Coloma School Board passes resolutions to speak their opinions
By Annette Christie
The Coloma School Board passed several resolutions at their Monday, Dec. 11 meeting to provide their feelings on various subjects of high importance to the district.
BUSINESSES RECOGNIZED… Among those honored recently at the Coloma Watervliet Area Business Recognition were Vincent J. Jewelers, The Flower Basket and Honor Credit Union. Pictured (from the left) are representatives from each of those businesses and the North Berrien Community Development as well as the Coloma Watervliet Chamber of Commerce: Chana Kniebes, Lauren Lietz, Gina Dykema, Sarah Hess, Jillian Kiser, Shelby Ledesma, Dave Scheuer, Aimee Fish, Amber Wicks, Tricia Cole, Kris Krogel, Shelli Crans, Gloria Frazier, Angie Roberts, Jim Frazier and Karla Smothers. (TCR photo by Christina Gelder)
Superintendent Pete Bush updated the board on some legislation that could allow concealed weapons to be carried on school grounds without any say from school districts. Bush said the legislation has gotten through the Senate and is headed for the House. Bush said they have heard that the Governor vetoed a bill similar to it years prior. Bush said if it passes, “We will no longer be able to be a weapon free school zone.” Bush said he and many other school superintendents expressed their feelings against the bill to their Senator, however he voted in favor.
The resolution passed by the School Board expresses their opposition to the Senate Bills (584-586 and 366). The resolution states that Senate Bill 584 would allow an individual with a concealed pistol license to request a special endorsement to carry a concealed firearm into no-carry zones, such as schools, daycare centers, and stadiums with only a minimal amount of additional training. Senate Bill 586 would prohibit local Board of Education decisions on whether or not to allow weapons on school property by amending Public Act 319 of 1990 and prohibiting schools to enact firearm regulations that are stricter than any federal or state laws. Senate Bill 366 would create a concealed pistol license for people 18-21 in age.
The resolution states, “Our concerns are focused on the safety of our students, staff, and others visiting our campuses. Allowing more guns in schools and at school events is not a solution and places more people in harm’s way, including our students. Moving to a concealed carry system only hides the danger of a gun on campus.” In addition it states, “We have seen tragic shootings over recent years and even weeks in and around schools and nothing in this legislation will bring these incidents to an end nor will it create safer schools.” The final statement of the resolution summarizes with “the Coloma Board of Education of Coloma Community Schools opposes Senate Bills 584-586 and 366 and urges lawmakers and the Governor to allow local school boards to enact their own policies regarding weapons on school grounds.” The resolution will be sent to the Governor as well as the state legislators and senators.
School Board member Doug LeClear stated, “Being a school board member, I don’t want any guns on our grounds at all.” He voted in favor of the resolution with a response of “Most definitely.”
The board passed another resolution but this time in favor of a School Finance Research Collaborative. At last month’s meeting, Superintendent Pete Bush informed the board about the effort to look at the financing structure of public schools in the State of Michigan and how much it really costs to educate a student. The group is made up of business leaders and education experts including school board members, people with doctorates, some who have been college presidents, served in the legislature, and statewide organizations.
Bush noted that the challenge is getting the funding to be adjustable in that it addresses the diversity that schools face in educating students from different home backgrounds, special education needs and poverty levels and the extra cost associated with such students.
The resolution states the Michigan Constitution designates that the legislature shall maintain and support a system of free public elementary and secondary schools however, Michigan ranks 32nd in student achievement nationwide. In 2016, the state conducted a comprehensive statewide cost study that produced and provided valuable information but used only one methodology and did not fully examine special education costs, examine preschool, charter schools, career and technical education, the impact of high concentrations of special needs students and the cost challenges faced by geographically isolated schools or very small school districts.
“The way we fund Michigan’s public schools is fundamentally broken and Michigan needs to develop funding formulas that efficiently and effectively distribute these resources to the proper entities of support success,” the resolution stated. The School Finance Research Collaborative has hired the nation’s top two school finance research firms to examine cost issues associated with key factors including preschool, poverty, special educations, career and technical education, English language learners, at-risk students and schools that are geographically isolated. The final statement of the resolution summarizes the board’s support by stating, “The Coloma Community Schools supports the School Finance Research Collaborative and its efforts to determine the true cost of educating ALL Michigan public school students (PK-12),”
The collaborative hopes to have the results released in the spring of 2018. More information on the collaborative can be found at www.fundmischools.org.
