School Board starts meeting with Lock Down Press Release for Coloma Jr. and Sr. Highs
By Annette Christie
The Coloma School Board started their October 9 meeting the way no school district wants to, explaining in a press release as much as they could about a lock down that occurred at the junior high and high school earlier in the day.
Superintendent Pete Bush read the press release, “The junior high and high school buildings in Coloma went on lockdown this morning around 9:30 a.m. when it was reported by students that another student had a weapon. The student was brought to the office for questioning and the police were called immediately.
“Officers arrived and questioned the student who was reported to have the weapon. Officers did not locate a weapon on the student and continued to investigate. They searched several more areas around the high school gymnasium and junior high building and grounds. The lockdown on Coloma High School was removed by 11:15 a.m. once it was determined that there was no threat to students in that building. Coloma Junior High remained on a soft lockdown, with students in their classrooms, throughout the remainder of the day as police continued their search and investigation. Students were escorted to the cafeteria in small groups for lunch and also to the restrooms.
“The police have conducted a thorough search of our buildings and have not found any weapons. Our staff and students should be commended for their patience and cooperation as we worked diligently to ensure the safety of everyone. We would like to thank the Coloma Township Police Department and the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department for all of their support and efforts. We are confident that our schools are safe and we can return to normal activities on Tuesday. I would like to also thank our parents and our community for their patience and cooperation during a difficult situation as we make the safety of our students our top priority.”
Bush said that following the investigation, the student was turned over to his mother. His name is being withheld because he is a juvenile. No students reported that any threats were ever made, just an indication that the student had a weapon. While Bush acknowledged that they couldn’t provide any specific details, the board did take questions or comments before proceeding with the meeting.
One parent did express concern. Bush assured the parent that they were certain that it was safe for students to return tomorrow. “Every nook and cranny was searched. The K-9 unit was brought in that is specialized in that area,” Bush said.
As the meeting proceeded, the individual principals gave updates of their specific schools. High School Principal Dave Ehlers said that a change in meal times has increased the number of students that are eating free breakfast or lunch in the high school. There has been an increase in future planning for the upcoming graduates including an opportunity to visit a recent “College Night” at Lake Michigan College. Homecoming Week went very well with a large number of students participating.
Junior High Principal Wendy Tremblay reported that the junior high had a pep assembly of a smaller scale for Homecoming that was well received by the students. They will be recognizing October as Anti-Bullying Month and will have a speaker on October 16.
Anthony Ianni, former Michigan State Spartan basketball standout will come to Coloma Community Schools to speak to students about living their dreams and to speak out against bullying. Ianni was diagnosed at four years old with Pervasive Developmental Disorder which is on the autism spectrum. Doctors told his parents that he would barely graduate high school, would not graduate from college and would certainly never have a shot at athletics. They said he would most likely end up in a group home with others like him his whole adult life. In spite of their prediction, Ianni went on to graduate high school, was accepted to and graduated from Michigan State University, and played basketball for the Spartans under Coach Tom Izzo. He has pledged his life and career to help those with similar challenges.
Tremblay said that students at the junior high level will also take part in the compassion games which will emphasize doing acts of kindness among the students.
At the Intermediate School, they have instituted a Robotics Club and the Comet Club Choir which will hold a Christmas Concert as well as singing at area nursing homes.
Elementary Principal John Klein told the board that staff morale is high and the feedback that they are getting is positive. In an effort to curb the dismissal time, staff has worked on quicker ways to let the kids go at the end of the day. Klein said they have gone from 16 minutes to 13. He said that the Comet Character Walk-A-Thon will be held on October 26 and students will be asking family and friends to help out with donations.
Student count day
Unofficial numbers are in and it doesn’t look good for the student count day results at Coloma. While school officials did anticipate a drop in enrollment resulting in a drop in state funding, they did not quite estimate a low enough drop. Bush said they estimated a 30 student drop in the count which looks like it might be more around 50-60 students down. He said while he doesn’t anticipate any reduction in programs, officials will have to visit and monitor the budget very closely to make up for the difference.
