NEW BUFFALO – Stressing that the New Buffalo Educational Trust is intended to be used by graduates to further their education so they can be employable, Denise Tuszynski, human resource and payroll director, updated the New Buffalo Board of Education on its status during the Oct. 28 regular meeting.

Previously known as the Bison/Pokagon Scholarship Fund, the trust was established in 2010 as a result of a compact between the State of Michigan and the Pokagon Indians.  Each graduate of NBAS is granted $5,000 per year, for up to five years (exclusive of military service) for tuition, fees or supplies needed to further their post-secondary education.  Funds available are based on the number of years of the graduate’s enrollment in NBAS. Recipients must be residents of the district while at NBAS. Schools of Choice and tuition students enrolled when the fund was established were grandfathered into the plan which expires with the Class of 2023.

Since the trust was formed, $12.6 million have been promised to eligible graduates and about 50 percent, or $6.1 million, have been used so far.  Of the Class of 2010, the first year eligible for the award, $1.6 million was promised, of which $664,500 still remains. Fifty-seven of the 65 graduates in that class used some or all of their funds and 50 percent of those earned a degree or certificate.

Trustee Lisa Werner said she would hate to see any money left on the table. She suggested inviting some of the graduates to attend an upcoming board meeting to tell in their own words how they used the funds and what it meant to them. Trustee Patricia Newton said it was important that students understand the funds can be used for things such as tools, uniforms and tests needed for further educational programs.

Aside from her presentation, Tuszynski used the story of 2010 graduate Nathan Oman as an example of the creative ways some students use the funds. After graduation, Oman went to work for a local organic farm and used a combination of employer contributions and the NBET to take horticultural classes, first at Southwestern Michigan College and then Michigan State University. Along the way, he developed a business around a drone he created to be used in surveying the health of crops. Just recently, Oman used the remaining funds in his trust allowance to earn a pilot’s license so he can make more frequent visits to his large farmer-client in Brazil.   

In other business, the board agreed with Superintendent Jeff Leslie’s recommendation to skip the opportunity to open an upcoming second window for Schools of Choice student enrollment. Leslie said the opening for the second semester conflicted with the district’s trimester scheduling and the administration is happy with the current class sizes in all grades.

Leslie distributed posters announcing the National Blue Ribbon Award Celebration on Sunday, Nov. 17, at 6:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center.  The event will include hors d’oeuvres, dessert and guest speakers to mark the district’s designation by the U.S. Department of Education as a 2019 National Blue Ribbon Schools, one of only 362 nationwide.

The board adjourned into a closed session to discuss and vote on Leslie’s annual evaluation using the new rating template recommended by the Michigan Association of School Boards. Following the session, Board President Chuck Heit said Leslie received the highest rating of “highly effective” He said the board will approve a full written evaluation at the next board meeting.

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