Records Reveal MSU and ELPS Discussing MSU's Use of Red Cedar if Bond Passes

Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 6:00 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Results of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that the East Lansing Public Schools administration has been in conversation with MSU’s administration for at least four months on the subject of possibly using the District’s Red Cedar School for an MSU-administrated pre-K lab school. Under the plan, MSU would also expect the District to permanently use the Red Cedar School as a sixth elementary school in the District.

The idea, outlined in depth in a February 13 letter from MSU Provost June Youatt to Acting Superintendent Dori Leyko, has not been shared with the public, although Youatt indicated in that letter that the plan would be aided by passage of the school bond on the ballot for May 2. Records indicate Board of Trustees Nell Kuhnmuench has been in the loop, but she has not spoken publicly about this possibility, including when she’s spoken about plans for the funds that would be raised through the bond’s passage.

The ELPS District’s informational materials on the bond have until recently steadily indicated that, in the words of the District’s election-related video, “Red Cedar and the current Donley building would temporarily serve students for each of the other four elementary schools as those buildings are rebuilt.” The video states that if the bond passes, at the end of the process, “Red Cedar would house the District’s early childhood education and seven elementary classrooms.”

The District’s “Bond Facts” handout from last month indicated the same thing: “After completion of all five new schools, Red Cedar would house the District’s early childhood education and provide the flexibility for up to seven elementary classrooms to meet our elementary enrollment needs in 2021."

Youatt’s February 13 letter, however, indicates that the emerging plan is actually to have MSU provide a lab school for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers on a fee-for-service basis at Red Cedar School. In the Provost’s words, MSU would “establish a solid and sustained pre-K program alongside the ongoing elementary education that would be delivered in the school by East Lansing Public Schools.”

Youatt adds that, “Thinking in the long term, Michigan State University would agree to provide pre-K programming in the building on the condition that East Lansing Public Schools agree to provide elementary education in the building, with an initial 10-year agreement that would be subject to change should the conditions of the agreement change.”

Right now, Red Cedar is mothballed, having been closed after a previous school board decided to reduce the number of elementary schools from six to five, a decision that proved very controversial. Youatt’s letter appears to assume that the District would agree to have Red Cedar School again house elementary classes run by the District, beyond the use of the building as a temporary school for students displaced by having their own neighborhood schools demolished and reconstructed.

Youatt outlines the plan as follows in her letter of six weeks ago:

  • MSU “would provide financial support for building out the laboratory research space required to deliver pre-K programming in these spaces.”
  • “Financial support for modifying the educational space required to deliver the elementary education programming in the school would be provided by East Lansing Public Schools, as determined by the passage of its May 2017 bond proposal.”
  • MSU would then charge parents who enroll their children in the Lab School program. (The plan does not make clear whether MSU would compensate ELPS for use of the space.)

Youatt makes plain she considers the bond's passage to be a relevant element of the plan: “Pending bond approval, programming in the building could begin in 2018, at the earliest, with the initial agreement extending to 2028.”

This is not a done deal, but records show that, in December 2016, then-Superintendent Robyne Thompson (who has since resigned) met with Youatt and MSU’s Janet Lilly regarding the idea, that ELPS Board President Kuhnmuench was kept apprised of the developments, and that Acting Superintendent Dori Leyko has received communications about the idea from Youatt.

Leyko's latest public communication on the bond appeared in the March issue of East Lansing's Dialog (the City-sponsored newsletter). There she wrote of using Red Cedar "to house preschool and flexibility for up to seven elementary classrooms." Marking an apparent change from what had occurred in previous District communications, Leyko did not refer to the preschool as "the District's" in Dialog.

This, then, puts a different twist on what might happen with the Red Cedar School - and with the money raised by the bond - if the bond passes on May 2.

 

You can read the FOIA response by clicking here.

ELi will continue to follow this story and provide voters nonpartisan information on the bond election. To find out more about whether you’re eligible to vote and where you would vote, please see the City Clerk’s dedicated election page.