Open Letter on Impact of Income Tax (School Aid Fund) Recalculation

Dear Sen. MacGregor:

First, let me thank you for standing up for kids by agreeing that lame duck is no place to work out a solution to the MPSERS challenge. You and I both agree a change is needed, since it is highly unlikely the legislature will undo the policy damage that caused a substantial portion of the shortfall. However, that change should be well designed and based on empathy for public school children as well as their teachers, present and future.

I have one additional concern and that is with the proposed alteration to the way income tax revenues are distributed into the School Aid Fund (SAF). While I realize that proponents are calling this a “technical fix” to the current distribution system, that “fix” is likely to cost schools roughly $287 per child in per pupil funding statewide. That’s a cut that could not be sustained by most districts, particularly those like Godfrey-Lee that are home to a large percentage of urban poor and English language learners.

For your convenience and to provide a visual of the impact to our district, I’ve attached a copy of our foundation allowance going back to the advent of Proposal A and the state takeover of school funding. It includes a projected per-pupil reduction for 2018 should this “technical fix” gain wheels and pass. As you will note, it would have a notable negative impact particularly given the inflation-adjusted value of our per-pupil foundation allowance. In effect, the value of our foundation would be at the lowest since 1995. This of course covers a period of far greater expectations for public schools and substantially higher academic standards despite a larger percentage of students with significant needs.

screen-shot-2016-12-07-at-8-05-44-amPlease do what you can to block this “technical fix” and resulting cut of over $430 million to the SAF. As we all try to grow strong roots for Michigan’s “Top 10 in 10” educational initiative, now would not be the time to reduce school funding.

Sincerely,

David

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Open Letter on MPSERS Reform Package

Senator Pete MacGregor:

I don’t think any educational leader or school board member doesn’t agree that we need a reasonable reform of our school employee retirement system. No different than the structure of our schools and learning, systems designed in the early 20th century are no longer viable and must be thoughtfully redesigned without hurting kids.

The current MSPERS reform package does not take design-thinking principles into account and will only serve to hurt kids as proposed. This package of bills will add another $23 billion in costs that will be borne by our districts and the SAF at least until 2058. In comparison, the current UAAL payoff is 2038.

This added cost will pull $1,100 per pupil away from the classroom during the duration of this payoff, adding to already declining revenues when inflationary costs are factored in. This comes at a time when Michigan is trying to become a Top 10 in 10 state when it comes to public education, a feat that will be difficult if not impossible unless we stop reducing available instructional funds, particularly in a district like ours that has one of the highest percentages of kids in poverty and English learners in the state. The reform packages now being rushed through in lame duck will pull funds away from the sorely needed programs that ensure these kids experience academic growth and graduate on time, career and college ready.

On top of the costs to ride out the current MPSERS system unfunded liability is the proposed increased normal costs to districts, from 4.13 to 7 percent for teachers under the new plan. The plan itself may be attractive to new teachers but the costs to districts again will come from the classroom. We can’t afford to continue cutting back classroom instruction.

Please vote no on this package and demand a design thinking approach to solving this problem with the needs of all of the users taken into account. I realize political decisions are difficult but we’re talking about the future of public education in Michigan, and ultimately the futures of our kids.

Thank you for putting kids first.

David

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Dear Parents – Attendance Matters!

Dear Parents,

Are you planning a family trip for the holidays? As you think about your arrangements, the staff at Godfrey-Lee want to stress the importance of sending your child to school every day possible. Every year, absences spike in the weeks before and after the winter holiday as families squeeze in a few more vacation days. It’s time to break that cycle.

We know that just a few missed days here and there, even if they’re excused absences, can add up to too much lost learning time and put your child behind in school. This is as true in kindergarten as it is in high school. Put simply, too many absences at any age can affect a student’s chances for academic success and eventually for graduation.

We recognize that holidays are an important time for reconnecting with families far away. The costs of plane tickets or driving distance to your holiday destination often influence when you want to travel. But keep in mind the costs to your children’s education if they miss too much school— and the message you will be sending about the importance of attendance. Even if you’ve got a homework packet from the teacher, it doesn’t make up for the interaction and learning that happens in the classroom.

Our teachers will be teaching, and our students will be learning, right up until vacation starts on December 23, and the first day back on January 3.  You can help us convey that message. This holiday season, give your children the gift of an education and the habit of attendance.

Best wishes,

Mr. Britten

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Superintendent Position Announcement

Below is the preliminary announcement for my position which I will vacate upon retirement June 30, 2017. The posting and link for applicants is also at http://tinyurl.com/GodfreyLee.

