Bond issues, student achievement and new leadership impact schools in 2017

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published January 3, 2018

 From left, Center Line Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Andrew McKinnon, Superintendent Eve Kaltz, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Oleski, Director of Technology Gary Oke and parent Dan Snyder gather May 2 for the bond election, which failed. School officials later put a new bond issue on the ballot, which passed Nov. 7.

From left, Center Line Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Andrew McKinnon, Superintendent Eve Kaltz, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Oleski, Director of Technology Gary Oke and parent Dan Snyder gather May 2 for the bond election, which failed. School officials later put a new bond issue on the ballot, which passed Nov. 7.

File photo by Maria Allard

WARREN/CENTER LINE/STERLING HEIGHTS — Throughout the past year, educators focused on student achievement, one district saw a change in leadership, and taxpayers from two school systems showed their support by passing two bond issues.

Another moment that stood out in 2017 was the powerful windstorm that hit metro Detroit March 8. On March 9, the Early Childhood Center and Roose Elementary School in Center Line Public Schools, Fitzgerald Public Schools and Warren Consolidated Schools shut down because of power outages. FPS and WCS also suffered traffic problems because of the rough weather.  

Here is a look back at other stories that made news in 2017.

Center Line Public Schools
CLPS was defeated May 2 when the district’s $58.7 million bond proposal for school improvements and building enhancements throughout the district failed by 82 votes at the polls. According to the unofficial results from the Macomb County Clerk’s Office, there were 1,103 “no” votes and 1,021 voters who voted “yes” on the initiative.

It was a heavy loss for Superintendent Eve Kaltz and the district, so school officials dusted themselves off and held a number of town hall meetings to research why the bond issue failed by such a slim margin.

One reason many people turned down the bond was because of the proposed athletic and community complex on the Center Line High School campus. Some “no” voters thought the complex would bring too much noise and traffic to the immediate neighborhood.

Taking into account the feedback they heard, school officials went out for another bond Nov. 7. This time, the athletic complex proposal was removed, bringing the bond issue down to $53.95 million. The bond passed with 1,843 residents voting in favor of it, to 1,431 people voting it down, according to the unofficial results from the Macomb County Clerk’s Office.

“I love our kids. I think they deserve the best of everything, of course,” Kaltz said of the bond. “We have a very supportive community, and our kids are our hope for the future.”

Also, CLPS Board of Education member Karen Harrington resigned from the school board effective Nov. 13. Because of some medical issues that her husband is dealing with, the couple relocated to Florida.

At the Nov. 27 CLPS Board of Education meeting, the school board appointed Alvis Phillip Easter to fill the vacancy. Easter will complete Harrington’s term, which will end Dec. 31, 2020.

Fitzgerald Public Schools
At the April 13 FPS Board of Education meeting, the school board voted 7-0 to reopen the former Schofield Elementary School for the 2017-18 school year. The school board closed Schofield in 2014 in an effort to save money at a time when the district was looking at a $1.6 million shortfall and declining enrollment. But after school officials witnessed an increase in enrollment over the last two years, Schofield reopened.

Schofield is now home to the district’s early childhood center and kindergarten students. First- through third-grade students are at Westview Elementary, while fourth- and fifth-graders attend Mound Park Elementary.

This past summer, the district was in the news when Fitzgerald High School teacher Harold Williams went on trial for a third-degree criminal sexual conduct charge. On July 18 in Macomb County Circuit Court, a jury found Williams guilty of having sexual intercourse with a 17-year-old female student.

While the legal age of consent is 16 to have sex in Michigan, Williams was charged with the crime because he was in a position of authority during the relationship. On Aug. 30, Judge Kathryn Viviano sentenced Williams to 20 months to 15 years in prison. He also has to pay court and attorney fees and register in the state as a sex offender.

Van Dyke Public Schools
Residents saw a changing of the guard in Van Dyke when Superintendent Joseph Pius announced his retirement at the Feb. 13 school board meeting. Pius worked in education for 43 years, including the last six as VDPS superintendent.

Pius planned to retire in June, but after he and his wife sold their home quicker than expected, he retired earlier to move to Colorado to be near two of their grandchildren.

“It’s very difficult to leave during the school year. The relationships we have developed have been tremendous,” he said at his final meeting. “To watch some of you grow and to see how well (what) you’ve been able to take on … I couldn’t be more proud. Thank you for taking the lead. You supported the decisions that were made. You supported our kids.”

On the same evening, the school board voted 6-0 to appoint Assistant Superintendent Piper Bognar as superintendent. Bognar said she was “thrilled for this privilege” and called Van Dyke her “home away from home” and her “extended family.”

Bognar, a graduate of Hazel Park Public Schools, always wanted to be an educator. Prior to coming to Van Dyke, Bognar worked for 14 years in the Taylor School District and for 1 1/2 years in Ferndale Public Schools.

