Board considers cuts and potential revenue sources

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – Wyandotte Public Schools are looking at a lower than anticipated deficit for this year, but the situation could be worse next year.

Board of Education worked through many possible budget cuts in response to uncertain available revenues at a study session Tuesday.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money, student count and reductions in state aid make the budget numbers impossible to predict, officials say. And while staff retirements may help reduce costs in some area, losing teachers with particular skills sets might create the need to hire new staff to replace them.

Supt. Patricia Cole said 12 retirements scheduled for February will be on the board’s Feb. 16 agenda. Nine are in special education; eight of those nine are from Josephine Brighton Skills Center programs and three are general education teachers.

“We are talking about eliminating eight positions,” she said, “but it would have to be from general education.”

Cole said the district may be looking to hire teachers for special education and the cognitively impaired. She said if teachers retire with a needed skill set not available within the remaining teaching pool, new staff may need to be hired. She said special education teacher retirements could leave gaps that would have to be addressed.

Anticipated cuts within the general teaching population include eight teachers, Cole said, four elementary and four middle school. Economic considerations have forced board members to explored different financial scenarios.

Board Vice President Michael Swiecki called the situation a paradigm shift. “Historically we’ve been a district of provide and improve,” he said. “And I think we should save money when we can.

“(But) we’re being forced to make some cuts and we’re going from providing and improving to taking away and protecting the education here. We can cut and cut and cut, but at what cost – at what point is it going to drastically affect the education of the children?

“I don’t know what to cut that’s going to have the least amount of impact to the children in the classroom.”

Possible revenue sources
Officials provided board members Tuesday with a summary of possible revenue sources for the district in the near future. They include:
•Changes in federal stimulus money requirements that would enable the district to collect additional annual funding depending on the number of 3-, 4- and 5-year-old students enrolled.

•Wayne County is considering placing an enhancement millage on the ballot that has the potential to generate $2 million in revenue.

•A federal jobs bill, not yet approved by Congress, may eliminate the $268 per student reduction projected for next year.

•The state Legislature may consider a bill that would require a 5 percent reduction in school personnel salaries and a 20 percent contribution toward health insurance coverage payments.

• A possible $211,000 federal Race to the Top legislative grant, with a second round planned for the future.

•Officials will explore the possibility of concessions from school employee unions starting Thursday. They cautioned, however, that unions are unwilling to commit to a salary decrease larger than district resources might demand.

•Gov. Jennifer Granholm will address a retirement incentive for school employees when she presents her budget to the Legislature on Thursday. While there is a hoped for reduction in staff costs from early retirements, Cole warned that optimism may be premature.

Another reason for reduced optimism are the possible loss of $400,000 in federal stimulus and $1,111,000 from midyear state aid funding cuts announced earlier this year.

Health care increases continue to be another unknown that the school board will have to contend with as well.

Spending cuts continue to be at the forefront of the board’s focus, however as its $34 million 2010-11 budget is projected to be $3.3 million short of anticipated revenue.

To meet the $1.4 million 2009-10 projected shortfall, reductions are planned based on three teacher retirements ($315,000), five teacher reductions ($300,000) and the reduction of a high school administrator ($130,000).

Cutting custodial staff and moving to alternate day cleaning would reduce spending by $300,000. A secretarial cut would eliminate $15,000, and $50,000 is earmarked to be cut from the at-risk budget. A child care payment adjustment adds another $20,000 to the cuts