Today, the batch of questions we have pulled from our mailbag combine two of my favorite recording beats: Ask ELi to Investigate and the East Lansing Public Schools. District schools have been back fully in-person for over a month now, after a year and a half of offering first only remote learning and then the option of either remote or in-person learning.
Are some classrooms smaller than before? Are there enough bus drivers? What’s happening with the leftover bond money? Is construction coming to Burcham Drive?
We bring answers to these reader questions! Just a reminder: If you have a question that you would like ELi to investigate, you can submit it here.
How many kindergarten classes are at Marble? What is the average kindergarten class size there? Are the classrooms actually smaller than they were in the old Marble building? What support do the classroom teachers have in terms of aides, interns, paraprofessionals, and volunteers?
At a meeting of the ELPS Board of Education on Sept. 13, a parent expressed frustration over the number of kindergarteners in seemingly smaller classrooms at Marble Elementary School. We followed up with Superintendent Dori Leyko to find out more.
“There are two kindergarten classes at Marble – same with Glencairn, Donley, Robert L. Green and Whitehills,” wrote Leyko to ELi. “Red Cedar has one kindergarten classroom and two Young Fives classrooms.”
The kindergarten classes at Marble are at the top end for size among the districts’ elementary schools, according to the data Leyko provided:
- Donley: 25, 25
- Glencairn: 20, 21
- Marble: 25, 26
- Red Cedar: 22 + Young Fives: 15, 16
- Robert L. Green: 24, 25
- Whitehills: 22,22
And yes, the classroom sizes in Marble’s new building are smaller than those in the old building.
“Classrooms in the old building were of various sizes. Kindergarten classrooms across the district were of various sizes, probably none as large as the two [former] Marble spaces,” wrote Leyko. “They are now equally sized across the district. We had square footage limits with the new construction and worked with our architects to design classroom spaces.”
But the classrooms for students in kindergarten through second grade are larger than those for students in grades three through five.
At the Sept. 13 meeting, the parent also expressed concern that teachers have less in-classroom support in comparison to previous years due to the pandemic.
Addressing this, Leyko said that some elementary buildings may have interns. Additionally, paraprofessionals are allowed in the classroom to assist specific students with individualized education programs (IEPs) or certain medical needs.
Unlike in previous years, however, the district isn’t “currently allowing in volunteers in order to limit COVID exposure – we’ll revisit this practice when transmission rates significantly decrease or when the vaccine is available to our students under age 12,” said Leyko.
The shortage of school bus drivers is a national issue, and it has affected ELPS. Have bus routes and pick-up and drop-off times changed? What is being done to solve any issues that may have come up?
“We run 12 routes each morning and afternoon, and we are typically short 1-2 bus drivers each day,” wrote Leyko to ELi in September, when ELi first became aware of the issue. “We have not had to suspend or cancel any routes.”
ELPS contracts with Dean Transportation to run its bus routes, and ELi confirmed with Dean that it is currently hiring new drivers to try to fill their ranks. Dean Transportation told ELi that about half of the drivers are subs. Dean is training new drivers, but the program takes about four to six weeks.
In the meantime, the district has had to troubleshoot since there are fewer drivers.
“So far, we’ve had to problem-solve by having some drivers complete their regular routes and then circle back to run an uncovered route or a portion of an uncovered route,” said Leyko. “We split routes when possible to minimize the lateness of the pickup time. Robocalls go out to impacted families as soon as possible.”
The district has also met with CATA, the local public bus system, to discuss the possibility of providing bus passes to some students who could easily travel to school on a CATA route.
ELi also contacted Dean Transportation to ask what that company is doing on their end to recruit more drivers. According to Dean’s Courtney Bollman, Dean has highlighted its need for workers on social media, local TV and radio, and through communications to parents in the district. Dean is also holding job fairs.
According to Bollman, starting pay for new drivers goes up to $21 per hour, and qualified applicants will receive a $750 sign-on bonus. For those who need to earn a CDL (commercial driver’s license), training is paid.
Bollman also said other benefits, such as a 401K, may be included.
At the Sept. 27 School Board meeting, Leyko said that remaining money from the bond fund to rebuild and renovate the elementary schools could be used to create outdoor learning spaces. So, how much money did the bond measure generate for the district? How much is left in the fund? How else could it be used?
The bond was approved for $93.77M, and according to ELPS Finance Director Richard
Pugh, about $3M remains.
The remaining funds must be used in a way that meets fits within the parameters set in the original bond language. (You can see the original language here.) Additionally, according to Pugh, the $3M could be used to pay principal and interest on the bond.
Isn’t there road construction planned by the City of East Lansing on Burcham Drive, near the schools?
A reader asked what this project entails, remembering that a major rework of Burcham Drive was planned.
According to Interim Director of the Department of Public Works Nicole McPherson, “The Burcham Drive improvement project is an MDOT LAP (Local Agency Programs) project and it is scheduled for Fiscal Year 2022, with a spring 2022 start date.”
“Pedestrian islands and sidewalks will also be installed, associated with Safe Routes to School and MDOT TAP (Transportation Alternatives Program) grants,” she said.
The construction will run from Abbot Road on the west side to Timberlane Drive in the east, meaning construction will occur near East Lansing High School, Marble Elementary School, and MacDonald Middle School. At an Aug. 4 meeting of the City’s Transportation Commission, McPherson suggested the City may get in touch with East Lansing High School to provide some information to students, many of whom may be new drivers navigating the construction.
The ELPS School Board will meet on Monday, Oct. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Board Room, located on the first floor of ELHS.
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