Muskegon Board of Education Passes Consolidation Plan; Nims, Bluffton, McLaughlin To Close

Andrew Trzaska | April 17, 2012

With the deadline for approving next year’s budget just over a month away, the Muskegon Public Schools Board of Education approved an attendance area modification plan Tuesday which paves way for the shuttering of multiple buildings and a new K-6, 7-8 and high school district arrangement.

Board members unanimously voted through the plan, which is expected to save $150,000 in facilities costs, and more will be saved from staff reductions.  Layoffs effective at the end of the school year were passed Tuesday as staff reductions are imminent for next year. The same process was executed last year as the year’s budget was being finalized. Numbers of staff reductions were not immediately available at Tuesday’s meetings.

Building closures and grade assignments:

  • Bunker, Marquette, Moon, Nelson and Oakview schools will house Pre-K through sixth grade. Early childhood classes will be held at Glenside.
  • The K-5 Spanish-language immersion program currently located at Steele will relocate to Marquette elementary
  • Steele will house all of the district’s seventh and eighth grade students and will be renamed Muskegon Middle School.
  • This puts Bluffton, McLaughlin and Nims schools on the “to be closed or repurposed” list.
  • Usage of the MCEC and Craig school buildings will come in June after the new budget year takes effect.
  • Schools of choice within the district will still be available “as long as you can get [your student] there and as long as we have room”, according to Felske

Staff assignments:

  • Principals will know their building assignments in May.
  • Teachers will know their assignments for 2012-2013 before school dismisses in June.

Board secretary Marian Michalski has served on the board for ten years and expressed her sadness for voting through the plan.  “Every year [on the board] there’s been decisions that have not been fun to make,” said Michalski. “This is a terrible decision we have to make… McLaughlin was one of the best schools ever, ever, ever, and I’m glad I’m the one who has to make this because I feel I have something to lose with this. But we have to do something to continue to make this district great.”

The plan “will have an emphasis on middle years transition to the high school” according to documents obtained from the Board of Education. Felske previously expressed this goal as discussions of condensing schools developed early this year. Felske previously noted that the district does not come together until 9th grade; all students of a specific grade would coexist in the same building for a total of six years starting in seventh grade in the soon-to-be-renamed Muskegon Middle School.

“The ultimate goal is that we’re one district, from K-12, as Big Reds through whole time,” said Felske.  “Please allow our children the opportunity to absorb everything we want to give to them… We have your children’s best interests at heart.”

Despite multiple building closures, it appears the district is looking to hold onto its real estate at this time instead of selling properties.  In documents obtained from the Board of Education, no buildings have been marked for sale in a list of actions needed to execute the reorganization. Specific line items state that Nims, Craig, McLaughlin, and Bluffton would have windows boarded up, buildings winterized and playgrounds removed, meaning these buildings could be reused later. The documents state that the plan “maximizes facility usage and provides for expansion when needed”.

Busing will be increased to Muskegon Middle School (Steele) and the high school, reaching to the farthest-flung neighborhoods on the far sides of major roads like Seaway Drive.

A public comment discussed demolition of buildings because of their possible liabilities to the district.  Board president Rev. Louis Churchwell stated that no plans were set and any that might develop would be presented publicly before action is taken.

Board treasurer Billie Bruce stated that the district’s hands were tied with state funding cuts, a frustration expressed by Felske at last month’s full board meeting.

“Last year we had to cut $10 million, and this year we had to cut $5 million. It’s getting ugly. We have to do this, we can’t do nothing,” said Bruce, “This plan works. We want the academics of the kids to go up very soon, and this will do that.”

Todd Smith, a parent and alumni of Muskegon Public Schools, summed up the feelings of several public comments that urged parental and staff solidarity

“We as adults are the ones who need to get behind these changes for our kids,” said Smith. “If we as adults don’t give that comforting feeling about what’s going to happen in September, we as adults should be responsible for part of the loss… Crying is not going to get the job done.”

Board trustee Tasha Bibbs-Oakes echoed the sentiment:

“Do not cement negativity to the students we are trying to provide a quality education to.”

Felske indicated that more plans would be developed as the new year approaches.

“It does not come close to answering all of the multiple questions,” said Felske “The real work starts tomorrow with going forward with the transition plan.”

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst