Contract approval clears district for balanced budget

By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR – There was no single factor that resulted in the Taylor School District’s looming budget deficit of $19 million; eliminating that shortfall required an equal variety of efforts and concessions. School superintendent Diane Allen said that last week’s ratification of the district’s contract with the Federation of Teachers represented one of the final pieces of that puzzle.

Pending similar approvals this week by the principal’s association and directors unions, Allen said the district is poised to meet a state-mandated three-year deficit elimination plan.

“This will allow us to balance the budget by the end of the 2014-15 school year,” Allen said. “We can move forward with no deficit.”

Under the terms of the new contract, teachers will take a 10 percent pay decrease for the remainder of the academic year, a salary cap that will remain in place for two years. Allen said there will be layoffs — up to 15 teachers will be let go next month and additional positions may be lost this fall — but the union’s support of the concessions reflected an understanding that cuts were needed to preserve quality education.

“I’m very proud of our employees and the sacrifices they made,” Allen said. “Every employee in the district has taken concessions. It took several months, we negotiated back and forth with all the unions, and we have agreements with all of them.”

Taylor Schools had been given a Feb. 1 deadline by the Michigan Department of Education to submit a three-year plan for balancing the budget; failure to do so put the district in jeopardy of losing state funds. For nearly a year school administrators have taken steps to ease the financial burden, including letting go support staff and tightening up class sizes.

The district’s peak enrollment in the 1970s of 20,000 students had dropped to less than 8,000 for the 2011-2012 academic year, a trend that wasn’t going to reverse itself. Allen said declining student populations — reflective of the general status of southeast Michigan as families sought greener pastures elsewhere to include out-of-state — was one of many problems long in the making.

“School districts are victims of the economy like everyone else,” Allen said, citing ongoing retirement and insurance costs balanced against reduced income. “So many things have lead into why a district goes into deficit, a lot of it out of our control. If you don’t start making cuts it will catch up with you.”

(James Mitchell can be reached at jmitchell@bewickpublications.com.)

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