Budget dialogue continues with school district town hall

Photo by J. Patrick Pepper

Photo by J. Patrick Pepper

Dearborn Public Schools Supt. Brian Whiston answers a question Thursday during a town hall forum on budget cuts and staff layoffs. The forum was the first of a three-part series. The next forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 15 at Fordson High School, 13800 Ford Road.

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Dearborn Public Schools Supt. Brian Whiston and the Parent Teacher Student Association on Thursday held a town hall meeting at the Michael Berry Career Center to discuss the implications of looming layoffs for about 300 employees.

The meeting was part of an ongoing campaign to keep DPS stakeholders informed about the unprecedented budget crisis that was kicked off in October, when state legislators cut funding by $12 million with the district already three months into the school year.

A group of about 20, mostly district employees, attended the meeting, and another 40 or so watched online. PTSA President Collette Dunsmore moderated the forum while Whiston took questions.

Over the course of about an hour Whiston answered a series of questions, most related to specificities of layoffs and ongoing union negotiations. For much of the time, Whiston found himself on the defensive, as many questions suggested that either he or the school board haven’t explored enough cost-cutting solutions before resorting to staff cuts.

“Nobody wants to make cuts,” Whiston said. “To look someone in the eyes and tell them they don’t have a job anymore, and to know what that is going to mean to them and how it will affect them – I never want to have to do this again.”

After the meeting Whiston said the budget process has been one of the most difficult periods of his life. In past months he has faced upset parents, angry employees and worried students who want to know how their education will be affected. But he knew all these things were part of the job when he accepted it, he said.

“This rough-and-tumble stuff where people get fired up, and maybe some things get said that you wish weren’t said; I get that,” Whiston said. “I’m from a union family, so I know that getting people fired up is the way to effect action, and I don’t take it personally.”

Additional town hall meetings have been scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Ten Eyck Administrative Building and from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 15 at Fordson High School.