While Albion College students packed for five weeks of break, Albion Community School (ACS,) facing dwindling enrollment and massive debt, approved the annexation of their district to Marshall Community Schools (MCS).
While students feasted on holiday treats, ACS hired Bruce Caswell of Michigan’s Treasury Department as their business and financial consultant. While students were celebrating a new year, MCS unanimously approved the annexing of ACS to its district.
As students lay around at home, opinions on board decisions flew. This past Friday, while students were settling back into the grind of school, MCS was awarded a $4,202,800 grant by the Michigan Department of Education specifically for the annexation process.
Prior to winter break, ACS was weighing its options as to how to address their economic and enrollment crisis. With a government analysis determining the district unsustainable in its current state, the school faced the following three options: dissolution, where the district would disappear entirely and children would be separated into the intermediate school district; consolidation, where a new school district would be created with the surrounding communities; and annexation, where the district would be absorbed into another, as defined by Michigan Legislature.
Ultimately, annexation was deemed the best option by Albion’s Board, and Marshall agreed to be the absorb-er. Albion, Albion Township and Sheridan Township would add 8,000 taxpayers to the neighboring city’s 10,000.
This outcome, however, is not final. Albion’s Board of Education is required to call an election at a session and submit ballot language the following day to the Calhoun County Clerk’s office. From there, the fate of annexation would be placed in the hands of Albion voters in May.
However, Marshall’s recent multi-million dollar award casts an impression that annexation just might ultimately occur. The $4 million Section 22g grant is specifically for school districts facing consolidating or absorption options, according to the MDE.
In a Jan. 19 presentation to Albion’s City Council, Marshall Superintendent Dr. Randall Davis set out guidelines to where the grant money will be spent. ACS’ operational deficit of $3.6 million can be covered while the rest of the money can be used towards support, operations, transportation, programs and community service for the largely-expanded MCS district.
Other expenses, however, cannot be covered. Remaining deficits of the current districts would still need to be paid by their respective residents. In place of ACS’ sinking funds (money set aside for future expenses), MCS’ significantly lower sinking funds would need to be paid for as well. Albion and Marshall residents would collectively pay for these.
As for the other costs, “Any new or future bond indebtedness is approved and paid for by the combined voters and taxpayers of the newly-expanded Marshall Public Schools District,” said Davis at the City meeting.
Despite the successful progress towards the two districts’ futures, there are still many unknown factors. If annexation is approved by voters, Marshall and Albion representatives must meet to determine which, if any, schools in Albion will remain open and function as part of MCS. Staffing, transportation and operations due to influxes of students and increased redistricting must also be considered. As for Albion’s Title One and other “At Risk” programs, they would all be determinate on the number of qualifying students in each school.
For 20 years, ACS was losing 150-200 students a year. Budget cuts dissolved resources and teachers. The superintendent left on paid leave until summer. And as of Jan. 25, the district became a K-5, sending over 100 middle school students to Marshall for the start of the new semester.
However, new hope is already budding. In an email on his new middle school students, Davis said, “Considering all the dynamics that come into play for such a big change for everyone, I can report that it has been a great week. Teachers are teaching, and students are learning.”
If 100 middle school students can adjust so smoothly into a new environment, perhaps it is a telling sign that if annexation occurs, a smooth transition will occur as well.
Photo Courtesy of WikiCommons