Waverly School District votes to remove Ombudsman program

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By Katlyn Vuillemot

Lansing Charter Township News Writer

LANSING CHARTER TOWNSHIP – The Waverly Community Schools Board of Education recently voted to cut a program that helps students who struggle to graduate from traditional high schools beginning in the fall of 2013.

Waverly Superintendent Terry Urquhart recommended the cut to what is called the Ombudsman alternative education program, estimated it will save $250,000. The move is needed to help pull the Waverly School district out of increasing deficits, he said.

The program’s performance data shows good graduation and success rates with kids who previously have not been successful, Urquhart said. The negative part is that it cost $455,000 a year. By providing its own alternative education program, Waverly can spend a quarter of a million dollars instead of half a million dollars, Urquhart said.

“Our biggest issue is not just the expensive program, its also our $1.5 million deficit,” Urquhart said. “We have approximately two years to fix things before paychecks bounce.”

The Ombudsman program is an alternative education service based all over America. The program focuses on one-on-one interaction with children who struggle in the high school environment and helps them to understand that people do care about their success.

Waverly was working with the main facility in Chicago and paying them annually. Waverly’s alternative education program is located in its own separate building off school property while using staff and resources provided by the Ombudsman program.

“It’s an outstanding program that they obviously needed to have these graduation levels brought back up,” said LaNette Hester, the mother of a student attending the Ombudsman alternative education school.

There are four major reasons students go to an alternative education program: They screw up attendance, screw up grades or screw up discipline, Urquhart said. The other issue is that they are not motivated because they don’t think people care about them. The alternative education program shows them that people do care.

“The staff at Ombudsman was obviously doing a great job because they took those kids’ personal problems and tried to counsel them and pat them on the back and say, hey I’m here for you I want you to be successful,” Urquhart said.

The Waverly School district can run its own alternative education program with half the cost, Urquhart said. The challenge will be creating a family atmosphere and making students feel comfortable in the environment.

Previously the alternative education building was in the middle school, but was moved once the school invested in the Ombudsman program in 2009, according to a Waverly Community School Board of Education report.

Many parents and students told the board of the importance of keeping the Ombudsman program. Parents talked about the impact Ombudsman has had on their children while students talked about how important they felt and how proud they were of themselves.

“The Ombudsman staff care, that’s what it comes down to,” said Arnetta Cage, mother of an Ombudsman student. “Anytime there was an issue with my daughter, the teachers called me. They got deep within, my daughter was able to speak with them when she couldn’t talk with anyone else.”

The board has not decided where the alternative education program will be, but it will be on Waverly school property, Urquhart said. There are four to five potential sites. One is at the middle school, which has tremendous technology and is isolated from everyone else.

“There has never been a doubt about the quality of the program, or the program’s track record,” Urquhart said. “It’s been extremely successful, great graduation rates, kids believe in it, and I think teachers believe in it. However we are in a budget crisis. Ombudsman is a very expensive program. I would not be doing my job if I had not made this recommendation.”

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