November 26, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 278

Consolidation discussion heats up Bessemer school board meeting

BESSEMER - Bessemer Area School District's Board meeting grew heated during discussion of possible consolidation, with Bill McDonald, a board member who is facing a May recall, moved to curse.

Katie Perttunen/Daily Globe
BESSEMER SCHOOL District Board member Annette Lillie questions fellow board member Bill McDonald regarding consolidation at Monday\'s meeting.

Superintendent Dave Radovich said McDonald had named a local attorney as head of a committee of citizens from the Bessemer and Wakefield-Marenisco school districts that filed a request to begin consolidation proceedings with the state in early October. Radovich received a letter dated Nov. 19 from the attorney denying any involvement.

Fellow board member Kim Wright and McDonald circulated a letter among the school board encouraging them to support consolidation. Wright said the attorney helped to draft the letter.

The letter was full of inaccuracies, Radovich said. The letter stated that "millions of dollars in state transition funds" will be available for uses ranging from "teachers salaries to program and curriculum funding."

Radovich said he spoke with Glenda Rader, from the Michigan Department of Education, and Rader told him no one from Bessemer had applied for transition funding by the Oct. 18 deadline, and transition funding is available only for transition costs such as new school signage and legal assistance, not academics or salaries.

When asked if he had applied for the funding, McDonald said, "You will read everything within a week and a half. It's done." Petitions to get the consolidation of Bessemer and Wakfield-Marenisco on the ballot in May will begin circulating next week, McDonald said, and two schools will share the $5 million pot of transition funding, Bessemer included.

Board member Annette Lillie asked, "How are we going to get the money if it hasn't been applied for?"

McDonald said, "It's been applied for, trust me."

Radovich said the least amount of time needed to plan for a consolidation is 18 months, and if the issue is put to vote in May, it will have no plan, and the school board would dissolve in 10 days.

Wright said planning is in the early stages.

Principal Dan Vander Velden said all stakeholders, including students, staff, citizens and administration need to be involved in planning a consolidation. "We need to put some brakes on," he said.

Staff at the meeting said planning cannot be done in 10 days. Head teacher Diana Hansen said it takes two to three months to plan for a change in one class, and to consolidate in the way Wright and McDonald are attempting to would be detrimental to students. "Let's start getting together and figuring things out," Hansen said.

Board president Bob Berg said "I don't think those behind it thought about the children."

Business manager Chris Bergquist said when Wakefield-Marenisco consolidated, they planned for it and still had bumps. "It was not a smooth transition," she said, with many teachers of the former districts getting jobs, but losing seniority.

Teachers and staff said that the consolidation being rushed through could cause a lot of anger and hostility.

Radovich asked to be invited to Wright and McDonald's committee to discuss how to work together rather than against each other.

In other business, board member Dave Osier reported that the buildings and grounds committee has been working with Ron Stimek from Johnson Controls to trim roughly $ 2 million from the upcoming bond referendum proposal, bringing the total down to $4.7 million for both schools, with anticipated savings of $30,000 per year over ther 25 years of the proposed bond. Final figures will be presented at the Dec. 16 board meeting.