March 26 05:17 PM
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Adversarial environment spills over into Capac classrooms

To the Editor:

I have been attending the Capac School Board meetings for most of the past seven or eight months. I will have children in all of the school district's buildings next year. I admit that before this year I have always had reasons that kept me from attending, some legitimate, some not. However, I have been increasingly concerned for the Capac school system and what direction it seems to be taking so I started attending the meetings.

There have been several issues that have come up through the months that as a parent concern me greatly. Then there have been issues that have not come up, or were brushed aside that concern me just as much. I have great concern for the fact that our teachers still do not have a contract, we are still paying a negotiator out of our deficit budget, we are cutting programs and services, we are going to an all day kindergarten program without a clear plan on how to do this (at least none has been shared with the parents as of yet.) I also have great concern over the "rumors" that I hear about our high school and some in our middle school. These concerns have been brought up to the board. The superintendent said that they have not heard of many of these concerns and cannot address them unless they are told about them. I urge all of the parents in the district with concerns to come to a board meeting, call a board member or the superintendent, or email them from the school Web site.

While attending the school board meetings I have learned that they are trying to balance the budget on one hand, but discussion keeps coming up to spend money on unnecessary things such as an electronic copy of NEOLA Board Policies for $4,000 so parents will have access to it. I understand needing comprehensive board policies, especially in this day and time, however most of the Capac School District will not be able to gain access to it due to not having high speed Internet. There is also a separate insurance policy for our athletes to help pay for injuries which no other district in the county pays for. If I'm not mistaken it was mentioned that our umbrella policy could cover this.

There was a rather lengthy discussion as to what to cut from next year's budget. Student supply money, bus routes, the entire agricultural science program are a few things discussed. During these discussions, (school board member) Mr. (Greg) Warnez is the only one that said he was not comfortable voting for cuts to any of the programs or supplies for the children. There are options, including the previously mentioned insurance policy and bussing to athletic events that would not affect the students' education. The enrollment in Capac has declined for the past several years, certainly because of people moving out of state, but also because students are choosing to attend neighboring schools. Our district will continue to lose students to neighboring schools if we continue to cut our education programs.

As for our teacher and support staff contracts, I have heard many things about what is keeping this from being settled. I do not know any of it for sure. My husband is an alumnus of these schools, and he along with others convinced me that this would be a great town in which to have my children grow up and go to school. It still has that small town appeal that a lot of parents look for. This past year the tension that has ensued from the stalemate in the contract negotiations has spilled over into the classrooms. The students can and did feel the tension from the teachers and proceeded to act out. I come from a long line of teachers, I agree wholeheartedly that they deserve a fair contract for their work. They have my children with them more than I get to be with them some days. However, when you walk through the elementary school and the children's hard work is not on display in the halls, their concerts rescheduled for the day time keeping many parents from attending, their Celebrate America night does not happen, the teachers are picketing in front of all of the schools even on the last day, the middle school honors banquet was not attended by most of the teachers and they did not participate the way they normally do it creates more tension.

I agree with our newly elected board member Barry Geliske. We need to get back to being the small town that a lot of parents brought their kids here for. There needs to be face to face discussion between the board and the teachers and support staff. Norm McDunnah was elected along with Barry to take the place of two existing members who were not re-elected. I take this to mean that the community has decided that things need to change. I hope that the other members listen with open hearts and minds to what our new members have to say, because we elected them for a reason.

I urge everyone in the Capac School District to attend the next school board meeting. It is only with active participation that change can occur.

Editor's note: Schools Supt. Jerry Jennex responds as follows:

"I respect Mrs. Hayes' right to express her opinions. Her call to parents and the community to "get involved" is welcomed. I agree that we all need to work together to make our schools better. While I may disagree with some of her opinions, I do agree with her that parents should be involved in their student's education. I want parents to let me or building administrators know when they have concerns so that we can attempt to address them.

"I too am frustrated with the challenges of employee contracts. The economic issues the district is facing present unprecedented challenges. These challenges make negotiating a contract more difficult than ever before. The district understands the importance of the people who work at the school (teachers, support staff, bus drivers, etc.) and wants to compensate them fairly and adequately. Obviously, the perspective of what is fair and what is adequate differs depending on which side of the table one sits on.

"Mrs. Hayes has hit the nail on the head in her articulation of the "tough choices" the district is facing. The issue of the supplemental athletic insurance is a case in point. While most districts have dropped the insurance,the Capac board opted in May to keep it. The goal was to provide a potential safety net for families who are losing insurance coverage to job loss. There have been instances of major injuries in the past where this supplemental insurance provided substantial help to the families involved. The board decided to eliminate this supplemental insurance in their attempt to get closer to a balanced budget on June 25th, a very tough choice. About $8,500 was saved. Will our liability insurance offer a similar safety net? I hope we don't have to find out.

"I again reiterate my agreement with Mrs. Hayes and encourage parents and community members to be involved. We are all better off when we work together to provide for our young people."

Heather Hayes, Capac
July 15, 2009

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