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Posted on Mon, Feb 22, 2010 : 11:25 p.m.

Plan to close Houghton and shuffle Saline students draws reaction from large crowd of parents

By Ronald Ahrens

Closing Houghton Elementary School is a certainty, Saline Superintendent Scot Graden said tonight. But how the students will be shuffled among Saline's other schools is still being debated among administrators, parents and staff.

About 125 people turned out at Heritage School for a meeting tonight to express their thoughts about proposals for reconfiguring the district.


Houghton Elementary School will close.

Photo courtesy of Saline schools

Graden told the audience the district faces a $4.2 million budget deficit, forcing the closure of Houghton.

Graden said neighborhood schools are wonderful for students and parents, but are "incredibly inefficient for a district to operate."

A 30-member committee led by retired teacher and administrator Kim Van Hoek, as well as current assistant superintendent Steve Laatsch, produced three options for the reorganization. They include:

1: Harvest and Woodland Meadows schools: K-3 
Pleasant Ridge School: Pre-K and K-3 
Heritage School: Grades 4-5 
Middle School: Grades 6-8

2: Liberty School: Pre-K 
Harvest, Pleasant Ridge and Woodland Meadows: K-4 
Heritage: Grades 5-6 Middle School: Grades 7-8

3: Harvest: Pre-K and K 
Pleasant Ridge, Woodland Meadows and Heritage: Grades 1-5 
Middle School: Grades 6-8

Each plan would keep the extended-day option at every elementary school.

Graden said the committee sought to maintain high-quality instruction, to achieve short- and long-term financial savings and to offer flexible solutions to meet future enrollment trends. And all of these changes must be implemented in the fall.

No single option presents a clear financial advantage over the other, Graden said.

Several audience members attested to the importance of integrating kindergarteners with early elementary students. Others spoke of the necessity of segregating sixth-graders, who are highly subject to peer pressure, from older students.

Parent Tara Clapper drew applause when she said option two appeared to be the least disruptive. Clapper later said her family built a home with an eye toward the children going to Harvest School.

“I find option three is very detrimental to a lot of people after they’ve moved into this neighborhood so that their children can go to Harvest,” she said. “And if they’re just going to be entering Harvest or currently in Harvest, you take them away from there, it’s quite devastating.”

Planning for the eventuality of state-mandated, all-day kindergarten was raised by more than one person who spoke at the forum. Graden called it an “expensive option.”

Another matter to consider is the intangible benefit of keeping a child in the same school for several years, some parents said. One woman said her volunteerism and fund-raising efforts are stymied when her children move from school to school because of reorganizations.

Yet another factor discussed is whether families would leave the district if their children won’t attend the neighborhood school.

“Right now, I know several people who have talked that, because of everything that’s going on, they’re thinking of going to other (districts’) schools,” said Terry Owings as she was leaving the forum.

Paul Bachran moved his family from the Chicago area to Saline in time for the 2009-2010 term. Bachran works for an information technology consulting firm in Maumee, Ohio, and commutes daily. He said his family’s choice of location was based on the reputation of the Saline school district, the neighborhoods around Harvest School and Saline’s proximity to Ann Arbor.

“Let’s save our community schools,” he told the forum, later saying he's opposed to option 3. “We’ve got bigger fish to fry than saving $10,000 to $15,000 on the difference between options.”

Ronald Ahrens is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.



Fri, Feb 26, 2010 : 7:51 p.m.

What is lost in this whole article and all the comments is the pink elephant sitting in the corner. NONE of the school buildings with students (and no teachers would be cut) in them would have to close if Tim Heim and the SEA would take a reasonable hit to pay/pensions and healthcare benefits! Closing these buildings and cutting teachers will raise class size and devastate the kids. Do the teachers give a care about that? No, there care only for themselves. Almost everyone in the private sector has been devastated with cuts and almost none of us have pensions and healthcare paid for after retirement like the SEA union teachers.


Wed, Feb 24, 2010 : 5:24 p.m.