Board looks at Sinking Fund
Eduardo Blanc of TMP Architecture was on hand to review the Sinking Fund idea to the board. This was first presented by Superintendent Pete Bush a few months back. Blanc explained that there are two components: Find out what your needs are and review existing studies/reports. Blanc said the district has already done half the work. The strategic plan approved by the board gives much of the groundwork for what was needed.
Blanc said to prepare a sinking fund initiative it is necessary to assess and document the condition of the facilities and then to prepare a scope of work and some estimates to accompany the needs. Blanc warned that school districts hardly ever get all of what is needed. The next step would be communicating with the community and to inform their voters.
Sinking funds are authorized by statute but voter approval is required. He described it as a pay as you go system for improvements and repairs. Interest is not paid on the fund money.
The maximum millage rate that could be taken is three with a 10-year life cycle. The funding could be used for building repairs and improvements, purchase of real estate, technology upgrades for the students and their use. Examples provided metal detectors, locks, doors, lighting, cameras, entryway improvements, mobile phone applications, capital improvement or purchases designed to deter unauthorized entries into building.
The district is facing some aged roofs which are causing problems. When the district looked at replacing the roof a few years back, the estimate was $1.2 million. “We have to protect our facilities,” Bush said adding, “This is the most responsible way to maintain our district at our desired level and not have to borrow money to do it.”
If the district was to ask for one mill, it would generate $386,000. There is at least $5 million in repairs needed in the district today.
With three election cycles in 2018, May August, and November, the school board needs to finalize its action soon.
Online learning classes
Bush told the board about online learning and what role the district plays. He suggested that a student in the school district would consider it for the flexibility, expanded range of courses, credit recovery, behind in a grade level, want to excel in their grade level, allows students to interact with technology. Bush said that as of 2006 all school districts have to allow it.
Bush said statute states that all public schools are required to honor a parent and/or student request to do an online class. A district is able to deny a request built on certain criteria. He said the profile of a successful online student is one with good time management, effective communication, independent study habits, self-motivated, academic readiness, and technologically prepared.
High School Principal Dave Ehlers said most of the students doing this are kids with scheduling problems and wanting a class that the school doesn’t have available. Bush assured the board, “We are very well prepared to handle all requests.”
Hagar Kayak Park among over $40 million in recommendations of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund
By Jon Bisnett
In a press release dated December 8 from the office of Governor Rick Snyder, The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund board this week announced its approval for over $40 million in grant recommendations for outdoor recreation development and land acquisition projects to the state Legislature.
The State board gave the thumbs up to a grand total of $40.3 million of applications for projects slated for 2018, including $19 million in recreation development and $21.3 million in land acquisition projects. Hagar Township is expected to be one of the largest recipients with a grant request in the amount of $300,000 for the development of a Riverside Kayak Park on land the township owns along the Paw Paw River on Coloma Road.
Hagar Township Supervisor Izzy DiMaggio who has been cautiously optimistic throughout the process was thrilled to say, “This has come as a result in a large part to the excellent project work by the good folks at Abonmarche to begin with, the letters of recommendation from the 19 members of the Paw Paw River Group, the 12 local government units of the Cornerstone Alliance Best Practice group, the support from our Board and DDA, the excellent application put together by Joelle and Kathy, and the recommendation from Erin Campbell of the Department of Natural Resources.”
Berrien County – Hagar Township,
Riverside Kayak Park Development – $300,000
The project entails development of a recreation area that will include universally accessible paved parking, accessible road, boardwalk and kayak launch to connect users to the Paw Paw River and its water trail network. Additional support amenities developing this 112-acre parcel include vault toilet restrooms, accessible picnic tables and grills, and a pavilion. Developing this land will provide the public with valuable access to Michigan’s natural resources, support paddling enthusiasts and create a public recreation area where none currently exists. Capitalizing on the unique features within the township will serve economic development within the community, enhance quality of life for residents and improve accessibility to recreation for all users.
The grant process
A total of 166 applications seeking more than $76 million in funding were considered in this most recent round of applications. In a highly competitive process, all eligible applications were evaluated against specific scoring criteria developed by the board, boiling the count down to 132 finalists which not only includes Hagar Township, but several other neighboring Southwestern Michigan communities. The cities of Hartford, South Haven, and Dowagiac, along with Coloma Charter Township, Covert Township, Berrien Township and Berrien County have all made the cut for 2018 funding for a variety of recreational enhancements in the respective communities.
