Farmington school board approves 3-year contract with teachers

Farmington Public Schools officials on Tuesday unanimously approved a 3-year contract with the Farmington Education Association (FEA) that adds no additional dollars to the current pay scale but helps bridge the gap between lower and higher paid teachers.

Kathy Smith, Executive Director of Human Resources, said the district and FEA have worked on the new contract for more than a year.

Smith shared highlights from the new contract, which continues through the end of the 2018-2019 school year:

  • Extends the pay scale, which slows the growth of salary costs by 30 percent each year
  • Supports a balanced budget and maintains the school board’s target of a 10 percent fund balance
  • This year and next year, incremental increases for lower paid teachers
  • Continues an insurance advisory committee that will recommend changes to control health care costs
  • Adds merit pay components that link compensation with performance evaluations

In addition, the district will establish a joint committee focused on recruitment and retention of students, Smith said.

“I’m pleased that we’ve reached a tentative agreement,” board member Terri Weems said. While she has concerns about the contract’s financial implications, she said, “I recognize, and everyone at this table recognizes, the importance of valuing our teachers.”

Board member Jim Stark appreciated the emphasis on recruiting and retaining students. “That’s direct money. If we keep kids in the district, that’s money we don’t have to beg for or apply for… it just comes to us through enrollment.”

“What I see for this district moving forward is exciting,” board president Jessica Cummings said.

Farmington considers new rules to stop downtown parking “shuffle”

Farmington city council members took a look Monday at new rules designed to penalize people who skirt downtown parking time limits.

While officials agree the problem exists, some feel amending the parking ordinance may create some unintended consequences.

Forwarded by the Parking Advisory Committee, the proposals would prohibit moving vehicles from one space to another and removing chalk marks applied by parking enforcement officers.

“Car shuffling” happens in lots north and south of Grand River, Public Safety Director Frank Demers said. “Our previous parking enforcement officer and our new officer have reported it’s a very common event.”

Further, he said, the officers identified “shufflers” and those removed chalk marks as employees of downtown businesses. Council member Greg Cowley, who owns a downtown restaurant, confirmed those observations.

“It’s the same employees and the same businesses,” he said. “My employees walk and see them every day. For me, it’s become a management issue.”

While Cowley wanted to see violators pay a $25 penalty for the new infractions on top of a $25 ticket, council member Sara Bowman disagreed. She said the proposed new rules would also affect a customer visiting a business on the north side of Grand River in the morning and the south side in the afternoon.

“If we really are talking about this being an employee issue, I’m not on board,” she said. Bowman suggested more employee education and posting better signs and a map that shows timed and untimed lots.

Mayor Pro Tem Steven Schneemann agreed with Bowman.

“My experience has been that the more attractive and desireable a place is, the more Draconian the parking rules can be,” he said. “I don’t want to become so overbearing that people start to say, ‘I don’t want to go to Farmington.’.”

Schneemann also saw a difference between someone shuffling a vehicle between lots and deliberately erasing a chalk mark placed by an officer.

“I think we shouldn’t be surprised that no matter what legislation we put forth, people are going to try to find a way around it,” he said.

City administration will present a revised draft of the new ordinances at a future council meeting.

Family still hoping to #finddani; new photos, video released

After more than seven weeks, the disappearance of Danielle Stislicki remains an unsolved mystery, one gaining attention across the country.

Danielle Stislicki has been missing since December 2.
Danielle Stislicki has been missing since December 2.

The 28-year-old Farmington Hills resident failed to show up for a December 2 dinner with a long-time friend, who found Danielle’s vehicle the next day in the lot near her Independence Green Apartments.

Farmington Hills Police Chief Chuck Nebus announced last month that investigators believe Danielle is a crime victim. Police have also searched a home in Berkely but released very little information, citing the need to protect their investigation.

On Friday, the case was featured on “Crime Watch Daily with Chris Hansen,” a one-hour daily crime show broadcast in syndication and on youtube.com.

Family members managing a website and Facebook page to raise awareness have posted new photos and a video of Danielle and flyers distributed across the country have been translated into several languages.

