MAPS contemplates co-op with Suttons Bay

MANISTEE — The Manistee Area Public Schools (MAPS) Board of Education is facing a tough decision: to co-op or not to co-op with financially-beleaguered Suttons Bay.

Both school districts operate an online-learning YES Academy in the region.

MAPS offers the program in 10 counties in northwestern Michigan, overlapping with eight of the counties that Suttons Bay does. The idea would be to join forces so they wouldn’t be competing with each other.

If they co-opted, the districts could both reap the financial benefits.

This is the inaugural year for YES Academy for MAPS. According to superintendent John Chandler, there are between 95-100 students enrolled. Those students subsequently bring more per pupil funding from the state to MAPS — so far, between $650,000 and $700,000 this year, Chandler said.

The Suttons Bay Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved the agreement at its regular meeting Jan. 9.

With declining enrollment, the Suttons Bay district has been making headlines for its financial woes.

MAPS members spoke about those headlines at its regular meeting Jan. 10.

“I really have a lot of questions and concerns,” trustee Kris Thompson said at that meeting. “I’m not saying I don’t agree with this online school. I think it is right for some kids. But I think (we need) to totally look at the financial part of the YES Academy. I don’t think we should make it into a business. I think we need to look at what we’re doing for our kids.”

At that meeting, the board sent the issue down to the negotiation’s committee. Whether or not it makes it out of committee and to the board for a vote remains to be seen.

“It’s no secret (Suttons Bay) is having financial problems,” Chandler told the News Advocate by phone Tuesday. “We want to be cautious.”

At this point, Chandler said the idea is “nothing” beyond that: an idea.

“We haven’t decided to do anything, we haven’t decided to not do anything,” he said. “Right now it’s an open page.”

At issue for Thompson is what the YES Academy is all about — and whether it’s beneficial to work with Suttons Bay.

“I’m very leery of co-opting,” she said. “I want to know all the pros and the cons. I don’t understand the benefits right now.”

Other board members tried to reassure her.

“The pros are like 20 to 1,” said Dan Duchon, the board’s vice president. ”I think if you look at (it) over a period of time, it’s going to be a success.”

At the meeting, Chandler said some of the money coming in from the YES Academy could someday fund teachers and paraprofessionals.

“It’s not that any one size fits all, it’s the matter of (what) are there benefits that we can provide to kids?” he said. “I’m pretty confident that there will be this year. It will be sizable. It will be significant. Next year it will be a few times what it is this year. That excess revenue can be used to keep some of the things we have.”

If the co-op idea does make it out of the negotiations committee, it could come before the MAPS board by April or May.

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