Sinking Fund discussion continued
The Building and Grounds Committee of the Board (Doug Kraemer, Heidi Ishmael, and Apryl Watson) met recently to prioritize and review capital projects. Moved to the top of the list is the replacement of the roof on the high school. The roof continues to cause disturbances in the school on rainy days. Estimates to replace it have come in over a million dollars, money the district does not have in its general fund. This re-ignited a conversation from last month’s meeting regarding a “sinking fund.”
Bush gave the board an overview last month describing recent law changes in the establishment of a sinking fund for school districts which expands the use for the funding.
Funds levied under Public Act 319 can be used for the purchase of land, construction and/or improvements to facilities, improvements to school security systems and upgrading technology. Bush said the levied funds shall not exceed 3 mills (down from 5) and can be levied for 10 years (down from 20). The funds cannot be used for maintenance of facilities, only new construction or improvements.
The board received the results of their financial audit. Molly Fish with Yeo & Yeo gave the district an unmodified or clean opinion. She noted that school officials are almost spot-on in their budgeting and their budget is conservative.
Freshwater Church, which leases the old middle school north, has asked the district for a more long term lease option. Justin VanFerrari spoke for the organization and commented that summers without air conditioning sometimes makes attending church quite uncomfortable, some type of permanent signage makes it hard for people to find them, and that they would like to possibly make some improvements to the space they use, under a longer term agreement. Currently the lease runs year to year. They have been leasing from the district since 2010. The church pays the school approximately $5,000 – $6,000 annually. There was some discussion held; however, the board took no action. It is expected that they will take action next month.
Bush closed the meeting with an MSTEP update. The scores are in from the spring 2017 tests that were given. In comparison with other districts of the same student demographics, Coloma Schools’ scores were right in line. They do continue to be below the state average. Bush pointed out some things that they have done to help to improve scores and assured the board they continue to seek other ideas. Fourth grade teachers just went to another peer school that had higher scores to try and learn from them. It was noted that sometimes it’s just a matter of re-learning a new way to present something or to search out additional tools or resources.
PRACTICING… Sheriff depu-ties train on the range in 2013 during a time when the training facility was allowed to operate. Further appeals and counter-moves have kept the gun range closed but the building has been allowed for classroom use.
Governor approves bills related to property tax exemptions
A new law – sponsored by state Reps. Kim LaSata and Dave Pagel — will prevent out-of-state residents from improperly claiming property tax exemptions when they buy second homes in Michigan.
The bills signed into law October 5, 2017 by Gov. Rick Snyder address a key issue affecting school funding in the southwest part of the state near Lake Michigan, including the regions represented by LaSata of Bainbridge Township and Pagel of Berrien Springs.
“This change in state law will close a costly tax loophole that was potentially costing our local school districts millions of dollars,” LaSata said. “I am proud to sponsor this legislation that will aid school funding in southwest Michigan, and likely other areas of the state as well.” Pagel agreed.
“We are fixing a problem that existed for far too long in Michigan,” Pagel said. “This new law prevents an improper practice that was taking money away from our schools for years.”
The legislation was introduced because some property owners intentionally declare a homestead property tax exemption on their second home in Michigan, while at the same time claiming a similar exemption on their primary residence in another state. The new Michigan law will crack down on that practice and make sure the 18-mill non-homestead levy is collected on a second home.
That money is allocated to local K-12 schools, meaning that when people exploited this loophole, schools lost potential tax revenue.
The new law makes it clear that if a property owner has claimed a principal residence exemption in Michigan while claiming a similar exemption in another state, the Michigan exemption would be rescinded. A claim for a Michigan homestead tax exemption could be denied and enforced retroactively if it is discovered the property owner had claimed a similar exemption in another state.
Intentional violators could face a misdemeanor criminal charge.
The measure is the first public act – a bill signed into law – for LaSata, who is in her first term in the Michigan House. Pagel is in his third term in the Michigan House.
Supreme Court agrees to hear case of Training Facility By Annette Christie
The Supreme Court of the State of Michigan will revisit the issue of the Sheriff’s Department training facility in Coloma Township.
