Van Dyke to discuss expanding Schools of Choice to other counties

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published May 24, 2012

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WARREN — In the coming weeks, the Van Dyke Public Schools Board of Education will consider whether to expand the district’s Schools of Choice program to include students from outside Macomb County.

With an estimated $3.2 million to $3.6 million shortfall predicted for next year, Superintendent Joe Pius said school officials will have to look at ways to increase revenue.

One way to achieve that is to add more students. With more students, the district would receive more per-pupil funding dollars from the state’s school aid fund.

“I think it’s something we have to look at,” Pius said at a school board meeting May 21. “I believe it’s another topic we have to address at this point. It’s time to look at revenue.”

The district currently participates in Schools of Choice, but only accepts students from Macomb County. Under Schools of Choice, local school districts are allowed to enroll nonresident students and count them in membership without having to obtain approval from the district of residence.

In September 2007, VDPS accepted two Schools of Choice students. In September 2011, a reported 56 Schools of Choice students began attending Van Dyke.

Pius recommended the board consider opening the boundaries to include other counties, including Wayne, Oakland and St. Clair. He suggested that if the borders are expanded, the district should only accept students beginning kindergarten, so school officials get them “new” and then “build our school district from that point.”

“When you’re walking into ninth-grade, we’re not sure what the student is bringing with them. (We) also have to accept their siblings,” the superintendent said. “I recognize this is a difficult decision.”

Alena Zachery, district assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction said the district wouldn’t be open to just anyone.

“There are specific perimeters the board can set,” she said.

VDPS has endured a steady decline in enrollment in recent years. With fewer students, the district receives less money in state aid.

Pius brought up Schools of Choice during the “superintendent’s comments” portion of the meeting. The board did not take any action on his suggestion, but there was some discussion. Board Treasurer Steven Nielson was in favor of the recommendation.

“I do not have a problem opening the borders,” Nielson said. “We will speak to the community about it.”

By law, school districts have to approve their school budgets by June 30. The fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30.

Many cuts and concessions were made last year for the 2011-12 budget. In an effort to balance the budget, Van Dyke school officials laid off 38 employees from across the board, including 17 teachers.

Employees across the board also took an 8 percent pay cut. All district employees — both union and nonunion — now pay 20 percent of their health care costs. In past years, employees did not pay for health insurance.

“The exceptional people that have worked in this district (that) we’ve had to lay off … that hurts me as much as anything,” Nielson said. “They put their heart and soul to teaching these kids.”

At Monday’s meeting, Pius said the state should have its budget ready by June 15. The date could always change. He also said there are “additional dollars in the school aid fund,” but “some of that money may be used in college or universities.”

Van Dyke is looking at expenditures surpassing revenues for the 2012-13 school year.

“We anticipate the cost of health insurance will go up again,” Pius said. “Retirements will go up. An emergency financial manager, that’s what we’ll be faced with if expenditures exceed revenue.”

During the meeting, Board Trustee Eleanor Bates said school officials need to “accentuate the positives.”

“Van Dyke gets such a bad rap,” she said. “We have some great things happening here.”

Lincoln High School senior DeCarlo Chenault, who served as the board’s student representative this year, said he came to Van Dyke five years ago from Wayne County. He said without the support of his teachers, “I would not be the person I am today.”

“I want to thank them for all their help,” he said.

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