Parents Raise Objections to School Redistricting Proposal

Tuesday, November 13, 2018, 7:28 am
Karessa Wheeler

Parents from Pinecrest and Glencairn elementary schools filled the East Lansing Board of Education meeting room last night to speak out against plans to change where their children attend elementary school.

Superintendent Dori Leyko is proposing to keep 70 students who currently attend Glencairn Elementary School at Red Cedar Elementary School after the rest of the students move back to Glencairn next fall. Currently the full population of Glencairn is being housed in Red Cedar while Glencairn is being rebuilt.

In addition, she proposes moving 58 students from Pinecrest Elementary into Glencairn next fall. The rest of Pinecrest’s student body is moving into Red Cedar for the 2019-2020 school year as their school is torn down and rebuilt.

Current fourth graders would be “grandfathered in” with their current population and be provided transportation to remain with their peers. Other families wishing to remain with their current schools would be given priority status through the District’s “permeable boundary” request process.

Monday was the first of two chances for the public to address the redistricting proposal before the Board votes on it December 10. Comments can also be made at the Nov. 26 Board meeting, or through letters or emails to the Board.

For many of the speakers, the main concern was that a large portion of the students staying at Red Cedar are international students who have spent the past year getting to know their classmates and teachers, only to be separated from them next year.

Kim Steed-Page is coordinator of the MSU Student Parent Resource Center and the mother of a Glencairn kindergartener. She noted that many of the students impacted are non-native English speakers and their language education could be disrupted. She asked the Board to delay their decision on redistricting until they can form “a more realistic plan of action.”

Victoria Solomon lives near Red Cedar Elementary but believes keeping her children at the nearby building will cost so much in emotional and academic upheaval as to outweigh any benefits. She fears that because Red Cedar is acting as a “swing school” for other elementaries as they are rebuilt, that her son, a second grader, would study under three to four different administrations before moving onto middle school.

“This will make us feel like outsiders even at our own school,” Solomon said.

Solomon and others suggested the Board repurpose Red Cedar as a magnet school after it finished being a swing school in order for parents to select it specifically for its programming. She also suggested that Pinecrest Elementary could move into the newly rebuilt Glencairn building for the 2019-2020 year, allowing Glencairn students to remain together at Red Cedar for an additional year.

Ariesti Karmila is a pediatrician and an international doctoral student who spent a great deal of time researching the best schools for her children to attend while she pursued her education.

“For us, moving here is just a temporary time but for our children it is a significant time,” Karmila said. “We chose MSU not just for MSU but also for East Lansing. We were told by friends that East Lansing is a great place for international student parents to pursue our degrees and raise our children. As a mother and as pediatrician, I feel our children will be negatively impacted.”

Glencairn PTO President Karin Polischuk said she has yet to find a single parent who wants their child(ren) to stay behind in Red Cedar when the rest of the children move back to Glencairn.

“Transition is not moving to a new building. It is moving to new people,” she said.

From the Pinecrest perspective, parents living near the current school object to having to walk down the heavily-trafficked Harrison Road along narrow sidewalks prone to flooding and over the pedestrian bridge on Saginaw Road when their school sits within their neighborhood.

John Morse, father of three, asked the Board to reconsider making his road, Woodingham Drive, part of the Glencairn school district. He wants his children to be able to attend Pinecrest. His comments were echoed by several of his neighbors.

“Woodingham Drive is part of the Pinecrest neighborhood. We have it on our street signs,” said Stephanie Beeler. “This shift will make it so we won’t be able to walk to school. We will be driving to school every day which is very disappointing.”

Some suggested that instead of redistricting kids from within the Pinecrest neighborhood, the Board should consider the students who are currently bussed from west of Coolidge Road into Pinecrest.

Two boardmembers – Nell Kuhnmuench and Erin Graham – said they would be open to looking into the demographics west of Coolidge to see if those students could be moved to Glencairn instead.

Trustee Nichole Martin said she would be interested in looking into whether Red Cedar could be a magnet school not subject to district boundaries and she also is considering whether the administration should decide on programming at Red Cedar before making the decision as to a student population.

Currently, the administration is scheduled to begin discussions about what type of programming will be held at Red Cedar in January with a decision to come before the Board in June. However, the programming would not begin until the fall of 2021.

Trustee Karen Hoene asked parents to consider the long-term health of the entire District and to remember that these schools are being built to last 30-40 years.

“A solution that passes the buck to another group isn’t necessarily a viable solution,” she said. “There are no ideal solutions right now.”

Kuhnmuench and Graham also reminded parents that the District is bound by the wording of the bond proposal which promised five new schools in their current locations with the same sizes plus an early childhood center at Red Cedar.

Trustee Hillary Henderson believes it is fair for the parents to know what kind of programming will be offered at Red Cedar when it completes its role as a swing school. She suggested waiting to decide the new boundaries until more information was available on programming.

Trustee Terah Chambers has not yet made up her mind about Leyko’s proposal but is trying to weigh all the factors. She suggested that one option is to commit to housing the Marble population at Donley during its school rebuild, removing one cycle of “swing school” status for Red Cedar.

Donley is the only elementary school where there was enough room to build the new school before tearing down the old one.

Leyko has said she also wants to evaluate the success of having two school populations on one site next year when Whitehills is housed in the old Donley building while the new building is in use before committing to having Marble occupy the old building the following year.

Hoene agreed that would be helpful to the future Red Cedar students.

“If there is any chance we can move ahead with that decision so they will really, truly know there would only be one year of the unknown and then it would be a true Red Cedar school that would meet everyone’s needs,” Hoene said, “I think the pros of putting Marble at Donley would outweigh the cons.”

Leyko said she would take time before the next Board meeting to look into the issues of housing Marble at Donley.

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