The MRTF funding supports a multitude of outdoor recreation improvements including expanded public access at popular fishing destinations, additional snowmobile and multiuse trails, improvements at urban parks, planning and wildlife and habitat enhancement projects.
Of the $21.3 million recommended to fund acquisition projects, $12.3 million would be awarded to local units of government, while the remaining $9 million would be awarded to the Department of Natural Resources. Of the $19 million recommended to fund development grants, $15.2 million would support 72 local government projects and $3.8 million would support 17 DNR projects.
Gov. Snyder applauds quality of life improvements
“The Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund has a proven record of supporting expanded opportunities for more Michiganders and tourists to experience quality public outdoor recreation,” Snyder said. “This year’s recommendations will serve to help improve the quality of life in a very Pure Michigan way.”
What is Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund?
As a restricted fund established in 1976 to support public acquisition of lands for conservation and outdoor recreation, as well as public outdoor recreation development projects, the Trust Fund is financed entirely through interest earned on royalties of the funds derived from leases of publicly owned minerals such as oil and natural gas. No tax payer dollars or General Fund budget allocation contributes to the fund. In 2016, the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund celebrated 40 years of funding grants totaling more than $1 billion to state and local units of government to develop and improve high-quality outdoor recreation opportunities for Michigan citizens and visitors in all 83 Michigan counties.
“Every MNRTF grant has a direct, positive impact on healthier lifestyles, outdoor recreation opportunities and regional economies,” said DNR Director Keith Creagh. “The Trust Fund is a unique Michigan model, and we’re excited about the many benefits it will bring to Michigan communities for decades to come.”
The board recommendations will now travel to the state Legislature for review as part of the appropriations process. Once approved, the Legislature will then forward a bill to the governor for his signature. Once ratified by the legislature and signed by the Governor, funding is expected to be finalized in the first quarter of 2018 paving the way for a spring/summer groundbreaking on the local Hagar project.
A complete list of the final MNRTF recommendations may be found online at www.michigan.gov/mnrtf.
10th year for Coloma and Watervliet’s business recognition
Three businesses honored for contributions to community
By Christina Gelder
For the 10th year the North Berrien Community Development and Coloma Watervliet Area Chamber of Commerce hosted their Business Recognition. Honoring three local businesses, the event was held at Fairfield Inn and Suites in Watervliet and well attended by business owners and municipality leaders alike.
Starting out the ceremony, Chana Kniebes introduced the board of directors for both organizations and gave a brief recap of their accomplishments through the year. There were seven business ribbon cuttings in 2017, a legislative luncheon and the 14th Annual Golf Outing. The two groups also supported festivals and parades in both communities. This coming year they will be putting out the biannual Coloma Watervliet Area Guide and they are in the process of finishing up a yearlong radio branding campaign.
Tom Gear introduced the winner of the Community Excellence Award as Vincent J. Jewelers. Owned by Jim and Gloria Frazier, this jewelry store has been in Coloma for the last several years. Jim Frazier is from Coloma and after leaving for several years he came back to open a store here and has since become very involved in the community. The couple, who runs the business with their daughter Angie Roberts, also has a location in Dowagiac.
The Community Impact Award was presented to The Flower Basket of Watervliet. The Flower Basket opened in 2011 and recently expanded into South Haven as well. Owner Kris Krogel thanked the community for their support saying without them it wouldn’t be possible. “We’re having a blast,” she said upon receiving the award.
Honor Credit Union was the recipient of this year’s Community Spirit Award. The Coloma branch staff was on hand to accept the recognition and branch manager Dave Scheuer said that he is “extremely proud to be a part of the Coloma team.” One reason they were selected is because of their commitment to assisting at all local events. Scheuer said, “Thank you very much. We are always happy to donate to a cause or sponsor an event but we especially like to have a physical presence.”
Each of the honored businesses was also presented with a tribute from the State of Michigan. Adam Mensinger, District Representative for State Senator John Proos was on hand to distribute those. “On behalf of the State of Michigan, thank you,” said Mensinger as he addressed those recognized. He also spoke to the crowd recognizing them for investing in the communities and crediting the business owners for “strong, healthy main streets”