Library contract dominates talks at Hancock schools

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette During discussions of the operating agreement between the Hancock School Library and the Portage Lake District Library, Superintendent Chris Salani offered the pros and cons of the costs. Essentially, the district cannot afford the agreement, but there is no way the district could provide the library the services internally that PLDL does.

HANCOCK — The Hancock School Board, while not taking immediate action, had a lengthy discussion regarding a joint venture agreement with the Portage Lake District Library, with some added amendments.

Included in the amendment is the term of the agreements would take effect in July, for a period of two years, rather than for three years as was originally proposed by PLDL. In addition, the contract is for less money than it had been previously.

The district is facing several fiscal challenges currently, and while PLDL would like the agreement signed as soon as possible, Superintendent Chris Salani said the district will not have a clear understanding of the school’s 2024-25 budget until at least the end of May.

Salani pointed out that Lamers Bus Lines is stipulating contract increases, while insurance costs are slated for increase, and funding in other areas is ending, which all combine to predict that the district will operate in the red next year.

“So, not knowing, until the end of May at the soonest, where our funding is going to be for the next year,” Salani said, “we’re going to have to make our best guestimates if we just maintain our current enrollment level. We’re looking at potentially going into next year with 500 K ($500,000) not being there.” Grant money identification is starting to come into the district, he added.

While the Board agreed on the importance of the agreement, the main concern was over whether the school district could afford it. Trustees Wendy Chynoweth and Taylor Paul both expressed the opinion that they would abide by Salani’s recommendation.

Salani responded, saying that a bill currently before the state Senate that, if passed, would require all school districts in Michigan to have a certified librarian on staff.

Introduced in March by state Sens. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) and Rosemary Bayer (D-West Bloomfield), Senate Bills 741, 742 and 743 came before the Senate Education Committee.

The bills would amend the Revised School Code to require each public school and public school academy in the state to create and administer a school library, if it did not have one already, by the 2025-26 school year. Generally, a school library would have to participate in an inter-library loan system and serve as a learning, reading and community center, services already provided to the Hancock School Library by PLDL.

School districts and PSAs would have to ensure that pupils, teachers and community members, as deemed appropriate, had efficient and equitable access to library resources.

The bills also would require a school district or PSA to employ a certified school librarian for each school library, beginning with the 2024-25 school year. A school with fewer than 300 pupils would have to employ at least one half-time certified school librarian; a school with between 300 and 1,499 pupils at least one full-time certified school librarian; and a school with 1,500 or more pupils, at least two full-time certified school librarians. A school could apply to the Michigan Department of Education to waive these requirements. If a school with fewer than 51 pupils applied, the MDE would have to waive this requirement.

The Michigan Legislature website (https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2023-2024/billanalysis/Senate/htm/2023-SFA-0741-G.htm) states that the bills would have an indeterminate, though likely negative, fiscal impact on the state and would have a negative fiscal impact on local government, in this case districts, PSAs, and intermediate school districts. The statewide costs to these local government units could be as high as $403.7 million per year, with additional startup costs, though would likely be lower for reasons explained in the full Fiscal Impact.

“This is the first we’ve seen of it,” said Salani, adding that he mentioned it to let the Board be aware that the bills are being strongly considered. However, when considering the proposed costs of the PLDL agreement, also of consideration is how the partnership could be managed.

“I think, temperature-wise, we’re still in a position that the services we’re receiving right now we cannot do internally without cutting time and services,” Salani said.

That brings up more questions, he added. Does the district want to reduce the scale of services? Does that fit within the PLDL model, or can it fit within the model? And first and foremost, would that impact the district’s students and staff?

Board President Catherine Jordan said that budget-wise, if the district can make it happen, she would like to see the library partnership continue.

“I think it’s great for our community and great for our students,” said Board Vice President Michael Lancour. “I’d hate to see it disappear, but at the end of the day, as long as we can afford it, I’d like to go for it.”

“I do believe in the partnership,” Salani said, “because we can’t program ourselves like we can with PLDL. That’s unequivical. That’s the pure finances of it.”


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