t know.
”I understand the concern behind doing what is best for all students the truth is there isn’t a single progra
m that effects all the students.There is always going to be someone that doesn›t benefit from a certain program. Does that mean that we should cut the program? No, not if it brings students into the school district,” Jennifer Thormeier said.
“You say that you don’t want people to come to Farwell just for one particular program, you want them to come for the great teachers and the district that we live in…but I hate to break it too you all districts have great teachers. Teachers are not going to draw parents and kids through the do. You have to have something that sets you apart and Farwell has the immersion program and there is no other program within a hundred miles that can offer anything equivalent.”
However when time came to approve the budget the board voted 6-0 to go with a budget that didn›t include reinstating the Chinese Immersion Program. Duffy Doxtader was not present at the meeting because he had a heart attack and was currently receiving treatment at Midmichigan Medical Center – Clare.
“It has been hugely difficult during this process. I think the board was presented with at least 10 to 15 different budget scenarios as we searched for options,” Superintendent Carl Seiter said. “Since September 2012 we have lost over 100 students and I don’t think that is anyway shape or form indicative of what we do here at Farwell it is far more indicative of economic climate in central Michigan.”
The budget was based on the governor’s budget of $7,251 per student with a projected enrollment of 1,384 students. Excluding the immersion program brought the district’s expenditures to $12,433,189 and revenue to $12,256,980. This brings the spending deficit to $176,209 these funds will be taken from the district’s fund balance bringing the total fund balance for 2014/2015 to $297,703.
“It’s a poor decision and they are going to lose children and they were told they were going to lose children,” Joy Grundy said. “It’s going the hurt the whole area.”
Other board of education business included:
• 2013/2014 general fund budget revisions approved 6-0
• 2013/2014 food service budget revisions approved 6-0
• 2014/2015 food service budget approved 6-0
o revenue $160,000, expense $145,000 surplus $15,000 fund balance $178,605
• 2014/2015 debt retirement budget approved 6-0
o revenue $1,127,132 expense $1,145,014 fund balance $178,094
o debt levy raised to 2.65 percent
• 2014/2015 capital projects fund budget approved 6-0
o revenue $25,000 expense $25,693 fund balance $27,414
• 2014/2015 general fund budget approved 6-0
• Approval of Technology purchase approved 6-0
o 91 laptops and 169 desktops costing $101,505