Hartford Public Schools balance is the key
By Jon Bisnett If one were to ask the question of how many public schools with an enrollment of less than 550 in the high school can claim a District Title in soccer, qualification for the MHSAA football playoffs, and a Division 1 rating in marching band to start off the 2019-20 school year, that number is only two in the entire state of Michigan and Hartford is one. But the balance in district operations extends much further than the turf of the recently restored Indian Stadium. New Advanced Placement (AP) classes added to the high school curriculum brings Hartford’s total to four distinct AP offerings.
AUTHOR VISITS REDWOOD… Author Gail Boushey visited to work with Hartford Redwood Elementary students and staff in an ongoing initiative to support literacy. Daily 5 is a literacy framework that instills behaviors of independence and creates a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers, and learners. This provides teachers with time and structure to meet diverse student needs. The Daily 5 Essential Elements are to Understand, Prepare, Teach, and Support. Boushey is an educator, author, speaker, and entrepreneur. She is also co-creator of the Daily 5 Framework and CAFE Literacy System and co-owner of The Daily CAFE company where she leads her development team to empower educators to individualize instruction and increase student independence.
In the wake of the Redwood Elementary construction project and updating of the high school/ middle school campus from the School Bond of 2014, the Board of Education Site Committee has addressed and continues to consider a myriad of needs and projections for facility and equipment needs around the district, most recently addressing updated lighting for the gymnasiums and a complete overhaul of audio and lighting in the auditorium. Recognizing that any new “stuff” must be used effectively to see a return on the investment, the Hartford School Board convened their October Workshop at Redwood Elementary complete with a building tour and a pleasing report of administrative improvements. Redwood Redwood Principal Chris Quist led a tour which showed some incredibly creative and welcoming classroom environments created by her teachers. Quist then presented the nuts and bolts of changes within the building and the positive results achieved. Implementation of the Daily-5 Literacy Development System is well underway and addresses the challenge of goal attainment in terms of the State of Michigan 3rd Grade Reading Law. A simple change in protocol for parents entering the building when dropping off students both improves student safety and gained 10 minutes a day of what in the past was lost learning time, now translates to 30 hours of additional classroom time over the course of the school year. With a compliment of 32 working cameras throughout the campus, discipline issue and acts of vandalism are more easily identified. Discipline referrals are down just short of 20% from just one year ago under Quist’s watch with decline in all major categories: Aggression, Insubordination, Disrespect, and Disruption with Disrespect as largest decrease – down a full 12%. Finance Aside from normal bills, Business Manager Rebecca Drake noted significant expense as the district tech guru Rob Sheffey has been busy upgrading all Wi-Fi access points in the district along with adding points in dark areas. Eighty-five percent of the purchase and installation cost will be reimbursed to the district through federal E-rate dollars. Business Jeff Staley from Manor Costerisan was in attendance to present the 2018 – 2019 financial audit. Staley met from 5:30 to 6:45 with the Finance Committee for an in-depth review of the audit. Staley further noted: It was a clean audit report with an “unmodified opinion,” the district has a stable fund balance. He further commented this was by far the smoothest first year audit he has seen in his 20-plus year career. The board recognized Rebecca Drake, Darcel Hildebrand and Debbie Galvan for their good work throughout the process. Rebecca Drake was formally approved as the district representative on the Casino Revenue Sharing Committee following Mike Hallgren resigning his position at the committee’s annual October meeting. The board approved payment of the annual interest due on the 2014 Refunding Bonds and the 2015 Building Bonds. Also approved were conference expenses for Jason Meachum, Ginny Rice, and Rick Vawter to attend the MASB Annual Leadership Conference in Traverse City.
Safety The board approved the District Emergency Operations Plan as required by Michigan law. Thanks go out to District Safety Director Dave Janicki for his work.