Police are still looking for:

  • Anyone who may have seen Danielle and/or her vehicle on December 2 in the vicinity of the Met Life office building or parking lot on Telegraph Road, north of 10 Mile, in Southfield.
  • Anyone who may have seen Danielle and/or her 2015 Jeep Renegade, Michigan license plate DGH 8957, near Lincoln Court in the Independence Green Apartment Complex between 5 p.m. on December 2 and 6 p.m. on December 3.
  • Anyone who may have seen or found a Samsung Galaxy Core Prime cell phone in a rose colored case and a key chain with a charm and two keys.

If you have information, call Farmington Hills Police, 248-871-2610.

School officials stand pat on STEAM school sibling preference

Farmington school board members on Tuesday left sibling preference in place for the district’s new STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) school, which still doesn’t have a name.

Located in the former Dunckel Middle School building on 12 Mile Road, the STEAM school expands the current Highmeadow Common Campus program from grades K-5 to K-8. Highmeadow is the district’s only school of choice, populated through an annual lottery. Siblings are given preference at that school, and they will be at the new building, for now.

After vocal opposition from parents, board members last month voted down a School of Choice Options committee recommendation.

“We think we learned our lesson in December,” Superintendent Dr. George Heitsch said Tuesday. “We’re giving you all three options, and we’ll leave it to you.”

The three options included sibling preference only if spots remained after all other interested students had been placed (voted down in December), eliminating sibling preference with the class of 2030, and Highmeadow’s current process, which places siblings first and reduces the number of open slots.

Board member David Turner asked Highmeadow principal Dr. Dyanne Sanders whether the school has had any trouble placing siblings. While there are sometimes issues – particularly in upper grades – she said, “somehow before the school year starts, we’ve been able to work it out.”

If the current practice is working, board member Jim Stark wondered, why did the committee recommend a different option? Aaron Johnson, Assistant Superintendent of K-12 Instructional Services, said some committee members wanted to open the STEAM school opportunity to more students across the district.

“I do see a value in making sure that siblings can be with their family,” board member Terry Johnson said. “However, I am concerned that it’s not fair to the others. My biggest concern is I don’t want anyone to have an advantage one way or another just because they have multiple children.”

Sanders said parents may choose to not enroll their children in the STEAM school without a guarantee that siblings would also attend.

Board president Jessica Cummings said two options would leave families not knowing whether all of their children would attend the same school.

“Our focus has been as a district to support our neighborhood schools as places where families can send their children,” she said. “Families feel like it’s home. I cannot conclude that there’s a perfect option.”

She added that by leaving the lottery as it is, officials could later revisit the issue.

Officials voted on the motions in order; option 2 carried with board members Johnson, Turner, and Angie Smith opposing, and Cummings, Stark, Terri Weems, and Mark Przeslawski in favor.

MDOT gets okay to work nights, weekends on 2017 Grand River project

A major road project that will stretch along Grand River through downtown Farmington should move a little more quickly now that city officials have agreed to allow work during nights and weekends.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will mill and resurface Grand River from Sinacola to Purdue Street, reducing portions of the road from four lanes to three, adding parking spaces east of Grove Street and a bike lane between Shiawassee and Farmington Road. The project also includes concrete repairs, installation of signals, and bringing sidewalk ramps up to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.

In a memo, traffic operations engineer Courtney DeFauw said MDOT is “trying to minimize the overall impacts to the downtown Farmington area” by limiting lane closures to off-peak hours and working around special events.

The project will move east in four stages:

  • Sinacola Street (near Sellers Buick GMC) to Shiawassee Street
  • Shiawassee to Farmington Road
  • Farmington Road to Grove Street
  • Grove Street to Purdue Street (east of West River shopping center)

MDOT expects “minimal” night paving in the residential area between Shiawassee and Farmington Road. In addition, DeFauw wrote, the contractor will use static rolling, which reduces noise.

