MAPS officials watching enrollment numbers

The Manistee Area Public Schools Board of Education discusses fall enrollment numbers and what their staffing should look like during Wednesday's meeting. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

The Manistee Area Public Schools Board of Education discusses fall enrollment numbers and what their staffing should look like during Wednesday’s meeting. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — To hire or not to hire?

That is the big question the Manistee Area Public Schools Board of Education is focusing on about hiring additional teachers as members review projected student count numbers for the upcoming 2018-19 school year. It was a major topic of discussion at Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Superintendent Ron Stoneman said it is something that administrators are paying close attention to at this time.

“We are really watching our numbers in our classes right now,” said Stoneman. “Our objective is to keep our class numbers low, but we don’t want to extend to hiring at this point to then potentially lay off later.”

Jefferson Elementary School principal Julia Raddatz said they have what is referred to as a bubble class (higher enrollment) of this year’s kindergarten students who will be in first grade this fall.

“We started that class with 123 students and went to 112, and out of that class there are four or five looking at retention so that brings us right at about 108 students,” said Raddatz. “Our first grade from this year going into second grade has 81 students in it and this year at kindergarten round-up we had 63 kids.”

Raddatz said right now they have three second grade teachers and are looking to hire a fourth teacher, but that could go either way depending upon how many students show up at the start of the school year.

“Usually we have a lot of new kids come in July, but this year we have had only two students contact us so far,” said Raddatz. “We are not feeling that there is a lot of kids out there that are coming in to register. So we are hoping to have 70 to 73 kindergartners by the start of the year. We were originally looking at four sections of kindergarten, but if we go with three sections that would be 24 or 25 students.”

Raddatz said they are watching those numbers closely and have some good teaching candidates waiting who could be hired, but they are nervous about making that decision until the enrollment numbers are a little more set.

Business manager Howard Vaas told the board he budgeted in those extra teaching positions when he presented the budget for the upcoming year in June.

“I told (the board) we budgeted for 35 less students, but I misspoke and we actually budgeted for 45 less students,” said Vaas. “I rolled all the teaching positions forward, so we have room in the budget unless we have a decrease of more than 45 students, but there is some opportunity to cover some of that with what is in the budget.”

Raddatz said next year’s senior class will be about 111 students, but if kindergarten numbers remain low in the future that could be a big problem for the district. Board member Jim Thompson agreed with that assessment.

“If we are graduating over 100 and only bringing in 75, that is not good,” said Thompson.

Raddatz said what is key at the kindergarten to third grade level is the need to have adequate educational support. It is even more important, she added, with the third grade reading mandates set by the state where students have to be reading at that grade level.

“That is an area where we want to invest,” said Raddatz.

Board member Richard “Duke” Edmondson said he felt it would be better to go with four sections of kindergarten even if they have only 75 students to give them a better start to their education. He indicated his preference was to maybe take some money from the fund equity to make sure those students got the support they needed instead of a crowded class.

Stoneman agreed that the students come first.

“We will review the numbers and continue to relate the budget to it,” said Stoneman. “Our priority is our student success. I don’t want to have to come to you in four years about this kindergarten class and say they are struggling.”

Board members instructed the administration to keep them posted on the student counts at the August meeting.

Another topic of discussion was Rightside Design’s creation of a new website for the district. One of the major concerns in that area was to get a website that gave parents and students clear access to documents like the student handbook.

Stoneman said parents and students have said that the student handbook is one of the big areas that needs to be addressed.

“There is concern of being able to find the handbooks on the website, and how they are set up is very important,” said Stoneman. “Sometimes people have to struggle around finding the thing they are looking for in the handbook. We had a great conversation on it, about its organization and ability to navigate it. We also had a good conversation in how it is written in terms of voice, as it doesn’t read like a student friendly document where they understand what is being said.”

Stoneman said concerns were that the voice is more of a legal one that that average person has trouble understanding. However, he and several board members pointed out that is necessary because the handbook closely follows the state NEOLA policies that the district adopted and has to follow.

He said Rightside Design is working with the district to see what can be done to correct the problem.

 

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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