Strong Schools, Strong Communities – Update

This is a continuation of my previous post on the topic of the Kent ISD Regional Enhancement Millage that voters will be asked to decide on Tuesday, May 9.

Strong Schools, Strong Communities: Kent ISD Regional Enhancement Millage 2017

The Strong Schools, Strong Communities committee has posted a link to a website that will provide more details: http://www.kentisd.org/parents–community/strong-schools-strong-communities/

Flyers in English and Spanish:

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2017-18 School Calendar

Kent County ISD, which includes 19 other school districts besides ours, requested and received approval to begin the school year prior to Labor Day. Many of you may recall that every school district in Michigan did so prior to 2008.

The reason for the waiver to begin prior to Labor Day is based on what our county believes is best for our students. There are a number of valid reasons for the change back to this earlier start date including alignment with local colleges that provide our students with early college and dual enrollment opportunities. We also believe that this is the beginning of a longer process of adopting a more balanced “year-round” calendar which would provide a shorter summer break and other breaks during the school year. One thing to remember, however, is that no matter how the calendar is structured, we are required by law to provide 180 days of school that include a minimum of 1,098 hours of scheduled instruction. This is true for all Michigan public and charter schools.

At the last Board of Education meeting, the Board approved a start date for students of Monday, August 21, 2017. We are currently in negotiations with our teachers and support staff as to the rest of the calendar, but I wanted you to have this date to be able to make plans for August. I can also tell you that school will end earlier in June than it has the past several years. I will get the full calendar out to you as soon as the new calendar is ready for Board ratification. I’m hoping that is as early as next week.

State law also requires the county to be on a consistent calendar for Thanksgiving, Winter and Spring breaks. Therefore, I can provide the following to you for any planning you might be doing over those holiday/vacation periods:

Thanksgiving Break:  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, November 22 – 24, 2017

Christmas/New Year Break (Winter): Begins after school on Friday, December 22, 2017 and school resumes on Monday, January 8, 2018

Spring Break: Begins after school on Thursday, March 29, 2018 and school resumes on Monday, April 9, 2018

You may read or hear that other districts are starting later than us. That’s probably true as each district had different circumstances to consider for this coming year. Several already had contracts with their unions that included a calendar with a post-Labor Day start. Others have major construction issues going on in their districts that need more time this summer to be sure their schools are ready for students. The waiver from the state is good for three (3) years and it’s the intent of all districts to be on a similar county-wide calendar at some point during that period. Kent ISD KCTC, KTC, KIH and regional programs will begin the week of August 21.

Here are the links to a couple of local news reports about the early start decision. I do want to point out that they are not consistent with each other on some of the details regarding when different districts are starting, but they provide more rationale as to why this is a valid decision based on the needs of students.

Kent County students to begin next school year in August

Kent County schools’ summer break getting cut

Winter break is back, while summer is cut short for some West Michigan students

I also thought you might be interested in two graphs that illustrate the average temperatures in June and August for the Grand Rapids area.

 

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Average Weather In June For Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Source: https://weatherspark.com/averages/30405/6/Grand-Rapids-Michigan-United-States

 

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Average Weather In August For Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

Source: https://weatherspark.com/averages/30405/8/Grand-Rapids-Michigan-United-States

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Godfrey-Lee Board Selects Superintendent Candidates for Interviews

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

On Monday, February 13, 2017, the Godfrey-Lee Board of Education narrowed down a field of thirty (30) applicants for the superintendent position, selecting four (4) it plans to interview in a couple of weeks.

Assisted by Mr. Tom White, Michigan Association of School Boards (MASB) Executive Search Service, the Board is seeking to fill the position of Superintendent David Britten who will retire on July 1 following fifteen years with the district, the last nine as superintendent. Britten also held the position of elementary principal at Wayland Union Schools before joining Godfrey-Lee in 2002. Prior to that, he served a twenty-two year active duty military career retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1996.

The four candidates who will be interviewed in scheduled open public sessions are (in alphabetical order):

  • Ms. Tamika Henry, Principal at New Options High School in the Allendale Public School System
  • Dr. Carol Lautenbach, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning and Accountability for Godfrey-Lee Public Schools
  • Dr. Carlos Lopez, Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools
  • Ms. Margaret Malone, Director of Fine Arts, Grand Rapids Public Schools

The initial round of interviews will take place on Monday and Wednesday, March 6 and 8, starting at 6:30 pm both evenings. Interviews will be held during Special Board Meetings open to the public at the Godfrey-Lee Early Childhood Center, 961 Joosten Street SW.

At the conclusion of the initial round of interviews, the Board is expected to narrow the field to two (2) for a final round and selection scheduled for Monday, March 20 at 6:00 pm in the Early Childhood Center.

