Otsego listens to public input
Written by PETER KUEBECK Sentinel Staff Writer
Wednesday, 15 January 2014 11:17
WESTON - From questions about bussing to suggestions for resurrecting after-school programming in the communities, Otsego Local Schools received a lot of feedback Tuesday.
A community forum was held at the Weston Public Library in an effort to build off of a recent survey distributed by the district and craft a strategic plan.
The event was one of four such forums held throughout the district Monday and Tuesday.
"We're not just going to listen and then ignore," said Superintendent Adam Koch, who was joined by elementary principal Betsey Murry and junior high principal Mike Wiley during the meeting.
"We want to be part of one community at Otsego."
While a crowd of 10 showed up to the Weston meeting - events in Haskins and Tontogany on Monday similarly attracted 25 attendees overall - there was not a lack of discussion. Less a formal presentation, the event fostered a conversational dialogue for issues on the minds of the audience.
One of the themes of the night was returning after-school and other programs to the communities that make up the district - something that audience members felt was lacking in the wake of closed community schools and the creation of a centralized campus in Tontogany in recent years.
Some noted the distance and cost of driving back and forth from the communities to Tontogany for events, and proposed a shuttle service in the future for students who would like to participate in activities but live far from the high school.
Receiving what seemed to be universal approval was a proposal for all-day, every-day kindergarten in the district, a topic broached by Koch, and which was voted as one of a series of priorities for strategic planning on one of the surveys.
"It's been a big thing in the community that I've heard," said one woman in the audience. "The people want it."
Proponents said that all-day kindergarten would give greater consistency for children starting school, and could additionally garner greater voter support for Otsego throughout the district.
Koch said that the state would pay for half of the costs of the program, requiring Otsego to pay an additional $150,000 per year, which at least one attendee seemed to feel was a reasonable expense. There are an average of 110 kindergartners in the district each year; there are 85 this year due to shifting age cutoffs.
Koch suggested the possibility of working with village councils and others to form committees, enabling the district to work better with the individual communities and discuss "big ideas at those meetings." It was suggested by audience members that increased involvement of parents, as well as community members who don't have children in the schools, would be desirable.
Koch also responded to a question about bussing, as one attendee expressed concern about reports of students sitting three to a seat. Koch said that he has tried to eliminate that issue, but said "there are challenges" to bussing.
Another attendee voiced approval for propane-fueled busses, which the district purchased and is planning to begin using in the spring. The cost of propane is two-thirds that of diesel fuel.
When asking the audience where the district had made unwise financial choices, one man noted that the district has spent around 10 mills on constructing the new centralized-campus buildings - which took place prior to Koch taking over as superintendent. Koch said, however, that a number of efficiencies have been incorporated into the new buildings, including savings in personnel costs, energy-efficient lighting and other areas.
Koch and his administration garnered praise throughout the meeting for their efforts, and for scheduling meetings in the individual communities, something that attendees said had not been done in a number of years.
Noting the overall positive tenor of the gathering, Koch asked the audience at the close of the event to "go out and share your conversations that you had," in an effort to further dialogue in the district.