Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Q:  Will Stephenson be joining the Educational Partners Program with NMU to allow students easier access in getting internet?   - Parent -

A: Thanks for the question, I can respond to this question:
Late in the week of September 9, 2019 I was able to connect with Northern Michigan University and gain information regarding Norther Michigan University “Educational Access network”.

The plan is for Stephenson Area Public Schools to send a copy of a Northern Michigan University “flier” home in K-5 student back packs on September 20, 2019.  We will also have copies of the “flier” in the elementary and middle/high school office as well as on our website.

For further information parents and students can go to
I am attaching a “flier” to this response for your review also.

Thanks for the question,


Past Sinking Dollars funds

Q: What has the school spent Sinking Fund dollars on in the past? 
             - Community Member - 

A: I am attaching (YTD) Year to Date History of dollars spent from 2013-2014 through September 9, 2019.  I am also attaching copies of audit pages from 2013-2014 through 2018-2019 for your cross reference and review. 

The majority of the funds have been spent in the following areas: roof repairs and replacements, sidewalk and entryway repair and replacement, drinking fountains replacement that have built-in filters, toilet replacements, new boilers in the middle school / high school with appropriate retrofitting, new flooring, electric upgrades for lights and panels, fencing replacement, brick renovations, window caulking, doors and hardware replacement, and asbestos abatement.

Thanks for the question and the opportunity to respond.


What can Sinking Funds be used for?

Q: What can the Sinking Fund money be spent on and what can’t it be spent on?
            -Community Member-

A: I have attached the ballot language to this response for your review.  I am also attaching a copy of REVISED SCHOOL CODE (EXCERPT) Act 451 of 1976.

Under State of Michigan Law, Sinking Fund dollars can be used for the, “purchase of real estate for sites for, the construction or repair of, school buildings, for school security improvements, for the acquisition or upgrading of technology and all other purposes authorized by law”.

Expenditures such as employee salaries, benefits, books, utility bills, and insurances are NOT allowable expenditures for Sinking Funds.

When a sinking fund is approved by the local voters of a school district there is a comprehensive guide that becomes part of the process.  In the Stephenson School District Maintenance Director, Paul Starzynski has and will be the point person for expenditures of Sinking Funds.  As conversations arise regarding potential usage of Sinking Fund dollars, Paul reviews the guide and provides the needed documentation for potential expenditures.  This guide is very specific in what Sinking Fund dollars can and cannot be spent on.  (I am also attaching a copy of what previous Sinking Fund dollars were spent on in the Stephenson Area Public School District).

There is a separate audit annually for and outside authority to determine if Sinking Fund dollars were expended appropriately. 

Thanks for the question and the opportunity to respond.


What is a Sinking Fund?

Q: What is a sinking fund and what is its purpose?   - Community Member - 

A: Thanks for the question.  I can respond.
Section 380.1212 of the Revised School Code (Excerpt) Act 451 of 1976 allows the Board of Education of a school district to ask voters to approve a tax on the taxable value of the real and personal property of the school district each year for the purpose of creating a sinking fund.  (Attached is a copy of said excerpt).

Funds provided with the voters’ approval can only be used for the “purchase of real estate for sites for, the construction or repair or, school buildings, for school security improvements, for the acquisition or upgrading of technology and all other purposes authorized by law”.

A voter approved Sinking Fund is a way for residents to invest directly in their school system by keeping their tax dollars local.  Under current legislation, a district can levy up to 3 mills for up to 10 years.  The Stephenson Board of Education is seeking the approval of 1 mill for 3 years.  Sinking Funds cannot be used for things like regular maintenance, purchasing teaching supplies or textbooks, or pay teacher and administrator salaries.  In fact, the law requires districts with Sinking Funds must also receive separate from other district accounts.  Sinking Funds must also receive a separate audit each year to ensure they are being spent appropriately.  Sinking Funds are often requested by local school districts because the State of Michigan has significantly underfunded education since the approval of Proposal A.

Thanks for the question.


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Plan to make up days

Q:   I would like to know how the district plans on making up 16 days of missed school? -Parent-

A: I can respond to this question:

Six of the days, per the negotiated agreement between the Stephenson Board of Education and the Stephenson Certified Staff, do not need to be made up.  This is common language in many contracts throughout the state of Michigan.

