Archived Story

Dowagiac cuts school budget by $1,887,434

Published 8:49am Tuesday, April 20, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Dowagiac Board of Education approved $1,887,434 in cuts which will be felt across the district, including not replacing 13 of the 23 teachers who accepted retirement buyouts – six at Union High School, which after a three-year experiment with trimester scheduling will return to semesters.

“I want to state how appreciative I am of the administrative team and the staff of the school district and all those people who had some input into looking at what we have to reduce; $2 million is a phenomenal amount of money. It doesn’t come easily. You can’t just take it from one area,” Superintendent Peg Stowers said in Dowagiac Middle School cafeteria Monday night.

“Approximately 80 percent of school budgets are wrapped up in personnel,” she said. “From a parapro to an administrator or a bus driver, supervisors – everyone who works in the school system – because we’re in the kid business.

“We don’t have machines. We’re not a factory. We’re a people business. We build students, so $2 million in reductions requires you to really turn over every stone and every line item.

“We worked really hard to spread these reduction recommendations tonight across the entire school district. I am very concerned about the lack of appropriate funding the state has for school districts. I don’t believe we can continue to educate students to their fullest potential and us do the very best job we can when we spend the majority of our time and energy worrying about whether or not we have enough money to support our classrooms.”

Stowers said, “It would be erroneous for us to sit here tonight and say we really looked hard for things that did not impact our classrooms because it all impacts our classrooms. Not one dollar we’re reducing tonight doesn’t have some effect on children, and that’s our business.

“If there’s another $2 million down the road, I might be concerned not just about Dowagiac schools, but a number of schools in Michigan that today are virtually bankrupt and wondering how they’re going to meet payroll. I sincerely hope our legislators are listening and I sincerely hope the State of Michigan can figure out how to turn this around so we can remain a high-quality school system that turns out students who are competitive at the college and work levels.”

“Not replacing 13 of the 23 staff members who chose to retire early (saving $1,367,687), we feel good about that,” the superintendent said, “in the sense that it certainly avoided the sadness of having to pink-slip a vast amount of teachers. Unfortunately, we will still be pink-slipping one teacher because we are eliminating our middle school industrial arts program.”

Stowers than began reciting proposed reductions, including the loss of 11 jobs:

• Four elementary extended paraprofessionals, $24,300.

• A mechanic, $57,682.

• A part-time employee in the Technology Department, $20,172.

• Alternative Education Director Larry Schmidt is retiring; his duties are being moved into the high school for one of its administrators to share, $59,429.

• Laying off a building secretary, $45,682.

• Restructuring ISS (in-school suspension), $30,757.

• Job-sharing high school/middle school parapros, $16,547.

• A payables/purchasing employee at the Wolverine Building will be part-time, $17,952.

• Assistant Superintendent Patti Brallier and her secretary will be assigned to a new 11-month schedule, $10,018.

• Two elementary media parapro positions are being eliminated, $62,740. “The two we have left will cover two buildings,” Stowers said.

• “Virtually no” curriculum purchases, $26,542.

• Athletic reductions, $55,000 by eliminating or combining teams with lower participation and limiting contests.
• Building budgets will be reduced another 5 percent, $13,300.

• Schedule C, $38,000. “Those are extra-curricular positions,” she explained. “Anywhere from department chairs to fine arts to clubs.”

• Non-union insurance, $40,800.

• 2009-2010 carryover, $38,474.

“Our unemployment liability for those certified and non-certified employees we lay off is $37,648, so subtotal for tonight is $1,887,434,” Stowers stated.

“That’s a lot of money and it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to that. I hope that’s the end of it, but we’re not knowledgeable about what the state budget for next year is going to be. We would be concerned about declining enrollments in a community that doesn’t have jobs to offer its families.”

Michelle Helmuth said she appreciated the administration’s and staff’s hard work and understanding to implement “something out of our control.”

President Randy Cuthbert said, “If somebody told me four years ago we would have to make these cuts, I’d have said we can’t. How do you do this without cutting into the education of Dowagiac students? It’s a shame that the state’s put us in the situation where we have to do this because we as a district have been very frugal and good stewards. You can’t educate students today with what the state provides. We’re fortunate that we had staff retire to generate those savings. It’s too bad. With the economy the way it is, we’re not going to help it any” with more layoffs.

“It’s real frustrating,” Larry Seurynck agreed. “This is the thanks the state offers us for having managed the district well for all these years.”

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