RCAPS refinances bonds, approves bus leasing, online courses

BUSES NEEDED: Reed City Area Public Schools needs to replace rusted buses. On Monday, the board approved leasing six buses for next school year. (Courtesy photo)
BUSES NEEDED: Reed City Area Public Schools needs to replace rusted buses. On Monday, the board approved leasing six buses for next school year. (Courtesy photo)

REED CITY – Reed City Area Public Schools saved its taxpayers $210,863 when the board of education approved a refinancing proposal on Aug. 20.

By refinancing its 2004 bonds in order to take advantage of current low interest rates, RCAPS lessened its financial burden on residents within the district.

“That’s not money that comes back to the school district,” said Superintendent Steve Westhoff. “That’s money that stays in the taxpayers’ pockets because the next time we go out for a millage, we won’t have to ask for as much. Any time we can save the community money, that’s a good thing.”

Jeff Soles, from Thrun Law Firm, presented the refinancing agreement at the board meeting.

“The board originally authorized this five months ago, and we waited for the market to get just right,” Soles said.

The board also authorized Westhoff to continue with other means to save money – this time for the district – through leasing six buses.

For $66,000 to $78,000 a year, the district can lease six new or almost-new buses. In light of RCAPS’ aging and worn fleet, leasing is a relatively inexpensive way to increase the safety and efficiency of the district’s bus system, Westhoff said.

“Our bus fleet is old and we have, certainly, a need to update our buses,” he said. “When you look at our budget and the amount that we spend on parts and the amount that we spend on maintenance, we are going to be able to knock that price per bus down $2,000 to $4,000 because of what we will save (by leasing newer buses).”

Transportation director Paul Lewis worked with Westhoff on the proposal to lease buses. He will continue to give input on whether diesel- or propane-fueled buses would be best.

Of the district’s 21-bus fleet, the six buses in worst shape would be replaced with the leased buses. The oldest bus currently on the road is a 1993, Lewis said, although age and mileage do not necessarily determine the overall condition of a bus. State inspection evaluates buses on wear and tear, among other things, and some of the most worn buses are likely to be “red tagged” – or deem undriveable – in upcoming inspections, Lewis added.

He and Westhoff will obtain bids from at least three different companies before presenting the board with a specific lease offer.

“Some of our buses are right on the verge of being red-tagged,” said Kathy Yost, board secretary. “We’ve got to do something.”

Also at the meeting Aug. 21, the board approved a proposal to pilot 93 possible online classes this year.

“The state now has a new set of best financial practices, ... and one of those requirements is to provide online learning opportunities, which we already do, but we want to expand that,” Westhoff said. “Sometimes in our limited master schedule, we don’t have all the classes that we’d like.”

High school students would be able to enroll in online courses of their choice for elective or remedial credits; students taking required core classes for the first time would not have the option of doing so online.

Westhoff predicts that top students will be drawn to the available online courses – which include foreign languages, AP classes and career-selection courses, among others – and he hopes to see 20 students take advantage of the opportunity in the first year.

Regulations on whether certified teachers or paraprofessionals are qualified to take attendance and report grades for the online classes still are being reviewed.

Also at the board meeting, discussion centered on handicap accessibility at the high school, as Andresa Maciejewski, her husband Jeff – with support from about 20 other people in attendance – addressed the board about the fact that their daughter, Bethany, cannot access the lower level of the gym.

Bethany, a ninth-grade honors student who uses a wheelchair, has to go outside the school and enter the lower level of the gym through separate doors or stay in the upper section of the bleachers. Andresa does not want her daughter to feel segregated from her peers at pep rallies, sporting events or other assemblies held in the gym.

“Our main concern at this time is there no access for a physically disabled student or adult to access the main gym floor from inside the school,” Andresa said. “This is blatant discrimination and it segregates Bethany from her non-physically handicapped peers.”

Andresa’s frustration came from the fact that Westhoff had been notified of the issue in March and again in June, she said, yet nothing had been done to make the gym more accessible. Westhoff said he was not aware of the issue until last week, when Andresa submitted her letter to the board.

Westhoff said accessibility should be addressed during Individualized Education Program meetings – a discussion with parents and school personnel required for all students with special needs – under a facility access plan. Jeff Maciejewski said an access plan had not been brought up during his daughter’s IEP meetings and he did not know such a plan was an option as part of those meetings.

Andresa also cited state and federal laws requiring handicap accessibility in public facilities; however, those laws only apply to new or renovated buildings and do not require existing facilities to be updated to meet newer accessibility codes.

“At this point, we have access (to the lower level of the gym) outside, but we do not have access inside. That obviously is an issue,” Westhoff said. “We would have to have a long, long discussion about all of the things in our buildings that are not up to code, but that is grandfathered in.”

Westhoff said he will work with the Maciejewski family to come up with a satisfactory arrangement to make the gym accessible to Bethany; one option would be to provide a van with a wheelchair lift that would transport her outside from the top level to the lower level, while keeping her out of any inclement weather.

The board did not take any action on the topic, although board member Jim Dawson said the board’s Transportation and Facilities Committee would discuss the district’s policy on handicap accessibility at its next meeting.

“This brings up a broader issue with our handicap accessibility,” said vice president Ed Raby.

The board will meet again at 7 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the board room.