Letter to the Editor: ESD is abandoning Oceana students, Shelby super writes.

February 26, 2016
McKenna Littiebrant

The agri-science program at Hart High School.

As the superintendent of Shelby Public Schools, I was completely shocked when the leader of the West Shore Educational Service District (WSESD), Superintendent Randy Howes, informed Shelby that he plans on pulling  career technology education (CTE) program classrooms out of Oceana County.  

Currently, two programs, allied health and agri-science, are offered in Hart for local students. Mr. Howes has decided these classroom programs need to be located in Ludington at West Shore Community College. In addition, he has decided that WSESD will not reimburse Oceana districts for tuition and transportation of our students, as were promised, to attend the Newaygo Tech Center where Shelby has been sending students for over two decades.   The allied health program in Hart began in 2012 immediately after the merger. Agri-science became a WSESD program in Hart in 2013 after an extensive planning process. Both programs are currently housed in Hart and have adequate enrollment. Allied health could easily be housed in Shelby if there was a space issue with Hart High School and remodeling next year.  

Shelby started a construction trades program in 2015, but WSESD refused to fund the program with local CTE tax dollars despite local WSESD superintendents in Mason, Lake and Oceana counties endorsing the program.  Shelby students have also attended the excellent and award-winning programs at Newaygo Tech Center for many years. Tuition at the Newaygo Career Tech Center is much less than the cost of WSESD CTE programming in Ludington.  

Completely pulling the allied health and agri-science programs out of Oceana County is bad for Shelby and other Oceana County students. Mr. Howes’ decision has left us baffled. Some of our students that fall behind with the Michigan Merit Curriculum credit requirements cannot attend CTE at a tech center located a great distance away. They must use every class period to complete credits. They cannot afford to sit on a bus and waste an hour and a half of instructional time every day. Many of these students are not college-bound and need CTE opportunities the most. These local programs were promised in the merger.

The Shelby Board of Education supported the merger that occurred in 2012 between Oceana ISD and Mason Lake ISD, because it was promised to be good for our students.  The ISDs promised more support for special education services and more CTE opportunities for students.  

The merger was supposed to allow financially-strapped districts in Oceana County to be able to offer more student programming. Existing Mason and Lake County ISD taxes for these programs were imposed on Oceana property owners with the merger. The Shelby board believed that the newly-formed WSESD would follow through on the documented promises made in the merger and that it was a way to solve a number of financial challenges the district faced while providing more special education services and CTE programming.

WSESD has followed through on the special education promise of the merger. Local Oceana districts are better able to fund and provide needed services to all our disabled students. There are many very good special educators and other professionals at WSESD who care a great deal for our students. If concerns come up, we can reach out to the WSESD Special Education Department and get help when needed.

Unfortunately, WSESD has fallen way short on the CTE promises of the merger. Over $600,000 per year is collected from Oceana taxpayers for CTE programming.  This revenue was promised to be used to reimburse local districts for existing local vocational classes; pay for tuition and transportation to the WSESD and Newaygo Tech Centers; and to fund new local programming for students in Oceana County. Instead, we now believe a large part of our taxpayers’ money is going to support programs in Ludington.

It is unclear what the vision is for WSESD other than they plan to move all programming to Ludington along with all the tax dollars collected in Oceana County. Mr. Howes has arbitrarily made this decision. He has not included stakeholders in Oceana County in any discussions or any of these decisions. He has not met with school officials other than to tell us what his plans are. He has completed no surveys; held no public meetings; and not discussed any of his plans for CTE with our parents and community.  Mr. Howes makes no effort to understand the historical relationship Shelby has with Newaygo Tech Center or our unique agricultural community in Oceana County.

Mr. Howes also plans to move all WSESD special education and administrative support staff to the Ludington office. This move will further reduce direct services to our students that local districts depend on. It is also unclear what Mr. Howes and the WSESD Board of Education members plan to do with the Oceana ISD building in Hart.  Local school districts depend on using this facility for housing college dual enrollment classes. Organizations in Oceana County also hold community meetings in the facility.  Mr. Howes and the WSESD board members do not understand that this facility was funded and maintained by Oceana taxpayers.  West Shore ESD Board of Education members include; Cathy Becker, Jim Dittmer, Patricia Collins, Vince Greiner, Dr. Robert Fong, David Bass, and Catherine Chancellor. Greiner and Fong reside in Hart.

I have filed numerous complaints to the WSESD Board of Education regarding CTE matters over the past three to four years and yet they refuse to change their position. In moving these programs to Ludington; refusing to reimburse for local CTE programming; refusing to pay for transportation and tuition to Newaygo Tech Center, Mr. Howes and the WSESD Board of Education have simply not kept the promises that were made regarding CTE at the time of the merger.

I feel it is very important to let Oceana residents know what is going on. I plan to continue to work toward gaining the Career Tech Educational benefits that were promised to Shelby and other local districts in the merger.

These decisions by Mr. Howes and The WSESD Board of Education hurt our children and their future.  

Dan Bauer, Superintendent

Shelby Public Schools

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