Cuts increase concerns for Niles schoolsPublished 11:28am Wednesday, November 18, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
After the state cut funding significantly to Michigan schools the futures of many of them, including that of the Niles Community Schools District remain up in the air.
Even deeper cuts are expected to come in the following year and that has opened to door to wide speculation of how school officials will offset the losses. That speculation has led to a growing concern for both teachers and administration.
After balancing the budget, the state cut funding to the district for the current school year by $165 per student.
Superintendent Doug Law said Tuesday to make up for those cuts, officials would take an estimated $1.5 million out of the district’s fund balance.
“The plan is to absorb the cuts, take it out of the fund balance and spend all of our time … on what is coming next year,” Law said.
Right now, officials don’t have a plan for the future.
What’s certain: cuts are coming. What is uncertain: just how bad they’ll be. Law said the best case, worse case scenario amounts to anywhere between $300 and $600 per student for next year.
That means that officials will have to make drastic adjustments to deal with the blow – a blow that will affect school districts throughout the state for years to come.
Law said right now he is “gathering a variety of background information” for the board of education in order to help them with decisions when state level cuts mean school level cuts.
That background information includes suggestions from district teachers.
Andrew Roberts, president of the Niles Teachers Union (Niles District Education Association), a union which is currently in negotiations with district officials to finalize a contract they’ve been waiting on since this past summer, was one of those teachers making suggestions.
“We compiled a list,” Roberts said, which was presented to Law and the board Monday night. “So far,” Roberts said the response “has been positive.”
Roberts acknowledges a need for cuts across the board – but believes the focus should not fall heavy on just teachers, manpower usually being the first thing to be cut in situations like these.
“We believe we’re on the front line of education,” Roberts said.
Teachers face two scenarios in their future – that they might be out of a job or that their workload could increase exponentially when they’ll have to cover for the losses.
Negotiations continue in the matter of the teacher’s contract, with a date for mediation set for later this month.
“We’re hopeful that will help us come to a resolution,” Law said.
But tensions are evident.
“We feel we’ve been negotiating in good faith,” Roberts said. “We don’t feel, for example, the board is negotiating in good faith.”
The NDEA’s list of suggestions included closing Cedar Lane Alternative High School, selling the property to a developer, privatizing financial services, IT services and personnel services, look at getting parents to volunteer as coaches and a discontinuation on behalf of the board of giving gas, bonuses and annuities to top administrators.
Law said all of the suggestions on the list were options that the administration was already evaluating.
President of the Niles Community Schools Board of Education Dana Daniels said board members would take all of the information gathered and begin looking at the costs for every item and prioritizing “the choices you have to make” sometime as soon as December.
When asked if the board intends to plan for the worst case scenario, Daniels said “I don’t think you have much of a choice.”
In the past, Daniels said, when finances were tight the board looked at making cuts outside the classroom. But, he added this time he didn’t know if that was possible.
“When 85 percent of your costs are personnel related, the majority is going to have to come from that,” he said.
Projecting a cut of $300 for next year Law said, “we would need to cut 12-14 professional staff,” which includes teachers and administrators. That is on the low end, he added. A cut of $600 per student would amount to double that number – between 25 and 30 positions.
Still board members and administrators seem to be trying to keep from igniting concerns.
“There is nothing set in stone,” the board’s Kathy Zeider said.
And the hits keep on coming. There is the possibility that the state will make additional cuts to funding for the remaining year – something Law and Zeider said they hope doesn’t happen.
In the meantime they’re urging citizens to contact the state legislature with their concerns.
Still it is an unsettling subject for students, teachers, parents and administrators these days.
“Hopefully everyone can come together and understand that we may have to bite the bullet,” Zeider said. “…(And) make the sacrifice if needed.”