Superintendent’s Report Jessica Lehnert has accepted the Special Education Paraprofessional position at Redwood. Jessica was worked previously in district food service. Jessica Rosales, a 2017 alumnus, has been hired for the Grade 2-3 Paraprofessional position at Redwood. Hubbard noted that this year’s Casino Revenue Sharing check came in at $344,000, up from the prior year. The Casino continues to represent an asset to the community and along with the tribe and Pokagon Fund, a great long-term partnership for the district. Hubbard closed the Monday, Nov. 4 workshop reporting on his attendance at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Arthur and Bonna Vanderlyn Community Center/ Hartford Public Library at the former Red Arrow Elementary site. Adding that he believes Bonna Vanderlyn was present and appreciated everyone being there. Library Director Stephanie Daniels was very gracious during her remarks recognizing the Board of Education for all of the effort in helping make the project a reality.
Watervliet City Commission approves Wastewater Authority
By Annette Christie The Watervliet City Commission took the final action needed at their Tuesday, Nov. 5 meeting that will set up the leadership of the Paw Paw Lake Area Wastewater Treatment Plant as an Authority. The City Commission considered it at a special meeting held a couple of weeks ago, however, City Manager Tyler Dotson at that time suggested that further consideration had to be given of the agreement and what the action would mean. The sewer board, which is made up of representatives of all of the four municipalities that own it (Watervliet City, Watervliet Township, Coloma City, and Coloma Township), had approached all of those municipalities for the needed action to change from a board to an authority. All of the others had approved it prior to the Watervliet City Commission meeting. In his recommendation at Tuesday night’s meeting, Dotson told the City Commission that he had researched the contract and additional materials and was satisfied that there isn’t really any difference in the way that the sewer plant will operate with the exception of it being an Authority. “The creation of this authority will not only provide for the continuance of operations, but provide additional tools for the plant to utilize in the short and long term respectively,” Dotson wrote in his memo of recommendation. Promotion to Public Works foreman The City Commission voted to promote Ryan Newberry to the position of Public Works foreman. In the recommendation Tyler Dotson said that Newberry was hired in January of 2019 and has gone above and beyond to meet the needs of both the city and department. Dotson said that prior to the action of the City Commission the personnel committee had met to discuss the promotion. Dotson said that Newberry has been instrumental in performing maintenance on city equipment as well as leading the seasonal employees in the field. “He is eager to learn and has developed a passion for improving the department and operations,” Dotson said. Per the collective bargaining unit, Newberry will receive an additional $1 per hour over his base pay. Crossing signal approved In additional discussion to help improve safety for the city’s residents, the city commission considered the purchase of a solar powered pedestrian crosswalk system at the crosswalk area near Watervliet High School. The system provides a rapid flashing beacon when activated, which will catch the driver’s attention. In a collaborative effort between the city, the township, and the school district, the light will be purchased and installed at the pedestrian crossing near the high school. The schools will pay $4,796.15, the township will pay $2,786.16 and the city will fund $2,000 of the purchase as well as providing the light installation and routine maintenance. Police Chief Tim Sutherland expressed appreciation following the commission approval and noted that two crossing guards and even he has been hit at that intersection and the apparatus will make it much safer. City’s website As the topic of the city’s website has been discussed multiple times for about a year, Dotson was prepared to make a recommendation at Tuesday’s meeting. Dotson said after research, due diligence, and weighing out the cost of all the options, he recommended that the city commission approve a website re-design with Civic Plus. He said that once that is completed, he may consider attending a class about the design and how to make changes. Dotson said the estimate for the re-design is $5,271 and while that is above what was budgeted for the website work, in his negotiation he did get Civic Plus to reduce the yearly fee for hosting by $200 a year. The city was paying $1,700 annually. Other business The City Commission also approved some yearly standard contracts; one with MDOT for work on the state trunk line and one for Berrien County for the tax processing service. In addition they approved the purchase of the first load of salt for the winter season. Dotson presented a regular meeting schedule for the 2020 meetings for the commission to discuss. Statute requires that meeting schedules must be posted within a certain time period after approval. Earlier this year