Committee Member Cries Foul After Recommendation to Close Swartz Creek School
At a committee meeting held on December 3rd, the Facilities Evaluation and Assessment Team (FEAT) committee made its final decision to recommend that the Swartz Creek Board of Education close Gaines Elementary School. But at least one member of the committee is claiming that the committee was not given adequate information to make an informed decision, and that the resulting recommendation may not accurately reflect the opinions of the committee members.
In an email she sent to each of the members of the board of education, committee member Erin Chesser expressed her disenchantment with the committee's actions and the protocol it followed. That letter is printed below, with permission.
Chesser, in a phone interview with Cars 108, says she doesn't think the committee was given enough information about the district's budget.
"I don’t believe we were. We were given highlights – things that the administration wanted us to see – highlights of the budget, highlights of the expenses, but we were never given the full detailed budget."
Chesser, whose two children attend Gaines Elementary, says the committee was also not given access to test scores and teacher assessments.
"I asked for that in the very first meeting, and I was not given that information. In fact we were never given that information and at the end of that first meeting, a comment was made to me that 'that was a loaded question,' and that I was asking it because basically I knew that my school has the highest test scores [in the district.]"
When asked to join the FEAT committee, Chesser was under the impression that each building in the Swartz Creek dristrict would be represented by parents who currently have students enrolled in those respective buildings. Now she has come to the conclusion that the committee members were hand-picked by the administration. She goes on to say that the reason committee members were selected is unclear.
"I don't why they would do that, unless they did have some kind of a preconceived agenda."
Chesser also says that other suggestions -- such as reducing the number of administrators and sharing school principals between buildings -- were quickly dismissed.
The committee is slated to make its recommendation to the Swartz Creek Board of Education tonight. (12/9)
Read Chesser's email to board members below.
Dear Swartz Creek Board of Education:
My name is Erin Chesser and I was a member of the recent F.E.A.T committee. You will soon be presented with the recommendations that came out of the FEAT meeting on Thursday, December 3rd. I want to share with you my experience on the committee and also my thoughts on the recommendations that will be presented.
Back in August I was contacted by Dr. Hall and asked if I wanted to serve on a committee that would review our declining enrollment and work as a team to come up with some ways the district could approach this issue. He indicated that there would be one representative from each school in the district. I was very excited at the time to be asked to be a part of this team as I am a working mom and don't have a lot of time to help out in the school during the day. Imagine my shock when I entered the first FEAT meeting and found that I was the only elementary school parent on the committee. The committee consisted of a teacher, a parent of a Middle School student, 2 board members, a former board member, two other gentleman and myself. This was not the committee I was expecting. When I asked why there wasn't representation from every school I was given a very vague answer that basically these people were associated with our community.
During the first meeting we were shown a powerpoint outlining enrollment information and showing declining enrollment for the State of Michigan and for Genesee county over the past ten years. We were also asked what information we would like to have for this committee. I would like to point out here that I did ask for the test scores of all schools and these were never provided to us. In fact, at the end of this first meeting Dr. Hall walked over to me and told me that he knew that was a loaded question because Gaines has the highest test scores. This was my first time meeting Dr. Hall and I was not impressed with his snide remark to me, a parent of this school district.
Over the next few meetings we were given definitions of the General Fund and Sinking fund, highlights from the budget and highlights from the expenses of each building. Although it was requested, we were never given the full budget information or all data regarding expenses for each building. In fact, we had to ask several times for information on Mary Crapo as it was not provided in the initial information with other building info.
For the November 12th meeting we were asked to submit our ideas and that we would discuss them. We had 18 items total that we went through quickly and someone wrote a few pros and cons of each on a large notepad.
Late in the morning of December 3rd, Dr. Hall emailed out four documents to the committee: A detailed pros/cons sheet regarding moving CDC, a detailed pros/cons sheet regarding moving alternate education, the typed up short pros/cons list that was written up at the Nov. 12th meeting on all of the remaining ideas, and an agenda for the meeting. As I work during the day I did not have time to review these documents prior to our meeting. At the meeting we quickly went through list of 18 and with very little discussion some items were eliminated and others were lumped into one item instead of two or three. I spoke up and indicated I didn't think a couple of the items should be lumped together but was not given much of a response at all. We were then given a Rubric tool/sheet that Dr. Hall developed. We quickly looked at it and were then asked to score each item that remained with very little discussion. There were 8 items that we had to score. I spoke up and indicated that I didn't feel the committee had enough information/data to score these items and that more discussion was needed. I expected that this committee would look more closely at each option including looking at dollar amounts of expenses and how much each option would save the district. None of that was done. I repeat, NONE of that was done. Again, my comments were overlooked and the scoring took place. At the end of the meeting the lady who was counting the votes we wrote out on a yellow sticky note had to do it twice because she did it wrong the first time. In fact, I'm not sure that her work was ever really checked. Instead of listing each one out on the board and then indicating how many people voted for each one she only listed the top four. We don't even know what priority they were on each person's paper. I truly believe the list of recommendations you are about to receive is in error and not what the committee intended to recommend. We were never even given the chance to ask questions at the end. Mr. Sepanak hit the gavel and ended the meeting as soon as the recommendations were posted on the board the second time.
I am completely ashamed that my name is associated with this FEAT committee and the recommendations that came out of it. I had no voice on this committee and even when I did try to speak up I was quickly shot down by Dr. Hall or Mr. Sepanak. Instead of talking through any issues, concerns or questions the group was pressured into scoring these items and making a very quick and uninformed decision.
As a member of this FEAT committee I implore you to please throw out the recommendations from this committee. There is no data to back up any of these recommendations and the process was very one-sided. In fact, our last meeting on Dec. 17th has been cancelled. I had no idea that this committee would not be meeting for the last scheduled meeting.
Please vote 'NO' on all of these recommendations. I truly believe it is the Board's duty to do what is best for our students. These recommendations have not been throughouly discussed and no figures have been determined to indicate that these recommendations are the best for our students or how much they money it would save the district taking everything into consideration. Please allow our community and you as a Board more time to review all of our options before making such a huge decision that will affect so many people.
I would be more than happy to meet with any of you if you have any questions about this information. Thank you for your service to our community!