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School board grapples with early college program offer

Someone once said democracy is an ongoing argument. It was on display at the Wayland Board of Education meeting Monday night when members engaged in a candid exchange of different opinions about another offer for the local school district to join an early college program.

The program, coordinated by the Allegan Area Educational Services Agency through Lake Michigan College, permits juniors, senior and even 13th-year students to attend college-level classes with credit at the Allegan Vocational Technical Center on M-222.

Wayland turned down the offer to participate three years ago, citing financial concerns, and they were front and center of the discussion Monday night.

Board Treasurer Toni Ordway made it clear she understands the value of the three-year academic program, but has serious reservations about its cost to the local district.

“It has the potential to cost us a lot of money,” she maintained, noting a bus for up to 10 students from Wayland would carry a price tag of as much as $30,000 in a year.

“We’re already involved in dual enrollment,” she added. “This will add to our costs. I have a hard time with us spending the money.”

Vice President Pete Zondervan said he is uncomfortable that LMC’s main campus is so far away, based in Benton Harbor, but he was told these classes all would take place at the Allegan Vo-Tech Center.

Superintendent Norm Taylor said Wayland schools would have to split the state aid payments for students enrolled.

Ordway asked Finance Director Pat Velie to present a cost analysis to the board at a meeting later this winter.

Taylor acknowledged that all six other school districts in the AAESA region are participating and the retention rate has been good.

“I think it’s been working pretty well, especially because of that high retention rate,” the superintendent said.

Trustee Cinnamon Mellema expressed support for early college and reiterated her belief in the value of helping students gain valuable experience in technology and jobs of the future.

“I look at this as an opportunity to give students a head start,” she said.

Addressing the contention that it might hurt Wayland financially, Mellema pointed to the positive news Velie presented earlier in the evening about coming very close to meeting the fund balance goal two years earlier than projected.

“We’re way ahead of our (fund balance) target,” she asserted. “So why can’t we invest in our students? We’re supposed to educate our kids and we have the finances to do this.”

Zondervan said he hasn’t heard about how local students feel about the offer.

Taylor said when the Wayland board first considered the early college program offer three years ago, “There was a lot of interest in 2014-15. I am sure we would have filled our allotted 10 slots.”

It was agreed no action would be taken until after Velie presents a cost analysis.

Students enrolled in this program can graduate high school with an associate’s degree. About 50 students, perhaps as many as 10 students in Wayland, would be eligible to participate.

Taykor three years ago estimated the total cost to teh local district would be about $100,000 over three years. He added then about $46,000 was being spent for almost two dozen students to take between three and 12 credits, particularly in advanced placement calculus, but three years ago that cost was peaking.

The ECAC program extends high school by one year, allowing students to graduate with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree, or LMC credits that can be transferred to a four-year university. It is a three-year plan where students take a mix of high school courses and college courses each year of 11th, 12th and 13th year.

ECAC students must apply; selection is based on GPA and test scores and recommendations. Each student and his/her family will also be interviewed by the ECAC Advisory Team.

Students must apply during their 10th grade year. Each year, 50 students from across the Allegan Area ESA will be accepted into the program.

1 Comment

  • You hear it everyday… education is important ..if that is a true statement. How do we measure it’s importance ?
    Seems it is measured in dollars…you vote to build the latest in school architecture, build sports programs and facilities, all in the name of education.
    When it comes to possibly giving some a chance to get ahead start into college… Now we really have to closely examine the budget.
    Do we as voters in school districts really vote to increase our school tax for education. Or is it a competition for a larger building, better sports complex, etc than neighbouring districts??
    Don’t know about you but…I was hoping my dollars were to benefit a young person get further in life thru education … guess I must be wrong

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