East Lansing's City Council and School Board tackle school updates

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By Danielle Chesney
Entirely East Lansing

EAST LANSING – During a joint meeting of the East Lansing City Council and East Lansing Public School Board this past Monday, three residents advocated to update the city’s neighborhood schools and reopen Red Cedar Elementary at 1110 Narcissus Drive, which closed June 2014.

Kathy and Fred Jacobs (Back right row, from left to right) watch as the City Council and School Board discuss the fate of East Lansing’s elementary schools this past Monday at East Lansing High School. Photo by Danielle Chesney.

Kathy and Fred Jacobs (Back right row, from left to right) watch as the City Council and School Board discuss the fate of East Lansing’s elementary schools this past Monday at East Lansing High School. Photo by Danielle Chesney.

“You get the sense that when people voted to close the school, or supported to close the school or opposed the reopening of the schools, they did it because they don’t believe in neighborhood schools,“ said resident Fred Jacobs, accounting professor at Michigan State University. “The actual reason they support closing a school is because they do value neighborhood schools and it’s not their school that’s being closed…It’s a self interest thing.”

Fred Jacobs’ wife, Kathy, said that since schools like Red Cedar and Central began to close, families have started to move out in search a home that could give them the “very safe, friendly and unique” feeling that the Flowerpot Neighborhood could no longer provide.

“This has changed the dynamic of the neighborhood,” said Kathy Jacobs, East Lansing resident. “I’m afraid this trend is saying to families who especially care about the environment that no, you can’t live in the city, you must move to the suburbs and drive a car.”

The School Board agreed, with Board of Education President Nell Kuhnmuench immediately turning to Mayor Mark Meadows so they could discuss their approach.

Kuhnmuench said that the School Board had met with architectural firms in order to appraise the possibility of updating their schools. She said a movement had been made by the city council to fix the schools, and they were looking at securing a bond for elementary improvement for fall of 2016, but decided the action should be postponed until May 2017 in hopes of gaining a stronger voter turnout.

“Community involvement in this process going forward is critical,” said Meadows.

Both the City Council and the School Board agreed that they should educate the community on what the schools need in order to make an informed vote. Kuhnmuench said that they should be careful not to cause panic in the community by making residents believe the schools are “crumbling” when in reality, they are just old buildings feeling the wear of their years.

Superintendent Robyne Thompson said she was concerned that the school improvement surveys released electronically to the residents by the School Board and architectural firm were only being answered by parents and not other members of the community.

“We had to reach our arms through the community and I want everyone to have a voice,” Thompson said. “We have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done.”

Meadows said that the City Council had their own financial issues such as their dangerously low pension liability, he said, which is eating up a lot of the City Council’s general fund and consuming a portion of School Board’s as well. Despite this, Meadows said the City Council would likely move forward on the school’s bond issue in Dec. 2016, making the school board’s May 2017 goal an appropriate one. While the bond would increase liability to the city as a guarantor for the bond, Meadows said he was ultimately for the idea of improving East Lansing’s elementary schools.

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