Below is a copy of the final position announcement outlining the qualifications and skills being sought by the Board of Education as well as significant features of our district and surrounding community:

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Strong Schools, Strong Communities: Kent ISD Regional Enhancement Millage 2017

As your superintendent, I want to personally inform Godfrey-Lee Public Schools families and parents of the Strong Schools, Strong Communities proposal to establish a stable, reliable source of funding for West Michigan school districts. Every parent can agree that it is critical to provide our kids with a high-quality education and this proposal will help our students have the opportunity to learn, achieve and be college and career ready.

Many of you are aware that school districts across West Michigan, including our district, have taken steps to tighten their belts, find efficiencies, cut costs, reduce staff and consolidate services. Despite these efforts, too many local school districts and communities continue to struggle to provide the quality education our students deserve.

All 20 school districts within the Kent Intermediate School District have made the formal request to the Kent ISD to place the Strong Schools, Strong Communities proposal on the May 2, 2017 ballot. Voters will be asked to approve a 0.9 millage which will cost the average homeowner in the county approximately $81 a year (lower in our district).

If approved, all millage dollars will be collected by Kent ISD and distributed equally on a per pupil basis to each local school district. Our school district will be able to use these resources to meet the unique needs of our students and provide high-quality classroom instruction. Again, 100 percent of funds from this proposal will be spent on classroom instruction and kids. Moreover, all spending will be publicly disclosed on a website and independent audits will be performed to ensure transparency, accountability and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.

Over the next several months, you will see and hear more about the Strong Schools, Strong Communities proposal. Below are responses to frequently asked questions for your convenience. Thank you for all that you do for our kids and community, and please do not hesitate to contact me with questions, concerns or thoughts.

 

  1. What is an enhancement millage?

When the legislature in 1993 drafted a new funding formula for public schools, passed by voters as Proposal A in 1994, concerns existed that over time the new funding plan could fall short of revenue needs and expectations in certain communities. To compensate for the potential need for additional revenues, Proposal A included a provision allowing Intermediate School Districts to levy up to 3 mills for 20 years or less to be distributed 100% on a per pupil basis to every constituent K-12 school district within that ISD.

  1. How is an enhancement millage different than a bond issue?

School districts have two primary sources of funding, operational and capital. Capital revenues such as the 2013 bond approved by Godfrey-Lee voters for building and facility repairs and improvements, along with security and technology upgrades, is generally funded through bond issues, which are levied locally for capital expenditures. Operating revenues come primarily from the state, through the “foundation grant” allocated to each district on a per pupil basis. These state dollars include your local contribution through the 6-mill state education tax and the 18-mill non-homestead tax levy on businesses and second homes. An enhancement millage would be an additional local contribution to school operations that if approved would support programs and services at the classroom level.

  1. How is the enhancement millage proposal placed on the ballot?

The only way districts can receive additional operating revenues to meet student needs is through an ISD enhancement millage levied, collected, and distributed equally to each district on a per pupil basis. As a result, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools Board of Education, along with the other 19 school districts within Kent ISD, passed a resolution asking the Kent ISD board to place the proposal on the May 2, 2017, ballot. Per legislation Godfrey-Lee is prohibited from independently asking its voters for additional operating revenues.

  1. How much are districts asking for?

Districts asked Kent ISD’s school board to call for an election asking voter approval of 0.9 mills for 10 years. The 0.9 mills will provide an estimated $19,931,466 in additional revenue for Kent County school districts in the first year of the levy, which amounts to approximately $211 per pupil.

  1. How will the revenue be distributed?

The revenue will be collected by Kent ISD and distributed by law on an equal, per pupil basis, to each of the local school districts within Kent ISD. Kent ISD will not receive any money or administrative expense from this millage; per law 100% must be given to school districts. For Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, it will approximately generate an additional $415,000 annually beginning this next school year.

  1. How will these funds be used?

Godfrey-Lee Public Schools will dedicate 100% of the dollars raised from the enhancement millage to the classrooms for teaching and learning with emphasis on supporting academic achievement K-12. This will include:

  • Attracting and retaining highly-effective teachers
  • Curriculum and instruction materials
  • English language learning including dual-language immersion or other innovative programs
  • STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)
  • Innovative initiatives resulting from the district’s human-centered design process focused on learning growth and achievement in content and critical 21st century skills
  1. How much will this cost the average homeowner?

The proposal calls for a levy of 0.9 mills for 10 years. The state equalized taxable value for a $100,000 home is one-half the market price, or $50,000. If approved, the owner of a $100,000 home would pay an additional $45 per year in taxes, or $3.75 per month. In other words, for each $1,000 of state equalized taxable value, the homeowner would pay 90 cents more per year in taxes.