the City Commission voted to change the long standing meeting day of the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month to the first Tuesday of the month and another one later, if needed. Dotson said the idea behind going back to the original days of the month helps in the area of their payables as it spreads that out more. In addition, in changing from the first and third meetings to the second and fourth Tuesday, Dotson said he was spending a good portion of his time in finding a date that would work for the majority if a second meeting of the month was needed. Commissioner Bill Whitney has a conflict with his position on the fire department, thus the change for the meeting schedule. Some discussion was exchanged between Whitney and Mayor Brinker, however, Brinker said they could continue to talk later and he would postpone any action until the December meeting. Commissioner Deah Muth said that clearly one of their commissioners has a time conflict with the second and fourth Tuesdays and so they should accommodate that if none of the other commissioners care. Dotson said in his manager’s report that he will be working towards an Environmental Protection Agency grant for hazardous material assessment. If the $150,000 request is granted that would allow the city to take sites that may have varying levels of hazardous materials in the ground, and they can be assessed with grant dollars. Commissioner Muth worked out the details of the employee appreciation dinner to be held in January. The Commissioners all give two stipends toward the cost of the dinner. She also inquired about the status of employee reviews that would fall under the city manager. Dotson said he is about 40% done. He anticipates finishing that up by the holidays. He told the City Commission that he will ask for a change in the employee handbook to state that the reviews are done in conjunction with the employee’s date of hire versus them all being due at the same time. Zoning Board of Appeals meeting set The City Commission, which also serves as the Zoning Board of Appeals set a meeting date of December 3, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. The only agenda item will be the consideration for parking arrangements for a church on Main Street. Freshwater Church would like to purchase a building on Main Street for the purposes of providing their church home as well as a future community center. The Planning Commission has been considering their special land use permit, which would allow for the church, however, the parking issue has been passed onto the Zoning Board of Appeals for consideration by the Planning Commission. Dotson said that with the permit request comes a lot of things to consider including the use of the building and the parking, and so the need exists to establish proper parking levels as it relates to the special land use permit. Dotson is working with Zoning Administrator Bob Lohr to obtain the information and knowledge that the City Commission will need for their consideration and in their role. City Commissioner Luke Strunk asked that along with providing parking details that the City Commission ask the Planning Commission to have a special meeting instead of making the applicants wait until the end of December for what could be the final determination of the permit request. While Dotson said he would not recommend anything hurried or rushed as the special land use permit stays with the property forever, Strunk asked that the Planning Commission schedule a special meeting following the Zoning Board of Appeals so that a potential resolution could be made sooner. “I hate to drag this out any longer for these guys,” Strunk said. Two members of the church spoke during public comments. One thanked Strunk for his consideration of moving the process along a little quicker and the other noted that the church service is held on Sunday for a few hours only. For the rest of the time, however, they do hope to have the building open for the community’s use. The building at 115 N. Main St. is in need of some repairs and updates and church members were really hoping to get the roof replaced before winter.
Berrien County Trial Court to celebrate Adoption Month Hearings open to the public, reception to follow The Berrien County Trial Court will be hosting a special event to celebrate Adoption Month in Michigan. Four families will have adoptions finalized, with the hearings open to the public. The hearings are scheduled for Tuesday, November 19, 2019 beginning at 10 a.m. in the Berrien County Trial Court, 811 Port Street in St. Joseph. With the theme of “Giving Thanks for Families,” courts statewide will celebrate Adoption Month. Held during November, Adoption Month has become a holiday tradition, highlighting the importance of adoption and the needs of children in foster care. The court will finalize adoptions for four families as they recognize “It Takes a Village” to raise a child. Hearings will be held at 10 a.m. in courtroom 327, 1:30 p.m. in courtroom 405, and 2 p.m. in courtroom 403. All hearings are open to the public. A celebration reception will be held following the hearings at 3 p.m. Community members are encouraged to join them as they celebrate the new forever families!