While multiple lane closures will affect all segments, MDOT will restrict work during Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends. All sidewalk ramps from Shiawassee to Power Road will remain open to pedestrian traffic for the Memorial Day parade in May and Art on the Grand in June. MDOT plans to remove traffic controls between Farmington Road to Grove Street during the annual art festival.

Lane closures near downtown will also be limited during the Founders Festival in July and the Harvest Moon festival in September.

City officials pointed out the need to ensure that information about the wide-ranging project spreads throughout the community.

“I think all the residents need to be notified about what’s coming up this summer,” council member Steven Schneemann said. He suggested a message included with city water bills. “Communication is really important to make sure that people aren’t blindsided by this, and they know that everything is still open for business and Grand River will remain passable during that time.”

Council member Sara Bowman said it’s important to remember the outcome, despite the inconvenience.

“This is a really cool project. It’s adding that bike lane. It’s adding some parking aspects, and it’s necessary,” she said.

While no firm dates have been announced, bid letting information in a meeting agenda posted on the State of Michigan website indicates the project may begin in mid-April.

Hills resident goes mad for ‘mod’

Long-time Farmington Hills resident Andy Schulist has turned his love for all things 1960s into a new business located in the Old Winery building on Grand River in Farmington.

Schulist said he opened Mad 4 Mod because he had filled his 1960s-era home, from the basement to the garage, with items he has collected over the past seven or eight years.

“It started as a hobby, and then my house got overtaken,” he said.

Items in the store range in price from $10 or $20 to $5,000 and include furniture from a number of designers who got their start as students at Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills. Furnishings are artfully arranged; one living room set sits on a thick shag rug in shades of brown.

Schulist said he has found items at estate and garage sales, thrift stores, auctions, all around the area. Often, people just want to get rid of things and have no idea of their value.

“You don’t know where you’re going to find the next pick,” he said.

Along with furniture, Schulist has smaller items like lamps, dishes, and even some ephemera. He has picked up shopping bags from Hudson’s and other Detroit stores, and even has a menu from The Family Buggy restaurant once located on Orchard Lake Road in Farmington Hills.

Schulist said along with selling, he’s willing to purchase items. The business is not for the impatient, he added. “Some of the stuff sells right away, but you also have to be willing to sit on it for a while.”

Mad 4 Mod is located at 31505 Grand River, Unit 2. The entrance is tucked into a corner on the south side of the building. Learn more at facebook.com/AndysMad4Mod/, mad4mod.space, or call 248-514-5858.

Farmington council to staff: Get tougher on persistent code violations

Farmington officials on Monday gave city staff members a clear directive: Get tougher on business owners who leave buildings vacant and unkempt.

The discussion started last month when mayor Bill Galvin complained about the former Hershey’s Ice Cream store on Farmington Road, vacant for several years. The owner of an adjacent restaurant leased the space in order to expand, but has not pulled permits to begin necessary renovations, Economic and Community Development Director Kevin Christiansen said.

Meanwhile, the store’s dust-covered windows have long exposed a space littered with equipment and other items. Christiansen said the city has begun court proceedings to force code compliance, but council member Greg Cowley said the case has lingered far too long.

“We cannot sit for another summer and watch the garbage pile up,” he said.

Cowley complained that customers who sit on the patio of his family’s restaurant on Grand River have a clear view of the building and ask him what is wrong with Farmington. He said the city has a “fiduciary duty” to protect the value of the central business district.

“I’m looking for a little tougher code enforcement,” he added.

City manager David Murphy said Farmington has only eight “problem children” among its hundreds of business properties.

“That is fantastic,” he said. “I think you have more tools than most municipalities do.”

Anticipating problems with the economic downturn, the city in 2009 beefed up its zoning ordinances. Tools available include a property maintenance code and ordinances that address vacant buildings and blight.

Murphy said code enforcement officer John Koncsol works with business owners, even those the city has sued, to clean up properties, but there’s nothing the city – or any municipality – can do to force owners to fill vacant properties.

City attorney Thomas Schultz said district court judges want to see a long record of efforts to work with businesses before taking them to court. And council member Sara Bowman said she didn’t want Farmington to become known as a city that “strong arms” tenants.

