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Clinton Township, Macomb Township

November 14, 2012

Without vote, CVS decides against private-school busing

By Robin Ruehlen
C & G Staff Writer

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — The Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Education declined Nov. 5 to vote on reinstating busing to St. Thecla and St. Luke schools, reaffirming its decision to end transportation to the private schools two years ago.

For more than 40 years, CVS bused students living within its boundaries to the two schools, which are located just outside the district. In 1966, residents of the district voted to mandate that CVS bus the private schools’ students. But citing budgetary shortfalls, the board voted to end transportation to the schools in 2010 — a decision parents and parishioners of St. Thecla have called illegal because of the vote.

Board President George Sobah said at the Nov. 5 meeting that the board’s legal counsel disagreed with the families.

“According to state law, that vote only can be considered advisory in nature,” Sobah said.

The budget cut was part of a series of cuts between 2010 and 2011, which also included ending transportation for some CVS students.

“At that time, we were forced to make a variety of budget cuts,” Sobah said. “These cuts were necessary to help us keep our financial resources focused on the classrooms and programs that benefit Chippewa Valley students.”

Frank Fischer, a St. Thecla parishioner and one of the leaders who, in 1966, worked to get the transportation measure placed on the ballot, scoffed at the idea that election results are only advisory.

“We think elections mean something,” Fischer said after the meeting.

The decision was a long time coming for the St. Thecla parents, who, for the past two months, have sought either a yea-or-nay consensus from the board on the matter. But the decision did little to resolve the issue.

Simon Haddad, a father of five students attending St. Thecla and the face of the parents’ side in the debate, had threatened litigation in the past and said, after the board meeting, that he was ready to take that next step.

“Whatever miniscule savings they thought they achieved on the backs of our children could have easily been made up for in other areas by reducing administrative costs,” Haddad said. “Now they’re going to expend even more money handling the legal aspects of it.”

Haddad did not give a date when he and other parents planned to file a class-action lawsuit.

“It’s still all in the works right now,” he said.

Haddad, who lives within the district boundaries, called himself an indentured servant because he paid taxes to CVS and received nothing for it.

“They chose to stand behind their discriminatory practice and leave some children at the side of the road, watching the bus go by,” Haddad said.

Board Vice President Denise Aquino called the decision to save money by cutting busing unfortunate but a microcosm of the state of educational funding.

“It is unfortunate that we had to increase pay-to-participate fees,” Aquino said. “It’s unfortunate that we had to remove other programs from our district. It’s unfortunate what’s happening with education today.”

She said she did not want to place the transportation issue on the agenda because it was part of a very large cost reduction in 2010 that was tied with concessionary labor contracts.

“And as we move forward, for me, I would never-say-never that I would be willing to have another look at it, as far as an overall review of our spending,” Aquino said.

The parents and parishioners of St. Thecla said they saw no silver lining in Aquino’s statement. Parishioner Diane Zontini called the board “spineless.”

“At least, though, she had the integrity to say something,” Zontini said. “What’s astounding to me is that they would never allow us to be put on the agenda. They did this backhanded vote and gave it to us as that. It was the most unprofessional way of handling a meeting that I’ve ever seen.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robin Ruehlen at rruehlen@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1105.