By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- After hearing input from staff and parents, district officials have changed their minds regarding which school to close in a reorganization, although it is not yet official and when it will occur is still up in the air.
During a special meeting Feb. 8, the school board again weighed their options and shifted their focus from closing Harvey Swanson to shutting down Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School.
The board directed Superintendent Matt Outlaw to bring back to their Feb. 20 meeting a proposal for closing Fletcher and keeping open the Harvey Swanson complex, which would be treated as one school.
The decision comes after the board contemplated a reorganization at the beginning of January that would close Harvey Swanson as the older building in the district. Following a Jan. 25 community forum on the reorganization, the board reconsidered.
Superintendent Matt Outlaw led Wednesday night’s meeting by presenting three options: Closing Harvey Swanson, closing Brandon Fletcher, or a third option, not defined, of the board’s choosing. The board has agreed a school needs to close as enrollment has declined so much in the past decade that the facilities are only at 50 percent capacity and it is not financially viable to keep them all open.
Board President Kevin McClellan said there really is no third option, as there would be nothing to be gained from reopening Belle Ann (which the district closed in 2013 and is currently trying to sell) or from closing Oakwood Elementary, the newest building in the district.
“One of the concerns of closing Harvey Swanson is we have a lot of athletic facilities there— a football field, tennis courts. We would have to rebuild those facilities and there is no money for that, but Harvey Swanson is the oldest building in our portfolio.”
Still, after consulting with realtors, district officials have determined that Fletcher is the more commercially viable property for its location adjacent to M-15.
Closing Fletcher instead of Harvey Swanson would yield the same savings sought by the district— approximately $800,000, mostly from reduction of staff. Outlaw noted that while there are some aesthetic improvements the district would make if keeping Harvey Swanson open, the facility is in good shape despite its age.
Several parents of students in the district spoke at the meeting, some of them with children in the Brandon Academy of Arts and Science. The academy is not likely to be maintained as a separate school under the reorganization, nor would there be split level classes, staffing guarantees or class sizes in the teens, but administrators are striving to incorporate the academy’s focus on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) education into mainstream classes, as well as the hands-on learning, music, drama, and more.
Some parents at the meeting encouraged the board to make the decision on closing sooner rather than later, implementing the move in time for the start of the 2017-18 school year.
“Rip the Band-Aid off right away,” said Andrea Austin. “People in my circle are excited. Let’s put our noses to the grindstone and get it done.”
Nicole McDonald, also a mother of students in the district, said she doesn’t trust the district, or the board in performing due diligence.
“We need to look at how we are stepping our game up, not just closing a school,” she said. “If there is any hesitation, it’s not worth it. We need real solutions, not just a Band-Aid.”
Jennifer Mannino said she was one of the parents upset after the closing of Belle Ann and who withdrew her children from the district as a result, placing them in other schools. However, she has reenrolled them here for “a multitude of reasons” and has a different perspective with this new reconfiguration.
Directing her comments to the audience, she said, “I was that (angry) parent, but they are moving in the right direction. I think I want to know really quickly. The anxiety is the not knowing.”
The next school board meeting is planned for 6:30 p.m., Feb. 20, at ITEC, 609 S. Ortonville Road.
By Susan Bromley