In the spring, VDPS officials announced that LHS senior Jasmine Burns had received a $40,000 scholarship from the Women of Tomorrow Mentor & Scholarship Program to attend Central Michigan University.

Warren Consolidated Schools
A former WCS student who claimed that school officials violated her rights as a student when they didn’t protect her after an older male student sexually assaulted her filed a lawsuit against the district.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 6 in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges that WCS violated Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, which states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Also in WCS this past year, school officials continued work on the district’s $134.5 million bond issue, which passed at the May 3, 2016, election. Improved security, updated technology, interior and exterior door replacements, improvements to heating and cooling systems, new school buses, and parking lot and sidewalk replacements are among the projects.

On May 2, WCS taxpayers approved the district’s operating millage renewal. The millage renewal will continue to levy the number of operating mills required for the school district to receive revenue at the full per-pupil foundation allowance permitted by the state of Michigan. The millage renewal is not a tax rate increase and is the same rate that residents approved 10 years ago, in 2007.

Two board members also stepped down at different times.

At a special meeting May 3, the WCS Board of Education appointed Carl Weckerle as a trustee. Weckerle filled the vacant seat of longtime board member Elaine Martin, who resigned April 19. The term expires Dec. 31, 2018.

At an Oct. 4 meeting, the school board appointed Leah A. Berdy as a trustee to fill the vacant seat of board member Kaitlynn Schwab, who resigned Sept. 20. That term also expires Dec. 31, 2018.

On the evening of June 1, a group of Warren Mott High School students and staff unveiled the school’s Military Wall of Honor during a dedication ceremony. The Wall of Honor pays tribute to past students of Warren Mott, Mott High and Warren High who died while serving in the various branches of the military.

Warren Woods Public Schools
On Nov. 7, Warren Woods passed a $20.3 million bond issue. According to the unofficial results from the Macomb County Clerk’s Office, the bond proposal passed with 1,565 “yes” votes and 1,354 “no” votes.

Under the bond, several projects are planned for each school building and the district’s transportation and maintenance garage.

“We’re very grateful to the community for their support,” Superintendent Stacey Denewith-Fici said after the election. “We’re just very thankful for all the support we received, from staff to residents. We’re looking forward to getting started toward the projects we have planned.”

The Warren Woods bond projects fall into five basic categories: enhancing school security and student safety; remodeling and upgrading schools and school facilities, with an emphasis on improving energy efficiency; upgrading and replacing technology and technology infrastructure; improving school sites, including playgrounds, parking lots, traffic flow and athletic facilities; and replacing school buses as they reach the end of their useful life.

The hope is to have the bond projects completed within two years.

Statewide school news
In late 2017, local school boards signed resolutions and sent them to state lawmakers to let them know they do not support Michigan Senate Bills 584-586, which already passed Nov. 8 in the state Senate and have moved on to the House of Representatives for a vote.

The bills, if passed by the House and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder, would amend provisions of the handgun law that prohibit carrying a concealed pistol on certain premises — known as no-carry zones — such as schools, daycare centers, bars, sports arenas and places of worship. The resolution urges state lawmakers and the governor to declare school grounds as safety-sensitive zones.

According to the bill language, that would require CPL owners either to certify that they completed at least eight hours of training that meets specified conditions or to be certified as a firearms instructor; or have at least three hours of review if they had been granted an exemption and were applying for a renewal license with an exemption, or if they are certified as a firearms instructor.

Sen. Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, introduced the bill. In a video posted Nov. 8 on Meekhof’s YouTube page, the lawmaker addressed the bill on the Senate floor and why he thinks it’s necessary to pass such legislation.

“Over the past several weeks, our nation has experienced tragedies involving gun violence. I believe the recent events highlight the need for us to consider how we deter those who are looking for targets and intending to do them harm,” Meekhof said.

“People have the right to be safe and secure, to defend themselves and their loved ones,” the senator said. “Responsible, well-trained, and I will say the highest-trained licensed gun owners may very well be the deterrent to those individuals who seek out gun-free zones as opportunities to commit heinous acts. I understand there are very passionate viewpoints on both sides of the issue, and I respect those different opinions.”

Macomb Community College
On March 20, Macomb Community College school officials held a dedication ceremony to officially open the school’s new Office of Veteran and Military Services, housed at South Campus in Warren.

James O. Sawyer officially began working in the role of MCC president July 1. He replaced James Jacobs, who retired and had been president since July 1, 2008. Sawyer, who possesses a doctorate in education, was announced as the college’s next president on Dec. 20, 2016. Sawyer holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Lawrence Technological University, and a master’s degree in administration and a doctorate from Central Michigan University.