2008-06-26 / Front Page

G-H cuts $240,000, nearly $500k deficit remains

By Glenn Schicker

More than $240,000 in cuts, affecting students and employees at all four Gerrish-Higgins Schools, were approved by the district's board of education as part of its 2008-09 budget June 18. Even with the cuts, the district's general fund budget shows a $497,292 deficit.

Business Manager Shay Anderson told the board said the district is a victim of a "repetitive cycle deficit" and declining enrollment.

The "cyclical deficit," she said, is "caused by a decline in the economy. Revenue performance worsens and some spending pressures increase, creating gaps between the cost of maintaining programs and the resources available to pay for them."

Quoting the Citizens Research Council, Anderson said that for the last seven years, "Michigan has endured its worst financial crisis in more than 50 years." The council predicts a $3.6 billion "gap" in the state school aid fund by 2017, while school enrollments in Michigan are expected to decline by 1.5% per year. "Spending pressures" for schools are expected to grow at about 4.7% a year, with revenue increasing only 3%, she said.

Gerrish-Higgins' enrollment has shrunk by 14% since 2002, further reducing revenue from the state, which already was not keeping pace with inflation, Anderson said. In the same period, diesel fuel prices have shot up 92% and natural gas prices 24%, she added.

A revised 2007-08 general fund budget adopted by the board last month showed a deficit of $531,160. Anderson said when she began reviewing budget requests for 2008-09, they totaled $1 million more than projected revenue. By not replacing two full-time teachers and one full-time aide who retired or resigned, the red ink was reduced to $740,000.

After meeting with administrators, Anderson came up with revisions which brought the deficit just under $500,000, the most she said the district can sustain without borrowing money to operate. The cuts are:

• Combining a first and a second grade class at Roscommon Elementary School, saving $66,095. A teacher who resigned will not be replaced.

• Raising meal prices by 20 cents for elementary school breakfast and lunch, 25 cents for middle and high school breakfast and 20 cents for lunch, 5 cents for milk and 50 cents for staff meals.

• Eliminating one bus driver position, saving $9,962. A driver who retired will not be replaced, and bus garage personnel will drive one route.

• Reducing working hours of two elementary school aides to seven hours from eight and 7 1/4, respectively, saving $3,344.

• Reducing Roscommon High School's faculty by .73 social studies teacher, saving $43,484. A full-time teacher who resigned will not be replaced. A part-time teacher's work load will be increased from .56 to .83, and teachers from Roscommon Middle School will also take on some high school social studies classes.

• Decreasing summer hours for coaches, saving $4,780. Coaches will have one week instead of two to plan and schedule fall contests.

• Using a grant to pay for a class size reduction position, saving $20,393. An internal candidate is expected to fill the position, and an aide slot will be eliminated in the process.

• Reducing the custodial staff by .37 full-time worker, saving $20,044. The replacement for a high school custodian who retired will work five hours a day instead of eight.

• Cutting budgets for all school buildings by 10%, saving $16,253.

• Using Professional Education Service Group of Caledonia to provide non-employee coaches and substitute teachers. Privatizing is expected to save $11,000.

• Eliminating sideline cheerleading for half a year, saving $4,360. Competitive cheerleading will continue.

• Reducing a high school secretarial position from 52 weeks to 46 per year, saving $2,211. The high school office will be closed during July.

• Eliminating funding for RHS forensics and Students Against Destructive Decisions, saving $3,691.

The budget includes one area with a $2,048 increase. A high school teacher, rather than an aide, will be sponsor of the RHS yearbook. Superintendent Dr. Millie Mellgren said that change is in response to numerous complaints about the quality of the 2008 yearbook.

All told, the general fund budget anticipates $14.2 million in revenue and $14.7 million in expenditures. The board approved it after several people, during a budget hearing, asked for reconsideration of some of the cuts.

A parent said cheerleaders had been "misled" into thinking there would be a fall sideline cheerleading season. "Every sport has merit for our kids," she said.

Jeff Bumbalough of the United Steelworkers said the cuts in aides, secretaries and custodians violate the district's contract with the union.

RHS forensics team advisor Annette Murray, citing the team's consistent record of sending members to the state finals, said, "It's a program that has been nurtured for years."

Anderson said she understood the concerns. "It's absolutely devastating to see that there are projects that we created that we're tearing apart," she said.

Brian Hill, board treasurer, said, "Everyone in this community is going to have to get a grasp that everything is on the table." He said the cut extracurricular activities could continue without district funding.

Trustee Paul Menghini said the cuts are "very reasonable, compared to what we could be facing."

Kathy Wyckoff, president-elect of the Roscommon Education Association, urged citizens who crowded the meeting room to urge legislators to make school funding equitable.

Other budgets approved by the board included:

Food service-Revenue $777,643, expenditures $798,088.

Athletics-Revenue $40,050, expenditures $313,283.

Public library-Revenue $170,150, expenditures $197,963.

In other business, the board set proficiency standards for students to receive credit in Michigan Merit Curriculum classes. Principal Kathy Erickson said students must score at least 60% on 80% of the content standards to receive credit. Students with Individual Educational Plans will be required to score at least 60% on 60% of the standards.

She said this year's freshmen are the first who must pass the state-mandated curriculum to graduate.

The board accepted the resignat ion of Roscommon Elementary School teacher Jamie Reid.

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