The school board has to cut some $5 million from the $53 million proposed budget for the 2011-12 school year, which has to be adopted by June 30.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said financial consultant Mike Dixon as he addressed the Van Buren Public Schools Board of Education at its regular meeting on Monday.
Dixon gave an update on the budget that showed an “out-of-control” retirement rate that is increasing to 32.43% (costing $1,900,133), teachers’ union steps that will cost $893,645, plus reduced revenue of more than $2 million.
Estimates now show the district spent about $69.58 more per pupil this year than it took in and for the 2011-12 school year that will go to spending $965.55 per pupil more than the district takes in
He foresees a negative fund balance of more than $5 million.
Dixon said the numbers will change some because the governor will be coming out with a new budget on Feb. 17, but it won’t pull them out of the deficit spending.
“We can’t do this,” Dixon said of deficit spending. “There are six state statutes you violate when you adopt a deficit budget.”
He said he didn’t want the newspapers to report he wanted to fire all the teachers, but he said to get out of the hole he would have to lay off every teacher below Step 13.
He said it costs $25,000 per employee to provide benefits.
The Van Buren Education Association contract agrees to no step increases for this year only, said Pam Smart. There is no such provision for 2011-12.
Dixon said the district is looking into a “minimum operating threshold” to find what the minimum services the district has to provide.
“That will be a number and hope it will be $5 million,” he said.
Dixon said Van Buren is not the only district in the state looking at a deficit. He said the state is training 100 financial managers to go out and take control of school districts and municipalities in trouble.
He said the governor is pushing for more power for these managers and there’s a bill in the Legislature that provides that the administration and school board will lose power once the manager is in and all contracts will be null.
“Someone we don’t know comes in and cancels contracts, and overhauls to their heart’s delight,” said Trustee Scott Russell of the procedure.
Dixon agreed and said Washington is not giving school districts any more money. He said the board doesn’t want to be in a situation where someone comes in and takes over.
“It took us three years to cut $5 million [from the budget] and now we have a few months to do it,” said Board President Martha Toth.
Dixon said the board will hear a lot of talk about consolidation of districts, but if it happens it’s going to have to be legislated. He said it won’t happen without the Legislature coming in.
Trustee Sherry Frazier said the public schools have become the dumping grounds and “they” want to put the students in prime charter schools and break the unions.
“That’s what their plan is,” Frazier said. “If you can’t balance your budget, they come in with their plan.” She added the districts can’t balance their budgets because of the lack of revenue, all the closed homes, lower tax money.
Dixon said the state has its challenges as well and, “If you don’t do something with salaries and benefits, you can’t balance the budget.”
He said the school board is looking at a 9% deficit and they are going to have to eliminate whole sections.
Toth clarified that the district is not in a deficit now, although 40 other school districts in the state are.
“We are looking at next year,” Toth said. “We are looking at needing to cut about $5 million – 10% of our budget.”
A task force recommendation to recall paraprofessionals for three hours a day in all the 20 kindergartens in the district at a cost of $52,000 for the remainder of this year was voted down, 5-2.
Voting yes were Frazier and Russell. Voting no were Bob Binert, Kevin English, Toni Hunt, Brenda McClanahan, and Toth.
“We are offering the highest quality of education we can afford,” said Toth. “That’s what we’re down to… This gets people’s hopes up that this can continue,” she said of the proposal to put paraprofessionals back in place after they had been eliminated last fall as a budget cut.
Russell said all of the board members care about the kids, “…We’re all being squeezed from the economy … I have a question of this board. I believe the priorities should be safety and education.”
Other board members said that was their priorities, too.
“This is just the beginning,” Dixon said. “Over the next six months others will come.” He said there are people at the meeting that night for kindergartens and paraprofessionals and in the future there will be athletic boosters and others because they will feel someone is getting shorted.
“You don’t have the resources to keep going,” Dixon said. “You shuffle the resources and others will be out there [in the audience]… It’s going to be a tough road…”
Hunt asked about the “minimum operating threshold” and Dixon replied it would include putting the maximum number of kids in classrooms, no athletic program (not required by law), no general education transportation (not required by law), and other cuts.
“And where will your budget be when we’re gone?” asked parent Brenda Jaszcz, who was trying to get the board to improve conditions in the kindergartens. She asked how much each student was worth and Toth said more than $7,000.
Another parent asked what would happen when parents pull their children out of the district because of dissatisfaction with the education.
At about 10:10 p.m., resident Jane Kovach got up to comment for a second time and she said she was glad to meet Russell and in the past the board had been a rubber stamp and wouldn’t speak up. “I was glad to meet you; you’re going to be good for the board,” Kovach said.
President Toth tried to get Kovach to sit down, but Kovach wanted to continue her comments.
“We have the people’s business to conduct…” Toth said. “I will have to have the microphone turned off…”
Kovach finished and was seated.
Frazier said the refusal of the board to put the paraprofessionals back into the Kindergartens to help the teachers get the chaos under control “may be the tipping point of the district” as parents put their children in other schools.
In other business, the board:
• Approved three new BHS courses for next school year: Trigonometry for seniors, American History through Pop Culture as an elective, and Honors American History, for those not choosing to participate in the Advanced Placement program;
• After much discussion, approved exploring the creation of a Senior Volunteer Program. The stories in local newspapers in late January about parents asking the school board for help for kindergarten teachers, led Van Buren Township Senior Director Lynette Jordan to call the schools to suggest using seniors as volunteers. The senior coordinator from Sumpter also was enthusiastic about such a project. Organizers hoped to have the first group of volunteers in the classrooms the week of Feb. 28;
• Approved a field trip to the International DECA Career Development Conference March 18-20 in Grand Rapids for five students and sponsor Angie Dermody;
• Agreed with Russell’s correction to the minutes of the Feb. 8 special meeting to reflect that the board not only discussed Robert’s Rules of Order, but also agreed as a board to revisit it later at a future policy review meeting;
• Tabled adoption of the Jan. 24 meeting minutes because Russell remembers discussion on the Family Resource Center being tabled and others didn’t. The audiotape of the meeting will be reviewed and the minutes placed on the Feb. 16 special meeting. Russell had more to say on the subject on Jan. 24 and the meeting was being ended because of the lateness of the hour. He objected to the subject being placed on the Feb. 14 agenda with a recommendation, since the discussion was not complete, a violation of the bylaws;
• Approved the minutes of the special closed-door disciplinary hearings on Feb. 9 after which on a unanimous vote BHS Student A was expelled for 180 school days and on a split 4-2 vote BHS Student B was suspended and could return Feb. 28;
• Approved hiring Sabrina Young as a secretary at South Middle School starting Feb. 7 and Beth Braden in Food Service at North Middle School starting Feb. 15;
• Tabled until a special meeting on Feb. 16 the Family Resource Center issue and a Board Retreat discussion, since it was 10:30 p.m. and the board voted against extending the meeting for another 30 minutes;
• Went into executive session to get an update on items from the school district attorney.