Essay on East Lansing School Board Decision to Re-Open Red Cedar School

The East Lansing School Board voted to re-open Red Cedar on December 14, 2015. I hope those who are unhappy with the fiscal consequences of what they view as the excessive costs of the combined effect of re-opening Red Cedar while keeping Glencairn, Marble, Donley, Pinecrest and White Hills elementary schools open too (while doing capital improvements at some or all six facilities) do not engage in divisive or unduly negative attacks on the Board. I hope to see those raising questions avoid that. My fear is that such a dialogue could lead to the defeat of a proposal to raise money for the rebuilding of the elementary schools in a bond proposal that I think the District should pass soon.

The way we discuss this issue, and approaching it with civility.If we do not approach it with civility, this could cause us all to endanger achieving our common objectives, including passing a bond, reducing class size, maximizing the education of all children in the District and making the education children receive in East Lansing Schools as good as it can be.

I do see a lot of value in re-opening Red Cedar. I took no position on its closure. I was not actively in support or against closing it.

But I do wish to see the District proceed in a fiscally resopnsible way and, by its decisions on Red Cedar, to not put a future bond to improve all elementary school facilities in jeopardy.

To that end, I urge all involved not to engage in an unnecessarily rancorous discussion since that might cause some voters to oppose the bond proposal (which I think we need to pass).

I presume that those on the School Board who voted to re-open Red Cedar have GOOD ANSWERS, to the my questions.

These are my questions:

(1) didn't a professional consultant's study done prior to closing of Red Cedar conclude that the East Lansing School District cannot afford six elementary schools; and that, at most, it can afford only four? if that was the conclusion, what was its reasoning?; is that conclusion still valid? If not, why not?; has any alternative study with the same or different assumptions been done; if not, why not?; should we be asking for such a study to be done at this time?

(2) what has changed since that study was done to alter its conclusions, or why are its conclusions being not heeded or not viewed as reliable? Or why is no further study of that basic cost issue being undertaken? I ask as I have heard that the decision to re-open Red Cedar was done without the financial numbers being presented to the Board and so without the fiscal/ budgetary consequences being fully analyzed. (Maybe that is not correct; is it?

(3) what if the total number of students who go to a re-opened Red Cedar plus any increase in student enrollment at the other elementary schools result in over-crowding and excessive class sizes at McDonald Middle School? Will it be an acceptable cost to allow McDonald to be overcrowded to grow the total size of the elementary school population? What would it cost to build onto or increase the size of McDonald (again)? Would that be necessary as part of the re-opening of Red Cedar?

(4) what savings can be obtained by fewer elementary schools with larger student populations in each facility and was this part of the decision to close Red Cedar; if so, why? If there is a big savings on having fewer facilities with their fixed overhead costs, then how is the District going to pay for the luxury of having six elementary schools (when having fewer is more fiscally prudent)

(5) what has MSU Pres. Lou Anna Simon or others at MSU said that MSU will do to insure more student families live in the Red Cedar area as a result of new construction; and, what if most of those units are married couples or co-housing student groups without children?

(6) what other support or financial assistance has MSU offered, if any, to make Red Cedar more viable from a cost perspective than in its last year of operation just before it closed;

(7) has Mike Conlin been able to crunch numbers and give his input to the District, as he did in the last round of discussions about fate of elementary schools, capital improvements, building plans; and, if he cannot lend his expertise, are other citizens going to crunch the numbers (after looking at reliable cost estimates) who have the same level of ability / expertise to be able to offer neutral input from citizens on the fiscal issues;

(8) are the issues of whether to re-open Red Cedar linked in any way -- when that decision is viewed over a five or ten year perspective -- with the issue of what capital improvements to make to which elementary school buildings; if so, how?;

(9) Why were the School Board Administration's numbers so wrong on how many families would return to East Lansing Schools, and how many schools of choice students would enroll that led to the unexpected higher class sizes?

(10) If we as a District wish to do what many states have done (e.g. California) and limit class sizes (e.g. 24 instead of 28, 29 and 30), in order to get the educational benefits that research shows accrue from smaller class sizes, is this fiscally possible to do given the District's finances; and, if so, how does the re-opening of Red Cedar, and its fiscal consequences make this lower of class sizes less likely or less possible (or can be do both)?

(11) Can the School Board create an informal citizen's advisory commission that has a representative group of community members to work with Board members in a collaborative way to get questions answered and give input?

(12) If no citizen's advisory commission can be created, are there any chances that the citizens can meet directly with the School District Administrator and staff to try to find out answers to key questions?

(13) Can there be an open process that allows citizens to get key District financial data and assumptions (e.g. student enrollment estimates) being relied on to decide the future of the District's elementary schools?

(14) Can the District do better outreach to in district and out of district parents to get more reliable information in advance on enrollment numbers for 2016? (Do other School Districts in Michigan take any steps East Lansing has not so far taken to try to get better enrollment estimates?)

(15) What is the best plan that is now on the table assuming Red Cedar is re-opened from fiscally prudent budget neutral standpoint; and, what were the fiscal / budgetary consequences (for the District) if Red Cedar was re-purposed (e.g. revenue from sale or leasing of Red Cedar); is anyone considering any plan that would close either Donley, Pinecrest, Glencairn, White Hills or Marble? Does closing one of them seem likely in the next five years if Red Cedar is re-opened?

Please email me any data, information, documents or thoughts you may have on any of these questions to: Thanks.

Signed by Patrick Levine Rose

Patrick Levine Rose
Patrick Levine Rose PLC
Attorney At Law (Concentrating on Appellate Litigation)
4700 S. Hagadorn Rd., Ste. 195G
P.O.B. 1070
East Lansing, MI 48826
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