  1. Why do schools need more money?

All public school districts have seen the purchasing power of state revenue received decline over the past decade. A report (http://house.michigan.gov/hfa/PDF/Briefings/State_Budget_Overview_fy15-16.pdf page 17) from the House Fiscal Agency in January 2016 found school revenues, adjusted for inflation, are 6% less today than in 2000. You can also see a chart on how state funding for Godfrey-Lee has declined since 1995 when adjusted for inflation at http://tinyurl.com/GLPSFundingDecline.

Because the purchasing power of district revenues has declined, districts have cut millions in operating expenses but are still struggling to maintain the core educational services necessary for all students to succeed. A recent study (https://www.michigan.gov/documents/budget/Michigan_Education_Finance_Study_527806_7.pdf) commissioned by the Michigan Legislature found every district should receive $8,667 per pupil, which is well above what most districts currently receive in state funding.

In addition, a three-year study (http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2016/michigan-school-funding-choice-policies-hurting-local-districts/) by the Michigan State University Policy Institute released in June 2016 found Michigan school districts face financial hardship based on factors almost entirely outside their control. Top among those factors was inadequate state per-pupil funding, declining enrollment, and the increasing number of students with special needs statewide.

  1. What has Godfrey-Lee done to keep costs down?

Like most homeowners, the district has been cutting general fund expenses every year since 2009. To try and keep class sizes at the elementary level down and continue to provide quality educational programs with less resources, we have also had to dip into our fund reserves, often called the district’s “rainy day fund.” In 2008, our district had a 23% fund balance that has fallen to just above 10% today.

  1. When will the enhancement millage proposal be put before voters?

This proposal will be on the May 2, 2017, ballot.

  1. Why did schools ask for a “special” election?

The 20 Kent County School Districts felt the need for new revenues was significant as to merit a May election so students in the 2017-2018 school year and beyond will benefit should the enhancement millage be approved by voters.

  1. What happens after 10 years?

The millage will expire and enhancement funding will end unless local boards of education again petition Kent ISD to seek a renewal on behalf of local school districts.

  1. What if I have additional questions?

You can always contact the Godfrey-Lee Superintendent or Director of Finance at 616-241-4722.

Voting Information

Election Date: Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Last Day to Register: Monday, April 3, 2017 (online registration information available at https://www.vote.org/register-to-vote/michigan)

Absentee ballots will be available: Saturday, March 18, 2017

Ballot Language

REGIONAL ENHANCEMENT MILLAGE PROPOSAL

 Pursuant to state law, the revenue raised by the proposed millage will be collected by the intermediate school district and distributed wholly and completely to local public school districts based on pupil membership count.

 Shall the limitation on the amount of taxes which may be assessed against all property in Kent Intermediate School District, Michigan, be increased by .9 mill ($0.90 on each $1,000 of taxable valuation) for a period of 10 years, 2017 to 2026, inclusive, to provide operating funds to enhance other state and local funding for local school district operating purposes; the estimate of the revenue the intermediate school district will collect if the millage is approved and levied in 2017 is approximately $19,931,466, which funds will be disbursed wholly and completely as required by statute to the following school districts: Byron Center Public Schools, Caledonia Community Schools, Cedar Springs Public Schools, Comstock Park Public Schools, East Grand Rapids Public Schools, Forest Hills Public Schools, Godfrey-Lee Public Schools, Godwin Heights Public Schools, Grand Rapids Public Schools, Grandville Public Schools, Kelloggsville Public School District, Kenowa Hills Public Schools, Kent City Community Schools, Kentwood Public Schools, Lowell Area Schools, Northview Public Schools, Rockford Public Schools, Sparta Area Schools, Thornapple Kellogg School, and Wyoming Public Schools.

 

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Message to Gov. Snyder: Invest in Education

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National Association of School Boards: Setting the Record Straight on Public Schools

By National School Boards Association

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) working with and through state
associations and more than 90,000 school board members is committed to providing the highest quality education for every child. At a time when public schools are educating more students at a higher level than ever before in history – and doing so despite enormous financial challenges – recent statements by the Trump administration are troublesome. The profound lack of knowledge about public education, as reflected in comments about public schools being “flush with cash” and badly underserving the nation’s children, coupled with policy proposals based on these “alternative facts”, pose a threat to a high-quality education for more than 50 million students.

16425943_10154272329547546_6167511453424511135_n“Day after day, public school leaders and educators perform acts of heroism,” said Miranda Beard, NSBA President and a school board member in Laurel, Mississippi. “Rhetoric that is devoid of facts, that significantly deviates from reality, undermines the work of millions of school board members, parents, administrators and teachers.”

Public education, for hundreds of years, has helped millions of students prepare for life. It has provided students from diverse backgrounds with knowledge and skills they used to create and sustain the world’s strongest economy. The education provided by public schools has instilled students with the ability to think creatively so they could solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.

