PALO — More than 70 people attended a standing-room-only community forum on Monday night to hear about the future of Palo Community Schools.
Bob Kjolhede, the superintendent of Palo and the Ionia County Intermediate School District (ICISD), opened the meeting on a somber note.
“This public forum was called by the board members to make you aware of what the decisions the board is facing in the near future,” Kjolhede said.
According to Kjolhede, school board members are looking at three options for the future of Palo Community Schools for next year. The options are staff reduction from four teachers to two, or annexation/consolidation of the school district with another, or to not to accept students. Palo Community Schools is in northeast Ionia County and teaches children from kindergarten though sixth grade.
“No decision will be made at this time,” Kjolhede said. “Board members are looking at all options and could have a decision by April or May.”
Andrienne Barna, the financial services coordinator for Palo and the ICISD, showed how declining enrollment and declining funding from the state per pupil is taking its toll on Palo.
“We are projecting $300 less per pupil coming to Palo than our high in 2008-2009,” Barna said. “This is our financial picture over the last several years and you can see each year the fund balance is declining.”
Julie Milewski, the curriculum and instruction coordinator for Palo the ICISD, presented data on how Palo did in the 2012 Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP). Milewski also showed Palo percentages next to Ionia and statewide percentages. The lowest scores were in mathematics and science.
“You can see that statewide students tested just over 40 percent proficient in math,” Milewski said. “Palo was near 20 percent proficient in math.”
The trend was higher in reading for Palo and statewide average but much lower in science.
“You can see here at the state level that students tested on average near 13 percent proficient in science,” Milewski said. “Unfortunately there were no Palo students proficient in science.”
The point Milewski was trying to make to the community is that the “rigorous” curriculum that has been adopted by the state three years ago will be tougher to teach, especially with the declining economic climate in Michigan, which is leading to fewer resources for schools.
“It is the job of the school to educate the students, that is our responsibility,” Milewski said. “The staff has to stay on top of all the new standards coming out and so they are asking for very high demands of teaches with very limited resources.”
Kjolhede assured community members that this meeting wasn’t about pointing fingers at them or at Palo Community Schools’ faculty, staff and students.
“No one has done anything wrong here,” Kjolhede said. “We are kind of a victim of the economic times and the current political climate that is out there right now.”
Dennis Teeter, who has grandchildren attending Palo’s school, said he would be very disappointed if the school was to close.
“I know that my granddaughter would be heartbroken if they were to close this school,” Teeter said. “This school has been here for 130 years.”
Teeter hopes he can discuss with the school board other options that may help keep the school going. He believes that using technology may lighten the financial burden.
“I know a gentleman who has a program that has had tremendous success that uses online assessment,” Teeter said. “It separates students by their level, it puts them in a specific category as they complete and meet the requirements for that sections it helps the move forward.”
Teeter hopes he can speak with the school board and tell them more about the program and his concerns of large classroom sizes.
“Smaller schools, smaller class sizes equals less problems,” Teeter said. “There is no bullying here, it is not allowed, and students get the attention they need here. It is a good school and that needs to be told.”