By Steve HortonFowlerville Community School administrators and board of education members have had a busy summer preparing for the new school year that starts on Sept. 6. Their tasks have included interviewing and hiring two new assistant principals, a new transportation director, a new high school counselor and eight teachers as well as other staff, finalizing agreements with the employee bargaining units, passing a new budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, and completing the annual audit.
The new school year will also see a continued emphasis on improving the reading skills of elementary-aged students and a focus on and evaluation of the math program for sixth-thru-twelfth graders.
Wayne Roedel, who is starting his fourth year as the superintendent, gave an overview of what he and other school officials have accomplished since the end of the last school year in early June.
“We hired an assistant principal for the junior high,” he noted. “His name is James Fitzgerald. This is his first administration job. He taught high school science at Wayne Westland Community Schools and has ten years of successful teaching experience and a strong coaching background. He started out as a teacher in Garden City.”
Fitzgerald earned his Bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University and a Masters degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. His salary will be $75,280 based on a 210-day calendar. He replaces Chuck Stakey who held the position for three years and decided to return to teaching math at the junior high.
“Eric Diroff is our new assistant principal at the high school,” Roedel said. “He has been the high school principal at Tawas Area Schools for four years and before that was the assistant principal at Saline High School for nine years. He brings a wealth of experience to the position with a total of 25 years in education, starting out as a classroom instructor before becoming an administrator.”
His salary will be $85,000 based on a 210-day calendar. He replaces Jamie Hardenbrook who held the position for four years and decided to return to the classroom as a social studies teacher at the high school.
The new transportation director is Linda James. “She was a dispatcher for the LESA Transportation Department and before that was a dispatcher for the Howell Public Schools,” said Roedel. She’s also drove bus, so Linda is a seasoned veteran with almost 25 years of experience. We feel she’ll do a great job.”
She replaces Doreen Redinger who retired as the director at the end of the last school year.
The board also approved recommendations to hire Mary Stuible as the new high school counselor, replacing Ann Glover who retired last school year. She held a similar position at Lansing Catholic Schools. In addition, eight teaching positions have been filled that had become vacant due to retirements, a decision to leave the district or a leave of absence.
Another highlight of the summer was the settling of new two-year contracts with the bargaining units for the bus drivers, custodial-maintenance staff, food and nutrition workers, and the administrative assistants and para-pros. “There were different language changes for each of the units,” noted Roedel, “but overall the general framework grants a 2.25 percent increase for the first year of the contract and another one percent increase for the second year.”
The contract with the Fowlerville Education Association, which represents the teachers, was re-opened to address a salary increase for teachers who have already reached Step 11 in the salary schedule. “We’re starting the second year of a two-year agreement with the FEA,” said Roedel. “For teachers who are somewhere between Step 1 and 11, there is no other increase in their salary since they receive more money with each new step. To address our senior staff members who wouldn’t receive any more money, we instituted a Step 12 with a 2.25 percent increase.”
The superintendent said that the district will start classes with 150 teachers and a total of around 350 staff members.
The board also approved a motion to give Roedel a 2.25 percent increase, retroactive to last October 23rd. He will now earn a salary of $130,880. The board motion noted that “this is in harmony with other recent administration raises.”
Last June, as required by state law, the board approved a new budget for the upcoming 2016-17 fiscal year that began on July 1. Projected revenues were put at $26,782,530 and expenditures were estimated at $26,909,125. The fund balance was figured at $2,026,721, so the intent is to use part of that carry-over surplus to cover the slight shortfall.
Roedel, in discussing the new budget, pointed out that a subsequent audit held this summer after the adoption shows a fund balance of around $2.3 million—a couple hundred thousand dollars more than what had been projected.
“Our revenue figure is based on an increase in the student foundation grant of $120 per student, putting the amount we receive from the state at $7,511 per student,” he said. “This is an actual increase. Last year we received an increase in the foundation grant, but money was taken away from another state program that we had been receiving money from, so the increase was actually less than it appeared to be.” School officials have budgeted for 2,877 students for the upcoming October 4th Friday Count. That’s 25 fewer students than were enrolled last year. “There has been some new construction in the community, so we may have more students coming to our school than this estimate,” Roedel noted. “We’re hopeful, but we try to be conservative in our budgeting.”
Last year the district had over 2,900 students, an increase of 30 students over what had been anticipated.
As for the goals of the coming school year, Roedel replied that, as always, it will be “to raise student achievement.” More specifically, he noted that reading and math will be the main focus for teachers and administrators in addition to their other regular duties.
“We’re in our fourth year of implementation of a new math program at the K-5 level and this is a pivotal year to see how it’s working,” he said. “We’re also focusing on math for the sixth thru 12th grades.
“We’re also continuing our effort to improve the reading abilities at the elementary,” he said. “We want to make sure our third graders are reading at grade level.”
The district has been working on that latter goal for the past couple of years after test scores indicated a problem at this grade level. Roedel said that more recent testing has shown an improvement, but added, “We want to get even better.”
To that end, he pointed out that the board of education is about “to make a sizeable investment of $108,436” on a supplemental reading program called ‘Benchmark Literacy Components’.
“The two main components are ‘Interactive Read-Aloud Strategies” and ‘Whole Group Mini-Lessons’,” he said. “We already have instituted a nice, detailed reading program at the elementary level, but in a review by our teachers and administrators the recommendation was that we needed more supplemental help in teaching specific reading skills to the students. We feel these new reading components will provide that help.
“As for any other major initiatives, we don’t have any,” he said. “I want to keep it simple. You don’t want too many irons in the fire, otherwise you lose track of the situation. By continuing our emphasis on K-5 reading and doing a comprehensive review of our 6-12 math program, I feel we’ll be in improved shape as a district.”
One new program at the high school will be the return of agri-science and FFA. “Curtis Refior has been hired as the new teacher of this curriculum offering,” said Roedel. “He’ll be teaching a two-hour block in the morning and a two-hour block in the afternoon and serve as the FFA sponsor. We have 24 of our students enrolled in the class and between 22 and 24 students coming from Howell Public Schools. This is part of the LATEC (Livingston Applied Technology Education Classes) Program that Fowlerville and the other districts in the county offer to students.”
Last year, after the board decided to end the auto mechanics class which had been part of LATEC, students had the option of taking this class at couple of other county schools but had to provide their own transportation. The district, to offset this cancelled class, contracted with the Capital Area Career Center in Mason to allow students to participate in its various classes, including auto mechanics, and offered bus transportation to the center from the high school.
“We have over 50 of our students taking a class at the Center,” said Roedel. “They are taking everything from auto mechanics to construction to culinary arts. There’s a perception that schools are not offering vocational education opportunities, but we do have them available. Our participation with the Career Center and our offering bus transportation has proven a success and this participation should continue to grow.”