That leaves 10 days in question.  There are too many options being kicked around in Lansing for me to state today what our plan is at the present time.  I believe we need to let the dust settle in Lansing, see what the final options are and then sit down with the union leaders from our certified staff and see what we can come up with.

A recent proposal that is being discussed in Lansing is to allow the addition of at least a 30-minute segment to the current school day as an acceptable means of counting time.  I have no idea if this will pass both the house and senate but if it does, it is worth conversation with our union leaders.
I would say at the present time we can plan on extending the school year later into June.  How much longer, I cannot say at the present time.

I believe our students deserve the best education our staff can provide.  Our staff has done an extremely positive job staying focused, adjusting plans and delivering services throughout this winter.

Thanks for the question and the opportunity to respond!!


Sunday, March 10, 2019

Establishing a Scholarship

Q:  Advanced Blending Solutions of Wallace, MI would like to set up an annual scholarship for a graduating student attending a vocational school.  How can such a scholarship be established in the Stephenson school district? 
 -Community Member-

A: There are a number of different local scholarship opportunities and formats that positively impact students in the Stephenson School System.  Our community has been very generous in establishing and funding scholarship to help students attend higher educational opportunities after graduation from Stephenson Area Public Schools.

For anyone interested in establishing a scholarship please feel free to contact any or all of the following people at Stephenson Area Public Schools:  Peggy Grille, Principal, or Annette Johnson, Counselor, or Ron Kraft, Superintendent, .  We will be happy to meet with you and/or your group to discuss the format in which you would like to recognize and support our graduates in Stephenson Area Public Schools. 

Each scholarship is different and unique.  The selection criteria and application criteria is up to the donor as well as the selection process.  We have samples and examples of what has been established in previous years by previous donor and we are ready and willing to assist in potential customization if you so desire.

Thanks for the question and thanks for providing positive opportunities for our students.


Elementary Roof

The following questions have been posed.  I am going to answer them together. Question #1, Why would school be cancelled for the roof to be cleaned off?  There was a scheduled day off yesterday.  So why wasn’t it done when the students were not there?  These unnecessary cancelled days are adding up pretty quickly?  I’m concerned about the amount of education my child is being deprived of due to the continued cancellation of school.  Question #2, I understand why school was closed today, but why didn’t the school take proper precaution after the previous snow storm with removing the snow from the school’s roof?  Also, its winter.  Snow is a major aspect of this season.  You should expect that roads will be slippery and to proceed with caution.  I know the main roads are clear, and some side roads are slippery, but if drive slow you will get to your destination.  With how many days the school has had off due to snow/cold days, what is going to happen with making these days up?  Stephenson Area Public Schools doesn’t have central air, and at this rate the students may suffer greatly if they have to go further into the summer with possible high temperatures.

A: I can respond to these questions:

I am concerned with the number of days that student have missed also.  We are an educational institution and students need to be in school but, we need to make sure we do everything within our ability to have students be safe from home to school, at school and then on their return trip home.  With approximately 396 square miles of district we have a significant number of miles of secondary roads.  I believe our city and county snow removal professionals have done a tremendous job with the diverse conditions they have faced this year.  They have embraced these challenges and worked diligently to allow us to get our kids to and from school safely.  We have had minimal buses stuck or off the road this year.  I agree the primary roads can be clear or drivable and the secondary roads may be impassable and at times even slowing down is not enough to proceed safely.  We have a significant number of dead-end roads in our district.  These roads are the last to be plowed and that is understandable.  Driving a bus with rear wheel drive is significantly different than driving a front wheel drive or 4-wheel drive vehicle.  Snow, icy, occasional snow drifts and extreme cold have blessed our state this year.  This is not a local issue but a state issue. 

I do not have a response for the make-up plan at the present time as there are current conversations and proposed legislation in Lansing to address this statewide concern.  There is a proposal to only have to comply with the hour’s requirement and another to forgive portions of days and hours.  Regarding the possible heat in June, we often have a week or two of 80 and sometime 90-degree weather in September or October and we work through those situations and if we need to do this in June we will do our best.  As mentioned in previous responses, changing of the instructional hours of a day or changes to the negotiated calendar without negotiating this in good faith is an unfair labor practice in the State of Michigan and we will not do that.  We have and we will continue to have discussions with our certified staff and work through this together.  Quality instructional time is very important to our staff and vital for our student’s success.  We just received our School Index School Overview as determined by the Michigan Department of Education, our results are extremely positive and are the best in the region for two consecutive years.  You can view the results for Stephenson and other districts in the region and state by going to the MI-School Data link on the SAPS website: . 

