Monday, August 13, 2018

Superintendent Contract

Q:  Why isn’t the Superintendent’s contract in the transparency report on your website when it is required by law?  -Community Member-

A: I am able to respond to the question.
The Superintendents contract is NOT automatically required to be on the Transparency Report.  Any administrative or other employee contract, that the salary exceeds $100,000.00 is required to be placed on the Transparency Report.  The requirement is not just for Superintendents nor does the requirement require every Superintendents contract in the State of Michigan to be placed on the Transparency Report. 

Currently the Superintendents contract for Stephenson Area Public Schools under the section of compensation is as follows:

5.      COMPENSATION – reads – “The Board of Education shall pay the Administrator an annual salary of not less than $350.00 per work day X (times) a maximum of 208 scheduled work days or an annual salary of $72, 800 for 208 days of scheduled work”. 

It is the goal of the current Superintendent and Board of Education to continue to reduce the number of days that the Superintendent of Schools works.  The end goal is to eventually have the Superintendent be a true part time employee working between 140 and 180 work days per year.  As student enrollment continues to decline, the current Board and Superintendent desire that the majority of administrative time should be allotted at the building level dealing directly with students and teachers thus putting as many dollars as close to students and teachers as possible.  With two relatively new building administrators at Stephenson Area Public Schools, there will need to be significant time spend during the 2018-2019 school year, mentoring and coaching these talented individuals to assure they have their professional needs met.

It is the goal of the current Superintendent and Board of Education to continue to reduce the Superintendents work days throughout the length of the current contract.  This should be attainable as the current building administrators gain experience and as systems continue to be put in place and fine-tuned, allowing the district to become more efficient while complying with the law.
If student enrollment continues to decline, (as per the data provided by recent censuses) Stephenson most likely will look to share a future Superintendent with another local or have a split Superintendent / Principal position in the future.

Thanks for the question.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Elementary Recess

Q:   I have heard some stories that the board decided to only have 10 minutes of recess in the elementary this upcoming school year, is that true.  Plus, is there a required amount of recess or playtime that a student has to have during the school day or school year, compared to instructional time?   -Parent-

A: Thanks for the question and I am able to respond:

First let me say that the calendar and makeup of the school day is a negotiable issue and all the changes to the contract between the Stephenson Board of Education and Stephenson Certified Staff (teachers) was done in good faith.  The teachers ratified the contract and I anticipate the board will do so at the August business meeting.

Let me answer this question in reverse order.  The state requirement for planned instructional days is 180 days of scheduled instruction and 1098 hours of instruction.  There is also a requirement of 5 days of professional development for certified staff.  Based on feedback from parents and staff we have reduced the number of half days from last year.  I do not believe there is a requirement for the amount of recess time a district needs to have daily or yearly.

In recent years there have been two recesses, one traditionally in the morning and one at lunchtime.  When I went to elementary school fifty years ago we had three recesses. (There were not the requirements for days and hours of instruction fifty years ago) One recess in the morning, one recess around lunch time and one recess in the afternoon.  Fifty years ago there was not the expectation that ALL students would be literate and numerate.  Sources of data currently indicate that the state of Michigan ranks 49th out of 50 states nationally in certain literacy measures. 

In the past in Stephenson, the morning recess was counted as instructional time.  The state law allows recess to be counted as instructional time if there is one teacher on the playground.  I am sure that some people believe that counting recess time as instructional time is okay; others would say that instructional time is time where academics are taught.

The amount of recess time for the 2018-2019 school year at the elementary is 20 minutes.  Students are given 20 minutes to eat and twenty minutes of recess.  The first 10 minutes of an elementary student’s lunch is directly supervised by their teacher allowing for direct contact regarding social behavior and social skills.

During the 2018-2019 school year instead of a morning recess elementary students will have a consistent time each day for a special.  This special will be technology.  A consistent break for teachers and students in the mid-morning to early afternoon at the elementary, was one of the goals of negotiations that we worked to resolve during these negotiations.

The contract between the teachers and board requires a minimum of 150 minutes of planning each week.  By having a consistent 30-minute block of time during the mid-morning to early afternoon, the 150 minutes of planning time is met.  In addition to the technology time, students in grades K-2 will have one 30-minute section of physical education per week.  Students in grades 3-5 will have two 30 minute sections of physical education each week.  Our physical education instructor is scheduled to be part of recess for students who choose to have structured activities that align with skills worked on during the physical education special.  Students will also have the opportunity to have unstructured play time during the 20-minute recess if desired.

