GALIEN — The Galien school district will be open for business after the first of the year, but it's going to be a leaner operation than perhaps some parents would like.
Galien School Board members voted Monday night to recall some of the district's teaching and support staff in order to continue to hold classes after the Christmas break. Board members had voted at the end of November to lay off nearly the entire staff and suspend classes for students after the Christmas break.
Board members recalled seven of 10 teachers and six of 10 support staff. Still laid off are two of the district's five kindergarten through eighth-grade teachers and one of two alternative education teachers. Three bus drivers and one paraprofessional also remain laid off.
Board members had said last week they were ending the alternative education program, which would have forced those students to find another program to attend. The nearest such programs in the south and central county are in Berrien Springs, Brandywine and Niles.
Board members decided not to restore busing in their efforts to cut costs. They have put one school bus up for sale and are keeping just the bus driver who picks up special education students.
The new K-8 class configuration will have kindergartners and first-graders together in one classroom, the second-, third- and fourth-graders together in another classroom, and the fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders all together in a third classroom.
Superintendent Tim Allard said he's still not sure of how big the K-8 classes will be but expects that class size in each class could be around 30 or so students given that 90 students total were enrolled this fall in those grades.
That wasn't sitting too well with one parent. Kristin Baker is a 1999 graduate of Galien High School and has a kindergartner going to school in Galien.
"I feel like I've been put in a very difficult situation," she said. "I have loyalty to the school but I have more loyalty to my child. If she was older, I wouldn't even think about it; I would be pulling her and taking her to another school district."
"I've heard many parents talk about the small class size here and how the teachers helped their children who had learning disabilities, but I have to ask myself is this school worth saving," she said. "Is this the education we're proud of? The teachers here are amazing, but can they teach at their best when there's a bigger class?"
Board President Anne Goodenough acknowledged that board members don't like having to increase class size. "It's been a big struggle for us along with keeping the school open," she said.
"We do really realize how difficult it will be to have multi-grade levels in a room but we do have paraprofessionals to help and have quite a few others willing to help," she said. "I know it's very, very hard for you and it is for us but the alternative was to close the whole school."
Allard said after the meeting that the board has acted so that the school can stay open. "We've put the choice back in the hands of parents to decide where they want their children to go to school," he said.
Allard told the two dozen or so people in attendance that the board's goal is to make it not only through this school year but also to be able to continue to offer classes in the 2012-13 school year as well.
Depleted finances as well as the miscounting of students during the 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 years had forced board members to consider closing down the district at the end of December. They and Allard have been working in the last few weeks to find a way to keep the doors open past New Year's.
He said the latest figures provided by the Michigan Department of Education has the district owing the state $462,000 for the state aid received during those years for unaccounted-for students. He said state officials appear to be willing to work with the district to help it have the cash flow needed to operate.
He said the district is submitting a deficit elimination plan to the state Wednesday that will show the district ending the 2011-12 school year with a $1,500 surplus. The board is also looking at borrowing up to $150,000 against next year's non-homestead tax collection to also help keep it operating, he said.