As a fellow local school teacher in another close district if I had the choice I would go with option 1. I have worked in a middle school with 5-8 and it is a good environment for all kids. So, I think that 6-8 in the middle school is ok.


Wed, Feb 24, 2010 : 6:23 a.m.

If using Liberty school is an option, why not make that the 5/6th grade building? That opens up some space for K-4 at the other elementary schools to incorporate Kindergarten. I don't like the idea of blending 6th graders with 7th/8th at the middle school.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 10:49 p.m.

I was at the meeting last night. I heard many comments from Saline area parents about how they feel about the proposed options and feel they asked appropriate questions to better understand the implications of the upcoming changes. All were relevant, honest, and contributed to the goal: to provide feedback to the committee from the parents of the kids that will be directly impacted by the upcoming changes. It is shameful to me that Happy Puppy, BasicBob, SMIAVE & Trixy have decided to focus on the comments of a few and have generalized them onto an entire group, a.k.a. "the Harvest Parents", rather than providing constructive argument. I felt the comments from all at the meeting were focused on the well-being of their kids, on task and helped me to better understand how others in the community felt and I do not agree with the above sentiment. I thought the parents were truly concerned about the impact to their children, regardless of which school they attended or what their income. I happen to agree with the sentiment of keeping the community school feel and is what drew me to the area (no, I am not from Ann Arbor). I feel my child will best be served by staying at Heritage with only 5th & 6th graders, supporting the comments made from Mrs. Gordon. Option 2 is the only option that allows this. However, I also would not support any option that requires increasing class size. Please focus on the issue for the sake of our kids and stop bad-mouthing other parents; it is just not constructive and we must all live with the outcome.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 10:31 p.m.

I think option 2 is best. I just don't feel comfortable putting 6th graders in with 8th graders.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 8:30 p.m.

I think the "private school" comments have been taken out of context. The point is that community schools keep local kids in local schools. If each child is "worth" $7000 from the state (or whatever the amount is), then we need to "compete" to keep kids in our schools. More kids = more funding. The number of Saline kids who go to private/charter Kindergartens in the area is significant. Putting Kindergarten back in neighborhoods (and eliminating bus rides for many) may be desirable enough to some families to keep them in the district for Kindergarten. People have a choice - charter schools are FREE - it's not only about money. It's about offering the options that families are looking for and recognizing that Saline Schools is not the only game in town.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 7:49 p.m.

Lost in all of this conversation about Harvest is the fact that sixth grade would leave Heritage in all the plans except option #2. My child went to Heritage and I was happy that, as a sixth grader, my child was not at the middle school. Option #2 continues to provide that transition period for fifth and sixth grade- a little more independence, an early day, and teaming situations that were not quite elementary, not quite middle school. The 5-6 building seems to meet the needs of this age group well.

Leah Nichols

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 5:44 p.m.

It's disturbing that no one is even mentioning the fact that one of the options completely isolates the youngest students in Saline - the Early On and special ed preschool students - at Liberty School. Who would want their child to be in a school away from all normally developing peers? Why do the most at risk students get the least consideration? As far as the Harvest parents and their apparent feelings of entitlement....I know they are not all like that, but they certainly came off badly. Funny comment overheard today: You'd think they would be happy with their kids further away from WalMart! Ha!


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 5:18 p.m.

I was shocked at the arrogance of the Harvest parents. I have heard that many Saline High School students feel a sense of entitlement and now I know why. All the elementary school in Saline are equally as good and to act as if Harvest is the most desired school is a joke. I am proud to say my children go to Saline Area Schools, but last night I was embarrassed. The other two elementary schools don't want that type of attitude so maybe private schools would be a better choice. Good luck with that!


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 3:34 p.m.

I did not go to the meeting last night, so perhaps this was discussed. But, I thought there was a safety related issue with young students (K and Pre-K ages) in buildings with second floors. I thought that was one of the reasons the district stopped using Union school for kindergarten. Does anyone know if this is the case?