The story that the board decided to only have one 10-minute recess is not true.  One of the board’s goals for these negotiations was to have instructional time be instruction.  Instruction meaning: interactions directly or guided around math, science, English, social studies, technology or physical education.  The Stephenson Board of Education has been very upfront regarding the goal to have ALL students being literate and numerate.  Opportunity to learn and time on task is one of the correlates from Effective Schools Research.  Last year we had elementary teachers who tied academic goals into taking their classes on walks or other outside activities.  This is still acceptable for the 2018-2019 school year at the staff members’ discretion.

During negotiations we had multiple conversations regarding how we might keep two recesses and have 1098 hours of quality instruction.  We discussed starting school 15 minutes earlier.  We discussed how an earlier start time would impact students and the distance of current bus routes.  We also discussed how a 15-minute earlier start might impact parents transporting students on their way to work. 

Additionally, we also discussed adding 15 minutes to the end of the day and how this may impact what time students who rode the bus would get home and the impact on secondary students potentially missing more instructional time for athletic events and the starting time for these students for away games.

After many quality discussions we decided together that we would try the current schedule for the 2018-2019 school year.   

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your question.


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Ballot Proposal 2018

Q:  What is this ballot proposal for the schools all about?   -Community Member-

A:   I am able to respond.
A number of years ago voters across the state of Michigan approved a funding system for Michigan Public Schools.  This funding System is often referred to as Proposal A.    I will not go into the depth of Proposal A but the major points are:

    1.       Increased sales tax from 4 % to 6 %
    2.       Cap principal resident property at 6% (referred to as homestead)
    3.       Capped nonresident at 18 % (second property referred to as non-homestead)

A few years ago legislators in the State of Michigan allowed residents who had multiple properties, primary home and summer home / deer camp to choose which property was primary and which property was secondary.  Many individuals took the property that was valued at the highest taxable value to be taxed at 6% and the lesser valued property to be taxed at 18%.

In August of 2016, the voters of the Stephenson Area School District, voted to levy the non-homestead millage of 18 mills for a ten-year period starting in 2016 and running through 2025.  This is the longest period allowable by law.

This is where the law can get a little confusing.  Property values on homestead and non-homestead properties within the Stephenson Area Public School District have increased since 2016.  Based on the Formula in Proposal A; when property values increase, the levy automatically decreases and must be reinstated.  Thus, the ballot language that is being requested is intended for non-homestead properties.

The first paragraph of the ballot proposal states:

This proposal will allow the school district to levy the statutory rate not to exceed 18 mills on all property, except principal residence and other property exempted by law, required for the school district, to receive its revenue per pupil foundation.
In essence, Stephenson Area Public Schools is asking to be able to collect the millage the voters approved on non-resident (non-homestead) property through 2025.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond to this question.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Art & Music Opportunities

Q: I heard that art and band have been cut for the 2018-2019 school year.  Is there any plan for students to have art or music opportunities?  -Parent-

A: Our former art teacher was hired as our K-12 principal and our former music teacher took a job in another state.  We posted both jobs in hopes of getting either an art teacher or music teacher.  We knew that finding either an art teacher or music teacher would be difficult.  During our initial posting we did not receive any applications for either an art or music teacher.

We met as an administrative team and discussed if we wanted to re-post the two positions or if we wanted to look in a different direction.  We decided to re-post both positions and look to see what other options might be available.  One of our administrators learned that a former colleague may be available to teach technology at the elementary and as part of rounds at the middle school.  (technology had not been taught formally during the 2017-2018 school year at the elementary or middle school)

There were initial conversations with the former employee.  The opportunity to hire this person became a realistic opportunity and an interview followed.  The perspective employee had another job offer and a decision needed to be made.  More conversation occurred with the administrative team and then with the Stephenson Board of Education.

An offer was made to the prospective employee pending board approval.  This offer was accepted by the perspective employee and they withdrew their candidacy from the other district.  With this opportunity to bring another employee who could teach technology onto our staff, we now have a situation where elementary students will have technology as a “specials” class each day with coding and data processing as a big portion of that curriculum.  After the offer had been made and accepted by the prospective employee, pending board approval, I received an application for a K-12 music teacher and an art teacher.  Once we had made the offer to the prospective employee who could teach technology, we could not go back on the offer.