Council member Steven Schneemann suggested a different approach, one he believes would have business owners beating a path to the doors of those vacant buildings.

“I think we need to make our community vibrant and attractive and businesses will want to locate here,” he said.

School teams battle for a good cause tonight

Harrison High School will host the 12th Annual Battle of the Middles Charity Basketball Game, which tips off at 6:30 p.m. on December 9.

Staffs of Warner Middle School and District Administration will take the court against the staffs of Power Middle School and East Middle School to raise funds for Farmington Area Goodfellows. Cash proceeds and donations of toys and canned goods will go directly to Farmington area families in need.

Last year’s game raised more than $9,346 and helped more than 200 Farmington area families. Over the past decade, the Battle of the Middles has helped raise more than $57,577 and collected countless canned goods and toys for the two charities. This year’s goal is $10,000.

The Farmington Area Goodfellows collects and delivers food and toys to ensure that no child or senior in Farmington or Farmington Hills goes without a Christmas. Neighborhood House, supported by the Goodfellows, operates year-round to help local families and individuals in need.

Doors open at 5:45 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students, or $1 with two or more canned goods and free with a new unwrapped toy.

Farmington school board talks STEAM school name, lottery

When an opportunity to lead Farmington Public Schools’ only school of choice opened up 11 years ago, Dr. Dyanne Sanders jumped at the chance.

Now Highmeadow Common Campus’ long-time principal sees expanding and moving the STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts Mathematics) school as another opportunity to innovate.

“This is a chance for us to do something different…something right for the new type of learner we have,” she told Board of Education members during a Tuesday study session.

Officials voted earlier this year to close Dunckel and repurpose it as a K-8 STEAM school. Sanders said parents in surveys, at community forums, and in committee discussions expressed an interest in the program as an alternative. Tech-related businesses, including Hitatchi and Bosch in Farmington Hills, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, have expressed interest in forming partnerships, she added.

STEAM is a philosophy, rather than a program or curriculum, Sanders said. Through a project-based approach, students learn to creatively solve problems and develop the kinds of skills that will become even more valuable as they enter the job market.

Officials also learned about options for enrollment in the new school. Students currently enter Highmeadow through a lottery process, with siblings of enrolled students getting preference before the lottery is held in January. A committee charged with looking at the K-8 process recommended that siblings of the class of 2030 and beyond apply for STEAM through the lottery. Those not chosen would receive priority placement only after interested students from all buildings have been placed.

Other alternatives discussed included sticking with the current system, and eliminating sibling preference after the class of 2030.

Sanders also revealed the recommended name for the new school: The Center for STEAM Studies.

Recommendations were presented as an information item; board members will finalize the building name and lottery process at a future meeting.

FPS board makes Power assistant principal post permanent

Paula Sanders-Avent
Paula Sanders-Avent

On Tuesday, Farmington Public Schools Board of Education made Paula Sanders-Avant’s job as interim assistant principal at Power Middle School permanent.

Sanders-Avant began her career in Farmington Public Schools when she joined Farmington High School as a guidance counselor in 2007. She served in that role until she was selected in August 2016 to serve at Power.

Previously an elementary teacher and high school counselor in other school districts in Michigan and Illinois, Sanders-Avant earned her B.A. in Elementary Education from Michigan State University and her M.S. in Human Services and Counseling from DePaul University.

“I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to work at Power Middle School as assistant principal,” she said. “I look forward to serving our students, parents, staff and the Farmington community in my new role. I really appreciate the support from my family, friends and FPS colleagues.”

“From the moment that Paula stepped into our school as an interim assistant principal, I have been impressed by her grace under pressure, her outstanding communication with our entire Power community and her dedication to Power Middle School,” said Power Middle School Principal Allyson Robinson. “I am beyond thrilled that I get to continue working with her in this capacity and I know that she will be an outstanding asset in every sense of the word.”

Press release

News from the heart of Farmington and Farmington Hills, Michigan