Muskegon School Board Meeting Fervor Focuses Primarily On Lansing

Andrew Trzaska | March 21, 2012

With a $5.7 million deficit projected for next school year, Superintendent Jon Felske’s bone to pick with Lansing has intensified, and board members, parents and staff present the meeting also echoed his sentiments.

Four virtually inevitable line items account for just over $3 million of the projected deficit.  State revenue is set to drop over $1.043 million, and federal revenue will drop another $534,000 on top of that.  Approximately $1.4 million will be lost due to certain incentive funding no longer being applicable to the district, a topic Felske discussed at last month’s board meeting.

At Tuesday night’s full board meeting, Felske’s superintendent’s report included a discussion about how funding is allotted by the state to each district.  Felske contends that Muskegon Public Schools gets less per student than other districts.

“No matter how much any of us pay, how much any of us earn, there are people in other communities who will earn the same and will get 1,000 to 1,500 [dollars] more education per student because of the zip code they live in,” said Felske.

“That’s not public education in my view.”

Superintendent Felske and many members of the board of education attended community meetings to explain the different plans to parents and residents.  Some who have heard Felske’s speech at these meetings have refocused their emotions and efforts on Lansing:

“I am literally devastated that we have allowed all the way back since Brown v. Board of Education, we thought we won a war but we only won a battle,” said Debra Griffin, referring to the funding inequalities discussed by Felske.  Griffin ran unsuccessfully for school board last year.

Part of the plan to offset the district’s 2013 deficit is the closing of buildings.  Two plans currently sit on the table.

One plan will keep most elementary schools as PreK through 6 or K through 6 depending on the building, and will make Steele the only grade 7-8 school. Bluffton, Nims and either McLaughlin or Nelson schools would close under this plan, and Moon and Marquette would be the schools to see the largest increase in student population.  The district would save $150,000 on facilities, and more on staffing changes.

The other plan will close Bluffton and either McLaughlin or Nelson, and would save $100,000 in facilities costs plus more on labor costs.  Bunker and Steele would be K-8, Nims would stay open but would send some of its students to Bunker, and all elementaries besides Bunker and Steele would be PreK through 5.

Some controversy has developed around specific issues in the plans; people from both McLaughlin and Nelson are growing vocal about their school being the better choice to keep open.  But like Griffin, others are taking their fight outside of the district.

“My fight is not with Nelson, my fight with Bluffton, my fight is not with Nims or any building that might be closing,” said Charlotte Johnson. “My fight is with Lansing.”

Felske noted his executive cabinet would be meeting Thursday, to further discuss the school plans.  A common theme of comments from the floor was an urge to put students and not opinions first in deciding how to reorganize the district:

“We need to have decisions based on merit and logic versus opinions and feelings,” said Brian Clincy.

Andrew Trzaska

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