Andrew Ranzenberger is a member of the Mt. Pleasant High School ski team.
The experience of my own family, school choice and the Mt. Pleasant Public Schools illustrates the extreme difficulty the school board faces as budgets get tight.
I have three children in Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. They are in Mt. Pleasant schools because of school choice.
We actually live in the Chippewa Hills school district, but our decision to send the kids to Mt. Pleasant began a number of years ago because Mt. Pleasant offered something that Chippewa Hills did not: The Oilers have a ski team.
At the end of sixth grade, the time came to decide where my son Andrew would go to junior high school. We wanted to find the best fit, and we looked at Chip Hills, Beal City, Morey Charter School and Mt. Pleasant’s West Intermediate.
A variety of factors entered into the decision. Academics at all those schools are comparable, so it came down to the atmosphere of the schools, convenience and extracurricular activities.
My son, Andrew, has always been an avid skier. At the end of the day, the choice was made to attend West – because in two years, he could join the Mt. Pleasant High School ski team.
That’s what happened. He’s spent three years as a J.V. skier, honing his skills and learning from a top-notch coach. He’s got the fire in the belly to make varsity this year.
That’s what happens when high school athletics works the way it’s supposed to: Students learn teamwork, follow good role models, set goals and work hard to achieve them. It’s carried over to his academics; he’s being recruited – not as an athlete, but as a scholar – by several dozen universities, from Michigan Tech to Marquette to NYU and the University of Chicago.
I give a lot of the credit for his mind-set to his coach, who sets the bar high and helps his student-athletes achieve what he demands of them.
Then I read this in today’s Sun:
"I think it's extravagant to have buses taking students to Cadillac to practice skiing and we're talking about not filling superintendent and principal positions," Trustee Rita Doneth said. "It's wonderful that we have a ski team, but we don't have a mountain. It's got to be tight and got to be lean."
That bus to practice in Cadillac actually happened only once or twice, because the local hill – Snow Snake – didn’t have enough snow because of last winter’s weird weather.
But is a ski team really extravagant? I did some figuring. Choice students really don’t increase the district’s costs – it costs just about the same to educate a class of 24 as a class of 23. The choice kid just brings in an additional state foundation grant.
Andrew will spend six years as a Mt. Pleasant Public Schools student under school choice. Figure an average of $6,800 a year times six years, and he’s brought in about $40,800 in additional income.
Then consider this: He has two siblings. Katherine, two years younger than Andrew didn’t even want to consider any other school after sixth grade. She saw her brother’s experience in Mt. Pleasant and never considered becoming anything but an Oiler.
There’s another $40,800.
The same year Katherine went to West, youngest brother Robert started fifth grade at Mary McGuire school. That’s eight years in the Mt. Pleasant system; $54,400.
Katherine and Robert both found their passions in music. It works the same way as athletics: The standards are high, the support is great, the academic motivation is strong.
From 2002-03, when Andrew started at West, to 2011-12, when Robert will graduate, the presence of this one family will have produced $136,000 in income the Mt. Pleasant schools would not otherwise have had. That averages out to $13,600 a year in additional income to the school district.
That would appear to be enough to pay a big chunk of a teacher’s health benefit for 10 years.
This family is there because of the ski team. Extravagant? Or critical investment in paying for everyone's quality education?