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Reward Notice

As I previously mentioned, our district network access to our internet provider has and continues to be maliciously attacked by an individual(s) looking to deny access to this service and prevent our district-wide administrative and learning systems from occurring. This is not a prank or practical joke. It is a crime.

This post announces a $1,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension and conviction of the person or persons responsible for this criminal activity.

Anyone with information should contact our School Resource Officer Pam Keene, Dean of Students Mr. Brett Lambert, Principal Kathryn Curry, or Superintendent David Britten.

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White Stuff: It’s That Time of Year

We certainly have enjoyed extended spring-like conditions well into November, but we can be assured that winter weather conditions will be here sometime soon.  With that in mind, I am once again reminding parents, students and staff about our communications plan for weather-related school closures.

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First of all, unless an announcement is made by the district to close schools, always assume that schools will be open, and if necessary take extra precautions on getting to and from school in snow and ice. Michigan is a cold-weather state and winter snow and ice are to be expected. Schools will be closed only when a variety of conditions warrant doing so.

Just like other superintendents across the midwest, I am usually awake and up by 4:30 am throughout the cold-weather months analyzing various weather reports, talking to superintendents surrounding our district, and if necessary driving around to test the roads and sidewalks as the conditions may warrant. If there is a need to close schools due to weather conditions, I try my best to make that decision by 6:00 am and get the announcement out right away. Sometimes however, conditions may worsen and a later announcement might be necessary.

Once I make the decision to close schools, I typically follow a specific communications protocol for getting the message out:

1. Announcement is first posted on the district Facebook page  (www.facebook.com/leerebels) and Twitter account (www.twitter.com/GodfreyLeePS). I also copy the announcement to my personal accounts for those who friend or follow me.

2. Our emergency notification system, or “robo call,” will go to work getting the closure message to you through your primary contact information in your child’s Infinite Campus record. This includes a computerized message via telephone and/or email. If you do not answer the phone right away, a message will be left on your voicemail or answering machine if you have one. Please do not call the school back if you receive an automated call as its most likely no one will be in the office to answer your call at that hour. Check your voicemail, email, or any of the other modes discussed above. The announcement goes out in both English and Spanish.

3. An announcement is sent to GRAIL WEB which then posts it on all area television and radio stations. You will hear it on the radio or see it in the trailer at the bottom of the television screen, but the fastest way to know for sure is to go to your favorite TV or radio station’s website.  Please remember that it will say GODFREY-LEE PUBLIC SCHOOLS if we are closed. Do not assume that just because Grand Rapids, Wyoming or Godwin schools are closed that our district is also closed. Conditions may warrant closures of other schools in other districts while ours remain opened.

4. The district’s web page (www.godfrey-lee.org) will also contain the announcement.

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If school is closed for the day, there may be additional announcements made later about any scheduled after-school or evening events. Sometimes the weather conditions in the morning warrant closing school but they improve during the day and we can still allow other events to go on as scheduled. If it’s clear that the conditions will not improve, an announcement will be made that includes cancelling all evening events. We keep it simple to avoid confusion.

On very rare occasions, it may become necessary to CLOSE SCHOOL EARLY and send children home. Every parent must have a plan ready in the event an emergency early closure should occur. If you are likely to not be available to pick up your children as you normally do, you will need an alternate plan for either someone else to pick them up or another location for them to walk. Your child should know what to do. If you need to contact the school to deliver instructions to your child, please do so but remember that many parents may be trying to call at the same time so be patient.

If you have concerns or questions about what to do in any emergency closure, please discuss them with your child’s school principal or teacher to be sure there is no confusion or misunderstanding. Our goal is to ensure  we have a clear and timely communication channel with every home.

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Update on Superintendent Search

Our Board of Education has engaged the services of the Michigan Association of School Boards Executive Search Services (MASB ESS) to assist with the process of selecting a new superintendent to assume my position following my retirement this coming June.

The Board met last evening in an open special meeting to review the plan for the search process and set the following timeline (dates and times subject to change):

  • By November 21 – a preliminary position announcement will be completed and widely posted
  • January 16, 2017 – a finalized, detailed posting including a profile of the qualifications and application procedures will be completed and posted (open special board meeting, 7:00 pm)
  • February 6, 2017 – the posting closes
  • February 13, 2017 – candidate applications will be reviewed in closed session by the Board and the field narrowed to 4-6 candidates
  • March 6 and 8, 2017 – first round of interviews will be conducted on these evenings and finalists selected (open special board meetings, 6:30 pm)
  • March 20, 2017 – final round of interviews will be conducted in an open special board meeting at 6:00 pm, following tours of the district earlier in the afternoon and a community open house (time and location will be announced at a later date)

It is my intent to assist our Board in being fully transparent throughout the process and I will keep our community, staff and students aware of each step along the way.

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