Bartold unveils D-7 deficit reduction options

By DANIEL HERATY
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS – Proposals to combat Dearborn Heights School District No. 7’s budget deficit were presented to school board members and about 60 residents during the regular scheduled meeting Feb. 6.

District Supt. Jeffrey Bartold discussed options to offset the district’s general fund deficit, expected to reach about $700,000 by the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year June 30. The district’s budget is about $24 million.

“We try to look at everything we can,” Bartold said. “Some of them of course aren’t going to be very popular and some we just can’t do at this point, but we try to put everything we can on the table.”

Bartold said the district already has cut about $1.4 million, adding that plans to eliminate the deficit are preliminary and further discussions also will involve the board, parents and teachers.

Much of the deficit, Bartold said, comes from a reduction in state education aid. Over a five-year period, the district lost about $240 in state funds – from about $7,000 in 2006 to $6,846 in 2011.

Though the state has a surplus in its aid fund, Gov. Rick Snyder included community colleges and other facilities not usually included in the state aid fund. Bartold said the district received funds from Snyder’s Financial Best Practices. The practices include five criteria – including a 10 percent charge for employee health care premiums – which must be met for the state to fund school districts.

Even with the additional funds, Bartold said, the statewide cuts of about $470 per student adversely affected the district more than others.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” he said. “A straight cut hurts a district like us more than it hurts a district that receives a lot more tax dollars.”

To save money, Bartold revealed several options for reducing the deficit, a plan which must be submitted to state officials within 30 days and enacted within a two- through five-year period. One option is closing one of the district’s five elementary school buildings and repurposing the remaining building for another use, saving the district about $670,000.

Another option discussed was maintaining separate buildings for preschool and kindergarten, first and second grades, third and fourth grades, and fifth and sixth grades. Bartold said plans could also include two K-2 buildings and two third through fifth grade buildings.

Bartold said the district is also looking to use Title 1 funds, which are earmarked for districts with a high percentage of low-income children. Those funds would pay teachers’ salaries and help retain full-day kindergarten, saving the district about $400,000.

“It doesn’t change our (kindergarten) program at all,” he said.”It’s just where the funding comes from.”

Bartold said the district has made cuts to staffing and services, including selling advertising space and encouraging early retirement for teachers.

But he added that the district needs to do more to combat the deficit.

“When we need to cut that big amount,” Bartold said, “We have to look at all the ways to try and streamline our operation.”

School Board President Philip Shannon said he remains confident the district will remain intact after the deductions and that the board will weigh all options before making a decision.

A study session to continue the budget-cutting discussion is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 15 at O.W. Best Middle School, 22201 Powers, and is open to the public.

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com)