In September 2016, Coloma Township Attorney Scott Dienes told the Coloma Township Board that the Michigan Court of Appeals ruling was in and what it means. Coloma Township sued Berrien County over the use of a training facility/shooting range located on Angling Road in the township.
Dienes told the board that they had won the litigation against the county. The case had actually been argued the December before and the parties had been waiting for the ruling.
Dienes provided the four-page opinion to the board, including a dissenting opinion which resulted in a 2-1 ruling. The ongoing battle is between the powers of the county’s authority (the County Commissioners’ Act to site county buildings) and the township’s authority (local zoning ordinances that regulate land use).
At the October 2016 Coloma Township Board meeting, Dienes told the Coloma Township Board that Berrien County had asked the Supreme Court to hear their case and he asked the township for the authority to continue and to file the answers to the court on the township’s behalf, which they granted.
Fast forward a year and the Supreme Court have agreed to hear Berrien County’s appeal.
On September 22, 2017 the Michigan Supreme Court ordered that Berrien County’s application for a leave to appeal the fall 2016 judgment of the Court of Appeals was granted.
Berrien County built and established a training facility in 2005 for the purpose of providing a place for Berrien County Sheriff’s Department members to obtain the required training with firearms. They did so without obtaining local permitting through the township, citing the County Commissioner Act. They built a classroom for the instructional portion of the training and constructed shooting bays for the active shooting part of the training.
A group of local citizens took the case all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court where in 2008 it was ordered that the facility be closed down and that Berrien County should have sought local approval. The Supreme Court ruled that while the county had the authority under the act to construct a building without local zoning approval, it did not extend to the outside activities of shooting at the four shooting ranges.
Without success, Berrien County applied for a special land use permit through Coloma Township in 2010 and after many years, was not approved. Sheriff’s Department officials trained at the Coloma Rod and Gun Club in the meantime.
In the fall of 2013, Berrien County erected a three-sided building on the end of one of the ranges. The building houses the shooters while they are training. They then began training once again out of this building.
Efforts through the court system began again by Coloma Township and the group of private citizens that took Berrien County to court previously to stop Berrien County again.
It was discovered through the new court filings that Berrien County Trial Court Judge John Dewane had actually issued the permanent injunction in 2008 following the Supreme Court ruling. County officials who may or may not have been in those positions then but are now, were not aware of the permanent injunction and once they were, shooting from the shooting building ceased.
In January 2014 Dewane approved limited firearms training from the shooting building, partially modifying the 2008 permanent injunction, pending the outcome of court filings. The request by Coloma Township to declare that the 2013 shooting building violates the township zoning ordinance was denied by Dewane.
In October 2014, Berrien County Trial Court Judge John Dewane issued an opinion which will allow the Berrien County Sheriff and his deputies to use one shooting range for training at the Sheriff’s Department facility on Angling Road in Coloma Township. The order modifies a 2008 permanent injunction that prevented shooting at any of the ranges at the facility.
In his ruling Dewane found that the structure put up last fall is a county building with its purpose being to house the shooters so they can shoot out into the ranges and that does fall under the authorities described in the County Commissioner Act.
While Berrien County Circuit Court Judge John Dewane agreed, the Court of Appeals did not agree, thus landing at the September 2016 2-1 ruling. The dissenting opinion given by Judge Jane E. Markey stated, “I would affirm the circuit court in both cases on all issues. Specifically, I conclude that the circuit court correctly ruled that the structure at issue is a “county building.”
Chili Hop 5K Run/Walk this Sunday
The 8th Annual Chili Hop 5K Run/Walk is this Sunday, Oct. 15 at 10 a.m. in conjunction with the Chili Hop Fly-in at the Watervliet Municipal Airport, 8560 Airport Rd. which goes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Registration and packet pick-up begins at 8:30 a.m. Entry fee is $25 for ages 15 & over; for ages 14 and under the fee is $15.
All proceeds benefit Experimental Aircraft Association, Chapter 585 and their quest to bring the magic of aviation to the youth of our community. They are a non-profit organization 501(c)(3).