“Public schools are the backbone of our country,” said Thomas J. Gentzel, NSBA Executive Director and CEO. “Public education has played a significant part in lifting generations of people from lower to middle income, and from middle to higher income. And, public schools have enormous potential to elevate even more children and their families out of poverty. Public education in America is a birthright, but its existence depends on the active support of leaders at all levels, which is why recent baseless charges are so troubling.”

Some of public education’s key accomplishments include:

  • Graduation rates that are at their all-time highest level
  • More students going to college than at any time in history
  • Career and technical education that has been modernized
  • Math performance increases at a higher than ever level
  • Reading performance increases among English language learners
  • Upgraded data systems to help teachers teach and students learn

These achievements and many more have been realized as budgets for public education have not fully recovered since experiencing significant reductions during the Great Recession.

Adequately funded, student-centered public schools provide a safe and supportive environment, a comprehensive education that prepares all children for a lifetime of learning in a diverse, democratic society. However, budget cuts and estrella_two_children_closeup_mg_0476-compressedproposals such as vouchers and other programs that divert essential funding from schools, along with federal government overreach, denigrates the amazing work taking place in what is arguably our most valuable institution.

“This is a pivotal time in public education and our nation’s school children deserve the best education possible,” said Gentzel. “We must and we can enhance public education by working together to find and implement the best ideas to accomplish this.”

Views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.

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Message of Support for Our Students and Families

A lot of confusion and concern surrounds many of the messages and orders that have come out of the White House during President Trump’s first week in office. It is unfortunate because much of it is creating fear in our children and their families, as well as uncertainty throughout our entire district and community.

As has been already said by a number of school districts around the country, our schools are and will continue to be safe zones for every child and every family member. Under federal law, it is the right of every child, regardless of immigration status, to access a free public K-12 education and Godfrey-Lee Public Schools welcomes and supports all students.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, commonly known as “FERPA,” prohibits school districts from providing third parties, such as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.), information contained in student records.

I have directed our school administrators and staff to refer any inquiries from any federal, state or local law enforcement officials regarding student records and/or the immigration status of any of our students and their families directly to me. It is my intention to uphold the federal protections that already exist. No confidential access to any student records will be allowed without a judicial warrant, subpoena or court order, unless authorized by the student’s parent(s) or required by law. I will consult the district’s legal counsel in the event any inquiries regarding immigration status are made by outside agencies.

Our district has made a commitment to a quality education for all students, which includes a stable learning environment, the preservation of classroom hours for educational instruction, and the requirement of school attendance. My message here is to reinforce a sense of safety and security so that our classrooms and our schools will continue to be safe learning spaces for every child.

David Britten, Superintendent

Mensaje de Apoyo para Nuestros Estudiantes y sus Familias

Mucha confusión y preocupación rodea muchos de los mensajes  y órdenes que han salido de la Casa Blanca durante la primera semana del Presidente Trump en la oficina. Esto es desafortunado, porque ésto está creando miedo en nuestros niños y sus familias, así como incertidumbre a lo largo de todo nuestro distrito y comunidad.

Como ha sido dicho ya por varios distritos escolares alrededor del país, nuestras escuelas son y continuarán siendo zonas seguras para todo niño(a) y todo miembro de la familia. Bajo la ley federal, es el derecho de todo niño(a) sin importar su estatus migratorio, acceder a una educación en una escuela pública K-12 gratuita y las Escuelas Públicas  Godfrey-Lee aceptan y apoyan a todos los estudiantes.

El Acta de los Derechos Educativos de la Familia y Privacidad, conocida comúnmente como “FERPA,” prohíbe a los distritos escolares proporcionar a terceros, como  Inmigración y Aduanas de los EE.UU. (I.C.E.), información contenida en los expedientes de los estudiantes.

Yo  he ordenado a los directores de nuestras escuelas  y al personal referir directamente a mí,  cualquier petición de cualquier funcionario encargado de hacer cumplir la ley federal, estatal o local  relacionada con los expedientes de los estudiantes  y/o el estatus migratorio de cualquiera de nuestros alumnos  y sus familias. Mi intención es defender las protecciones federales existentes.  No será permitido ningún acceso confidencial  a los expedientes  de ningún estudiante sin una orden judicial, citación u orden de la corte, a menos que sea autorizado por los padres del estudiante o que sea solicitado por la ley.  Yo consultaré al consejero legal del distrito en el caso de que agencias externas hagan cualquier consulta   relacionada con el estatus migratorio.  

Nuestro distrito ha hecho un compromiso de tener una educación de calidad para todos  los estudiantes, lo cual incluye un ambiente de aprendizaje estable, la preservación de las horas del salón de clases para la instrucción educativa y el requisito de asistencia escolar. Mi mensaje aquí, es para reforzar el sentido de seguridad para que nuestros salones de clases y nuestras escuelas continúen siendo espacios seguros de aprendizaje para todo  niño(a).

David Britten, Superintendente

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