Before a hostile crowd of paraprofessionals and their teacher supporters, the Van Buren Public Schools Board of Education at Monday’s regular meeting unanimously approved the elimination of 19 K-5 paraprofessional positions and the layoff of 14 paraprofessionals.
School begins Sept. 7.
“We’re very sad to do this,” said Treasurer Martha Toth as she made the motion to approve. Vice Chairman Bob Binert seconded the motion, which was approved by the board, with members of the audience shouting out their votes of “nay” to no avail.
Not present at the meeting were Trustees Toni Hunt and Brenda McClanahan.
Several teachers and parents spoke on behalf of the importance of the paraprofessional helpers in the elementary classrooms and board members agreed they were very valuable.
“This is not something any one of us wants to do,” Toth told the crowd. “We have been spending our seed corn, spending our fund balance. We’re taking $1 million from the fund balance this year and I don’t know how we’re going to balance the budget next year.
“We have not been able to keep cuts out of the classroom and I ask myself will this one be the one that causes us to lose more enrollment and hasten the decline?” Toth said.
She said the paraprofessional cuts will save the district $526,000.
When asked if the federal money recently approved to keep jobs in education couldn’t be used here, School Supt. Riutta said that money is still tied up in Lansing and the state is deciding what to do with it.
“The minute this district goes into deficit, we become an at-risk district and the state takes over,” Supt. Riutta said, adding the state could consolidate Van Buren with another district and all the union contracts become void. “The state makes the decisions.”
He said, “Very honestly, we are out of money,” adding the board is in negotiations with the teachers’ union asking for significant cuts and an agreement has yet to be arrived at. Then, they will be asking the other bargaining groups to help.
Riutta told the crowd, “You saw the scores … even some of the scores at the elementary level aren’t that good … we have to change … We’re in the lower quarter in every school except two… We have to do more with less.”
Sherry Frazier, a former school board member who is running for the board again this November, said with the cuts proposed, it’s going to be impossible to get a quality education in the Van Buren Public Schools. She demanded a list of administrator salaries and Riutta said she would have them.
“Next year there will be another round of cuts and I don’t know how we’re going to make it,” Toth said.
Trustee Kevin English said the board has learned that the district is owed $1 million in unpaid taxes from Wayne County and if they cannot bond by the end of the month, “We have to file a deficit reduction plan.”
President David Peer said the board doesn’t know if there will be 30 students in an elementary class as some of the people in the audience said and the board has to look at other options to help the teachers.
“And, this doesn’t even come close to solving the problem,” Peer said.
The 14 paraprofessionals slated for layoff (pending the outcome of the Aug. 30 bid day on the 48 positions still in place districtwide) are: Heather Wolf, Denise Armatis, Paula Brown, Jack Loria, Qin Xu, Jeanette Stewart, Katerina Tyner, Amy Allender, Sabrena Lind, Margo DeLibra, Susan Stanau, Lena Wilson, Marilyn Krawulski, and Stacy Carr.
In other business at Monday’s meeting, the board:
* Unanimously agreed to layoff two certified staff (Angela Mays and Jami Wiese) and recall from layoff 14 other teachers: George Buhro, Robert Hinderer, Jason Butka, Marcus Hosman, James Parcha, Michelle Kinsey, Courtney Leaym, Therese-Anne Eldredge, Ashley Thomas, Megan Phillips, Elizabeth Portincasa, Brooklyn Dobis, and psychologist Agiub Diop and special services elementary Catherine Wiser;
* Reduced, for the 2010-11 school year, the two school resource officers to one, eliminating Van Buren Township Officer Ryan Bidwell for a savings of $62,000. The board retained Belleville Officer Kris Faull. The cut was made because of a lack of funding;
* Approved the requested terminations of Kimberly Fisher, a secretary at BHS for 11 years, for personal reasons, and Director of Finance Nick Armelago, who served for 5.5 years, for personal reasons. Also, approved was the retirement of Nancy Norris, a bus driver for 27 years;
* Approved hiring Andrea Acomb as itinerant district psychologist at a salary of $47,092, and Brian Burrell as custodian at ECDC/transportation at a salary of $13.06/hr.;
* Approved the requested terminations of Interim North Middle School Principal Carl Shultz, Jr., for other employment, after being a BHS assistant principal for three years; and the following teachers, for personal reasons: Sarah Kovach, three years at Edgemont; Lindsay Thurman, three months at ECDC; and Ra-mon Watkins, six months at BHS;
* Approved the lowest of four bread bids to Great Lakes Baking Company for $17,484.25 as recommended by the Southeast Wayne County Buying Cooperative and approved the lowest of five milk bids to Country Pride Dairy for $84,794, as recommended by the cooperative;
* Heard curriculum reports from Deputy Supt. Peggy Voigt on Defined Autonomy and At Risk Services;
* Approved the Commercial Purchasing Card Agreement #2 and the proposed list of 34 school employees who will carry the cards;
* Heard a presentation on the district’s new School Fusion website that will be on line for the beginning of school, but won’t be in its final form until later;
* Heard a loud complaint from retired teacher Bob Myers (38 years teaching) who said he was dissatisfied with his retirement package and threw his wooden plaque of appreciation from the district on the board table in disgust. He said he was supposed to get a retirement bonus of $738 and the district still owed him $250, which he said he doesn’t really need because he’s also been selling real estate for 28 years. “You sent me a letter congratulating me on my retirement. Bull sh-t!” he continued, adding that the district now wants him to sign a letter written by an attorney promising to remain off district premises in exchange for his $250 “settlement.” Myers shouted: “Am I a criminal?” Supt. Riutta said the way he’s behaving that evening is the reason they asked him to stay off the property and people in the office won’t take Myers’ calls because of the way he treats people. “It’s an insult, an insult,” Myers said as he stomped out of the meeting room; and
* Learned the next board meeting will be at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 30 at South Middle School and the proposed off-site board planning session will be held at 6:15 p.m., Sept. 2, at the Administration Building, since no other site was available.