January 17, 2014 | vol. 95, No. 14

Confusion amid consolidation talk

BESSEMER - To receive $2 million or not to receive $2 million? That is the question.

Cortney Ofstad/Daily Globe
BESSEMER SCHOOL Board of Education members Bill McDonald, Annette Lillie and Kim Wright listen to superintendent Dave Radovich (not pictured) speak during a special board meeting Thursday at A.D. Johnston School in Bessemer.

During Thursday's special meeting of the Bessemer School Board of Education, board member Bill McDonald was questioned why he believed Bessemer and Wakefield-Marenisco school districts would be receiving $2 million from the Michigan Department of Education if they consolidated.

According to board member Bob Berg, McDonald told his fellow board members in the past he had a letter from the state saying the school districts would receive $2 million if consolidation were to take place.

Berg asked McDonald to present the letter during Thursday's meeting, and no letter was provided. Instead, McDonald told the board a public hearing was to take place Feb. 11 with Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District superintendent Bruce Mayle about consolidation.

Superintendent Dave Radovich refuted McDonald's comments on the money and the supposed funding.

Radovich read a letter from Glenda Rader, from the office of state aid and school finance, as part of MDE. In the letter, Rader said to receive funding from the Consolidation Innovation Grants, a school district had to apply by Oct. 18.

"We did not receive an application from Bessemer nor Wakefield-Marenisco during the application period," Rader wrote. "No one at the MDE has the authority to grant funds to a district outside the grant application process. Therefore, no funds have been 'promised' or 'awarded' for the consolidation of Bessemer and Wakefield-Marenisco School districts."

Radovich said he also emailed Mayle about an upcoming public hearing, and Mayle said he would attend if there was one in the area, but no final plans were set on whether there was actually going to be a meeting or not.

Despite the letter from Rader and Radovich's comments on Mayle's email, McDonald said the districts would be receiving money. His argument was he received a letter from the state dated Oct. 17, before the Oct. 18 grant deadline.

"You didn't send in an application for grant money," board member Annette Lillie said. "You can't tell people we're getting $2 million when we're not."

Berg also raised the issue about McDonald's petition he set up in 2013, asking people to vote for consolidation instead of the 20-year referendum to update A.D. Johnston School and provide newer technology for students.

According to Berg, McDonald could have swayed people to sign the petition by telling them the districts would receive $2 million from the state for consolidating.

"I believe we should contact our attorney to make sure everything is legal," Berg said.

McDonald, who has spoken out in opposition of the referendum, was questioned by other board members about what the plan for consolidation would be if it were to take place.

"If you don't fix this building, what are you going to do?" board member Dave Osier said. "We have to have some place to house these kids."

Principal Dan Vander Velden questioned McDonald's loyalty to Bessemer.

"I first took this job because of the pride Bessemer has for its schools," Vander Velden said. "When you say the bond (referendum) is stupid, you don't believe in our buildings and taking care of them. You are elected to represent Bessemer, and you've given up."

Radovich presented another opportunity to help the districts, called pairing and sharing, where districts share staff members or locations for classes to help cut costs.

"Consolidation doesn't save districts money, it costs them money," Radovich said. "With pairing and sharing, there is a common cost between the districts. This is a direction we need to go, so these communities have their schools and we're able to provide the best opportunities for our students. Rather than working against us, we all need to work together, and stand united to show the community what is best for our kids. Consolidation isn't the only answer."

Radovich said he and W-M district administrator Cathy Shamion were set to meet on the idea of pairing and sharing in the upcoming weeks to present to their respected boards.

Despite the questions from his fellow board members about the proposed $2 million, consolidation efforts, no meetings officially set with the GOISD and other concerns, McDonald's answer was simple: "Your questions will be answered during the meeting on Feb. 11."