ELPS Board Considers Options for Possible Glencairn Overflow

Tuesday, July 12, 2016, 10:11 am
By: 
Karessa Wheeler

The East Lansing Board of Education is considering several possible solutions to potential overcrowding in this fall’s kindergarten classes at Glencairn Elementary School, including a possible reopening of Red Cedar Elementary School.

Superintendent Robyne Thompson laid out a list of options for the school if more students than expected enroll in Glencairn. Currently the school has 22 students in each of its two kindergarten sections but Principal Lorraine Ware is expecting an additional two to five students who have not yet enrolled, Thompson said. Thompson is also meeting with officials at Michigan State University to better determine the projected students coming from Spartan Village and the new 1855 housing development on Harrison Road which would feed into Glencairn.

If the numbers increase, Thompson proposes:

  • Increase stipends for teachers to allow for class size to increase over the current cap of 24 students.
  • Hire additional paraprofessionals to assist the kindergarten teachers.
  • Move the cognitively impaired students from Glencairn to Donley Elementary to allow a third kindergarten class of up to 15 students.
  • Move the English Language Learners to Donley Elementary.
  • Move a portable classroom from Donley to Glencairn.
  • Open one section each of kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade at Red Cedar Elementary that would draw students from the Flowerpot neighborhood, Spartan Village and 1855. Students from Glencairn and Chesterfield Hills would still attend Glencairn.

In other schools, kindergarten classes are slightly smaller on average than Glencairn. At Donley, there is an average of 19.5 students per class, 20.3 at Marble, 19 at Pinecrest and 21.5 at Whitehills. Both Marble and Pinecrest have three sections of kindergarten this fall.

Thompson said she is monitoring daily the number of students enrolled in kindergarten across the District. No Schools of Choice students were placed in Glencairn for kindergarten or 1st grade.

Of those options, several School Board members and audience members proclaimed support for the hiring of additional paraprofessionals. Trustees Kath Edsall, Nell Kuhnmuench and Karen Hoene expressed opposition to moving the cognitively impaired students (also known as the “basic classroom”) or using portables. Kuhnmuench, the Board’s President, also cited Glencairn’s lack of outdoor play space in her opposition to using a portable classroom.

“I am looking at all the options and to me, moving the basic classroom is the last option. It is very much a part of the school community,” Edsall said. “I suggested moving K, 1st and 2nd because as we know, music (at Glencairn) is being taught in the library. Moving three sections would free up a room for music.”

There are currently twelve students in each of the lower grades who come from Flowerpot or Spartan Village, Thompson said. Trustee Kate Powers questioned whether removing twelve students from each grade would be enough to free up a full classroom to use as a music room.

“We would still have to have two sections so we are not actually creating any space,” she said.

Glencairn parent Mindy Morgan expressed her support for the hiring of more paraprofessionals in kindergarten classrooms.

“My daughter was a kindergartener this year and at times over the past year, the numbers did exceed the cap. Those students enriched the classroom environment and were easily accommodated. The problem is not space in the physical classroom but the attention of the teacher,” Morgan said. “Hiring paraprofessionals is a sensible solution that helps keep the school community together and enhances it.”

At a previous meeting, Edsall had made the suggestion of looking into using the now-closed Red Cedar Elementary for some portion of the overflow from Glencairn. At the beginning of the meeting Monday, she said she was never suggesting moving already enrolled students from Glencairn. She also expressed her support for opening up slots in the District for Schools of Choice students, which provides much needed money for programming as well as enough students to keep all five elementary schools open.

“We don’t save any money by removing (Schools of Choice) students. We just lose the money,” she said. “Without Schools of Choice, we would be down to three elementary schools.”

Resident Kongji Qin, a recent doctoral graduate of MSU, applauded Edsall’s work on behalf of disadvantaged students and requested the Board find a larger classroom for the English Language Learners who are currently studying in a small room at Glencairn.

“Space is symbolic and impacts on how students think about themselves. We can’t let them think of themselves as second class students,” he said.

Stephen Lathom, a Glencairn father, requested the Board not consider taking any action regarding Red Cedar for this coming fall. There are too many questions that remain about the building’s infrastructure needs, staffing and bussing to reopen this year.

“The bottom line is this idea is not even half-baked. After what we’ve been through the last several years, it is a solution in search of a problem,” Lathom said. “You need to develop a truly comprehensive plan across the District. I ask you to take a step back, yet again.”

District Finance Director Rich Pugh told the Board that the school has three remaining issues to address before the state fire marshal can certify the building fit for occupancy. Two sets of doors were expected to arrive yesterday to be installed, and wiring in the server room ceiling needs to be addressed, he said.

The Board also discussed the possibility of moving start times back for the high school and middle school this fall. Pugh told the Board that changing to later start times would require four additional busses at a cost of $45,000 per bus. The administration has already changed the ending times of schools by 11 minutes to meet with new state regulations.

Citing the cost and the lack of time to plan, Thompson suggested they delay moving any start times for the upcoming year. Instead, she suggested surveying the community about what changes they would like to see in the start and end times for the schools across the District.