The last thing I want to do is to release a makeup day plan and then change the plan.   I believe it is safe to say that we will be extending the school into June.  We must have the school year completed prior to the end of the fiscal year which is June 30 this is currently state law.
Regarding the cancelation of school to clean off the roof, ultimately that is my responsibility and I take full responsibility for that.  We have an employee who has been with our maintenance / custodial staff for 37 years and another employee who have been with us for 22 years and they have never experienced potential excess weight on the roof of this nature.  Flat roofs are designed to have snow blow off them in an attempt to remove excess weight.  Thus far this winter we have not experienced significant wind, thus a natural way for excess snow to be removed has not occurred.  Traditionally we would have a couple of warm ups or thaws in February for a couple days and this would also help.  In retrospect this has not happened either.  We have staff do building checks each weekend and during scheduled breaks.  On Act of God Days our maintenance staff works on clearing sidewalks, parking area and exit doors and exit routes.  They are in and out of the buildings checking heat units in hallways and classrooms. 

The buildings were checked on February 23 and 24.  The majority of the day on February 25 was spent cleaning up and ice on sidewalks and parking lots as we had five employees fall the previous week.  Both buildings were checked and there was no evidence of excess weight on the elementary roof.  At approximately 4:00 pm I received a call from our Maintenance Supervisor asking me to get over to the elementary, he needed my help.  It was at that time that we discovered some potential sag in the bar joist and roof in the north wing.  The Stephenson Elementary has served us well over the years.  It was constructed well and was designed for there to be a percentage of sag in the bar joist system and this designed worked.

After a phone call to our architect it was decided to begin to remove snow starting from the north and south edges and to work our way to the middle of the roof.  It was the middle of the roof where the bar joist sag appeared to be occurring.  We were informed by the architect that he believed that once the excess snow was removed the potential bar joist sag would re-mediate itself.  The architect was about four hours away but agreed to come that evening, (February 25) and give us his opinion.
Our maintenance director and I with the help of a local contractor were able to get a walk behind snow blower on the roof and the snow removal started.  We were joined by our board president shortly thereafter.  The decision to keep the number of people on the roof small for safety reasons was established and for the next four hours a significant amount of snow was removed.  Our architect arrived in town about 8 pm.  He had stopped by his office and had reviewed the architectural drawing and structural plans prior to coming to Stephenson.  

We removed ceiling tiles inside the building and a visual inspection occurred (the bar joist sag had already been reduced).  The architect joined the maintenance supervisor and myself on the roof so he could determine snow depths for technical calculations.  We continued to remove the remaining snow from the north wing roof until that section was clear, this was approximately 10:00 PM.  We were tired and wanted to remove snow on other areas of the roof that were not showing and signs of potential bar joist sag since there was additional snow forecast for the remainder of the week.  During this entire process we have learned that the bar joist was designed for a load of 60 psf of total load.  Snow weighs about 20 psf and there appeared to be about 18 inches of snow in areas of the north wing.  This means approximately 30 psf of snow weight.  This is a ballast roof and weight could be between 12 to 15 psf and the weight of the decking, insulation, ceiling, duct-work, piping, etc., one could figure approximately 15 psf so we were getting close to our limits.

Over the following days we removed snow and communicated with our property and casualty insurance provider to inform them of the situation and seek their perspective, experience and advice.  They were very positive with our response, actions and plan.  I have been a superintendent for over 20 years and with the tenure of two highly regarding employees of 22 and 37 years respectfully, we have never experienced this situation.  We will now include roof checks for snow depths as part of our building checks. 

I talk with students and staff about being lifelong learners.  I am not exempt from this either.  I learn every day.  We use what we have learned over time to influence or impact our decisions.  When I am faced with uncharted experiences, I do my best to get the input of those who have different experiences thus the call to the architect and property/casualty insurance provider.  I /we have learned from this experience and will monitor the roof in the future.
Ultimately this is my responsibility.  I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused any student or family.

Thanks for the question and opportunity to respond.