Archived Story

School board approves $10,000 offer

Published 10:29am Monday, January 11, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

At a special meeting Friday morning, Dowagiac Board of Education approved a resignation plan to help minimize the impact of state budget cuts.

Union Schools District will offer 65 teachers who have reached the top of the pay scale a one-time $10,000 payment if they voluntarily resign by June 30.

The district will then be positioned to retain more teachers who otherwise would have been laid off to reduce the impact of Michigan budget cuts.

Superintendent Peg Stowers told the Daily News in an interview after the meeting at the Wolverine Building administrative offices that since Michigan schools do not pay into state or federal unemployment insurance funds, they must pay actual dollar costs for any employees who become unemployed.

The amount offered to teachers to resign equals the minimum liability the district would incur by laying off a staff person, said Stowers, joined at the conference table by school board President Randy Cuthbert and Hal Davis, assistant superintendent for business and operations.

“I’m not going to say all the 65 teachers at the top of the bachelor’s and master’s pay scales are going to retire,” Stowers said. “This isn’t just a retirement opportunity. It’s retire or resign. If a teacher chose to just resign and pursue another job, that would be up to the individual. We’re using the top of the pay scale as our determiner for those who could take advantage of it. We came to this decision because we’re faced with having to cut $1 million to $1.5 million for next year. Certainly the governor’s retraction of $127 (reduction in state aid per pupil) positioned us better for this school year, taking us from an over $800,000 deficit back down to $583,000. For us to get to $1 million we have to do staff. There’s no way in school budgets without looking at employees.”

“People who choose to retire or resign are going to stay in our community, probably, and continue to spent money, live here and support the communities that they’re in. If we lay a bunch of people off at the other end and pay them unemployment, they’ll leave to look for other jobs, maybe even leave the state,” she said. “If it’s the same amount of money at either end of the spectrum, let’s spend it in a positive way. We’re asking for a minimum of 10 and would certainly take any more than 10.”

“We did one in 2001″ when about 25 personnel left, Davis said. “We did another one a little later – maybe ’04 or ’05. In my 15 years, this is the first time we’ve been forced to lay off teachers. The direct cause of this is that this is the first time in 15 years that the foundation from the state has gone down.”

“A couple of times in the ’80s we had to issue pink slips, but they were always brought back because of a natural retirement or somebody moved,” Stowers added. “We haven’t put our teaching staff in the street on the unemployment line in I can’t remember when because we have kept pace and made logical reductions along the way. This is more than a bump in the road. Monday’s revenue estimating conference will be huge for all school systems as to what we should be looking for. State aid went down $165 permanently until the state chooses to bump it up again” to $7,400.

Plus, costs continue to rise, such as gas, while enrollments decline.

“We have spent the past three months reviewing every budget in the district,” Stowers said. “There’s no one single place to take it out of. You have to look at everything. I will come out yet this winter or early spring with a recommended list of reductions to get us to $1 million, but we haven’t finalized it yet.”

Dowagiac’s school board, like Berrien Springs and Buchanan, is “steadfast we won’t sign the MOU (memo of understanding)” for Race to the Top, she said.

“We don’t know enough about” the reform package. “The grant’s actually due in D.C. on Jan. 19, so the state extended its deadline to receive MOUs until close of business Tuesday, Jan. 12. The final decision on which states get Race to the Top isn’t until Sept. 10. Dowagiac had school improvement plans before Michigan required them. We have been working on academic achievement for kids continuously and we are getting better. Our scores are going up. Race to the Top puts more dollars behind schools that are failing than it does schools doing the right thing.

“The other thing is, how can we support all this new legislation when we can’t even fund the schools we have in operation now? How you justifiably talk about implementing dozens of new mandates and demands when we aren’t funding the demands and requirements right now?”

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