Michael Waldron: Contract negotiations shouldn’t result in a district in deficitPublished 10:36pm Wednesday, April 11, 2012
First, let me disclose that I am the vice president of the Niles Community School Board. I’ve been on the board since 2007. This column reflects my personal opinions and does not necessarily reflect the school board’s position.
There is a gap between what the Niles Community School District receives from the federal and the state governments and the district’s expenses. Over the past four years since I’ve been on the board, the district was able to handle that disparity because of one-time infusions of revenue. In recent years, we received money from the sale of our school buses and federal stimulus money. That money helped balance the school budget, but now there are no one-time sources of money to keep Niles out of deficit.
The district’s principal financial problem stems from diminishing revenue from the state of Michigan. State money, which has gone from $7,313 per student in 2008-2009 to $7,162 per student in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 to $6,846 per student in 2011-2012, is our main source of revenue. Niles schools multiplies the dollars per student times the number of students to calculate our state revenue.
Thus, that basic calculation of our revenue is also directly proportional to the official student count, which fell in recent years from 3,906 students in 2008-2009 to 3,857 students in 2011-2012. The New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy, all-day kindergarten, reopening Eastside and the Widening Advancements for Youth (WAY) reversed that trend for school year 2011-2012, but the school board cannot assume that the student count will continue to increase or even stay the same.
At the same time that revenues from the state have shrunk, costs for retirement and health insurance have risen. The district has little control of those rising costs.
The board and the teachers’ union, Niles District Education Association, disagree when or if the district will begin to run a deficit.
As of this year, the district has money in fund equity. All but a small amount of that will disappear by 2013-2014 with no changes to the contract. It will also disappear under the union’s proposals. Districts in deficit can do far less for their children than healthy districts.
For that reason — alone — Niles will not go into deficit.
At board meetings, union leaders have questioned the administration’s calculations. However, the union has not yet furnished the formula behind the union’s assertion that we will not go into deficit without changes in the teachers’ contract. I join the other members of the school board who asked the union at the March 5 school board meeting to “show us the math.”
Niles isn’t alone in Michigan. School districts all over the state are in danger of going into deficit. At least 41 districts were in deficit as of September 2011. Many more will go into deficit soon without significant budget changes.
The board’s last proposal, which can be viewed by the public at http://nilesschools.schoolwires.net/nilesschools/site/default.asp (click on the union contract negotiations icon), includes a revenue-sharing provision. If the state increases funding per student or the student count goes up, members of the teachers’ union would receive 50 percent of that increase.
It’s good business practice to safe-side budgets so that the school district doesn’t overspend. If the assumptions of the board prove to be too conservative and our enrollment increases or the state provides more money per student, teachers’ salaries will automatically go up.
Members of the teachers’ union would also suffer 50 percent of any future reductions in state funding.
There has been some undisciplined talk recently. For instance, Katherine Elsner, the local teachers’ union president, was quoted in a Feb. 20 article in the Niles Daily Star: “‘We wanted to remind the board that their last best offer’s overall impact is more than just a 7 percent or 8 percent decrease in pay; it also includes insurance costs,’ teachers’ union President Katherine Elsner told The Star. ‘That impacts the community as a whole. For every dollar we make, we spend about $1.50 in the community.’”
I am puzzled by how teachers can spend 50 percent more than their salaries in the Niles community. Maybe that was a misquote or simply an exaggeration.
Other people have accused the board of being anti-teacher. That’s simply not true. I have never heard a single disparaging word about teachers from other members of the board or the administration.
I admire teachers very much and in college I wanted to be a teacher. I did student teaching at the University of Michigan High School and received my temporary teaching certificate in 1968. However, fate took me into the Army, where I served 24 years. I decided not to pursue teaching after I left the Army; however, I continue to admire teachers. I doubt that I could handle all the pressures that teachers must bear in today’s environment.
The last thing I wish is to add more burdens on teachers. As much as I admire teachers, my higher purpose on the board is to improve the education of children.
In my judgment, if the district were to go into deficit, the board would be forced to allocate fewer resources to our children.
I will not vote for a contract that will put this district in deficit because that would be a vote against the interests of our children.
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