Mom in Town

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 2:21 p.m.

I too was at the meeting last night, and while I can agree the threat of any of the neighborhood schools being moved would bring heated debate from the residents in that neighborhood, I think it was the comments from a few of the Harvest parents that basically said they will just pay their way out of the problem, that got the "rich parents" response. I have a hard time beleiving that Woodland Meadows or Pleasant Ridge parents would think that the threat of pulling their kids out of Saline to go to "private" schools would do any good with the administration and community. I am wondering if the Harvest parents would have a care in the world if it was Pleasant Ridge or Woodland Meadows that was up to be moved. Saline is a DISTRICT and while neighborhood schools are a wonderful thing, I think that as a DISTRICT we need to be looking at what is best for ALL involved. We are the neighborhood of Saline, and as big as we are, our schools are really only a few miles from each other, we should all start acting like it. I personally like option 2 and option 3 just because everyone will get to stay in buildings longer, while providing the services for all of the kids (4-6th included), building that sense of community, but I think the committee has done some hard work and ultimately needs to do what is best for the kids, without worrying about who is "rich enough" to have the loudest voice.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 8:59 a.m.

I was at the meeting last night and disagree that this is about privilege or "rich parents." I would support walkable communities over bussing any day and neighborhood schools have proven to increase sense of place for young people, civic pride, and community involvement. Harvest parents shouldn't be demonized because some of the surrounding neighborhoods are affluent. The same passion would have been exercised by Woodland Meadows or Pleasant Ridge parents if their schools were on the chopping block - regardless of their socioeconomic status.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 7:51 a.m.

After attending last night, option 1 makes the most sense in the long term. It keeps community schools, doesn't overcrowd, and provides flexibility. I know the Harvest parents were concerned, but I took it as they wanted to preserve community schools as their top priority.

C Calleja

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 7:37 a.m.

I am sorry I didnt get to attend the meeting last night and it is also surprising to see how hated the parents at Harvest are. I am a Harvest parent and my only concern with option 2 is that Harvest is full now. Where are they going to put these kindergarteners? Are the class sizes going to increase? The classes are at almost 30 kids now and that is more then enough kids for the teachers. Have you seen all the stuff parents have to do to help out these days? If the class sizes increase the quality of instruction will go down. There will simply not be enough time for the teachers to adequately help each child. That is already currently a problem and how can kids get the help they need when the teachers have no time to spend with each of them at some point throughout the year. If they choose to put kindergarten in Harvest with all the other kids I think that eventually the Saline school districts good name will diminish and it will be just another school district.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 7:04 a.m.

Neighberhood schools "may be" somewhat inefficient, but so is a 500,000 sqft high school with a football field length atrium, bowl stadium and rope course. I guess safety for the small children in city proper falls to the wayside when the mega-mansion citizens rule.

Basic Bob

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 6:29 a.m.

You're right about Harvest parents. They took over the Pittsfield board and now it's all about them. Jet planes over Stonebridge? No problem. Through traffic from Walmart to Campus Drive? No way! We can't have those undesirable Walmart shoppers passing Harvest school.

Happy Puppy

Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 6:14 a.m.

I have always been an advocate of Option 2, but after listening to those entitled Harvest parents last night, I might change to the plan preferred by the Houghton teachers! Basically they said 'Leave my school alone or since we are the richest parents in town, we will pull our kids and take them to private school'. Really - go get out. I think most people there did prefer Option 2, and if the board chooses that great, but I don't want all the Harvest people to think they scared the admin into submission. Honestly - go back to Ann Arbor if you hate it so much here.


Tue, Feb 23, 2010 : 4:20 a.m.

I'm an educator in another district and I chose to live in Saline because of their high-quality schools. Moving children is disruptive, but it does not change the fact that the staff at our schools are doing an outstanding job every day for our kids. It's unfortunate what will have to happen due to budget cuts from the state, but I would rather see a building close, than a quality teacher be lost and have class sizes increase.