Currently we plan to have high school art as an elective first hour and will share a teacher with Menominee.  We also will have high school band and plan to utilize a current secondary instructor who has a music major to teach that course and have students attend athletic and community events.
We are in the process of posting “art club” for elementary and middle school students as well as a “music club “as a club opportunity for the elementary and middle school students. 

Finding a qualified and effective teacher is a difficult task and will be more difficult in years to come.  We believe that music, art and technology are important to our student’s development.  I believe our current building administrators are doing a great job trying to provide opportunities for students in all of these areas.  Opportunities today and in the future may look different than they have in the past.

Thanks for the question and opportunity to respond.


Elementary 2018 - 2019 Staffing Plan

Q: What is the current staffing plan for grades 3, 4 and 5 at Stephenson Elementary for the 2018-2019 school year?   -Parent-   

A: I am able to answer this question and am happy to do so.
When we proposed staffing for the 3rd and 4th grade, administratively, we also looked at many different factors and decided to have one section of each grade.  We also committed to team teach during the English Language Arts and Math times with the same team teacher shared between 3rd and 4th grades.  During Science and Social Studies time we are committed to have the same paraprofessional work with the instructor and students in both 3rd and 4th grades.  When our team teacher is in 3rd grade the paraprofessional will be in 4th grade and when our team teacher is in 4th grade our paraprofessional will be in 3rd grade.

When we proposed staffing for 5th grade, administratively, we also looked at many different factors and decided to have one section.  We will have one teacher and a full time paraprofessional with our teacher for English Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies.

Students in grades 3, 4 and 5 will have technology for approximately 3o minutes each day and physical education twice per week for approximately 30 minutes each session.
We are also committed to having our counselor work with our elementary students and staff for two hours per day on social skills and making appropriate choices.

We are constantly monitoring the class sizes of all grades.  We have students transferring into our district and out of our district.  Historically the most student movement in and out of a district occurs the week prior to the start of the school year and the first week of school.

Thanks for asking the question and giving me the opportunity to respond.


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

First Day of School 2018 - 2019

Q: When is the first day of school and when will the school calendar be available? 

A: Thanks for the question and I am able to respond.

Attached is a tentative school calendar for the 2018-2019 school year.  I must emphasize that this is a tentative school calendar.  The school calendar is a negotiable topic and must be ratified by the teacher’s union members and the board of education to be official. 

The Stephenson Area Public School Board of Education and the Stephenson Teachers Union have reached a tentative agreement on a contract for the 2018-2019 school year.  I am now awaiting ratification from both parties.

The first day of school for the 2018-2019 school year will be September 4, 2018.  School will start promptly at 7:55 am and dismiss at 3:00 pm.

A link to this calendar can be found on the school website at under District News.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Combined Classes

Q: I have heard that some of our elementary classes are going to be combined this year due to the lack of students & teachers. This includes 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades. Can you please shed some light on this situation?  -Parent-

A: I do not know where these rumors come from but I am very thankful that this question was posed.  

As of today, July 25, 2018 we have no plans to combine any grades.  During the budgeting process for the 2018-2019 school year the number one priority for the Stephenson Board of Education has been early elementary and having students read at grade level when they exit 3rd grade.

The 2018-2019 budget that was approved by the Stephenson Board of Education, endorsed the proposal to have two sections (two teachers) of Kindergarten, 1st Grade and 2nd Grade.  The student teacher ratio in these grades were planned to be less than 16 students to 1 teacher.  We also plan to have a Title I teacher team teach in these three grades giving us direct instruction in reading of approximately 8 students to 1 teacher.  This is a HUGE commitment from the Stephenson Board of Education but, the foundational years are vital in the development of learners.

In third and fourth grade we plan to team teach during reading and math and anticipate student teacher ratios of less than 16 students to 1 teacher. As of July 25, 2018 our K-12 staffing is in place and the master schedule and specials schedule for both buildings is in place.  Barring an unexpected resignation, we are ready to go with teachers, administrators, teacher assistants, food service and secretaries.  We are still looking for an additional bus driver so if anyone is interested please call Paul Starzynski at 906-753-2221.

We just completed a tentative contract settlement with our teachers and our administrators sent teaching assignment letters to teachers late last week.  A large portion of the planned professional development for the 2018-2019 school year for ALL grades is informational reading and writing.

Thanks for the question.  I am honored to respond.  Enjoy the remainder of the summer.  We are excited to serve our students during the 2018-2019 school year.