ROYAL OAK — More than 100 Royal Oak Neighborhood Schools teachers, staff members and supporters gathered for a rally outside the district’s administration building late last week to voice their opposition to the district’s plan to use federal stimulus dollars for professional development and computers instead of attempting to avert teacher layoffs.
Sidney Kardon, a school social worker and president of the 330-member Royal Oak Education Association, said they were rallying to get the district to use the money they receive from the federal government for personnel.
“All the superintendents in Oakland County seem to be singing the same song, and that is the money can’t be used for personnel,” he said. “That seems to violate the principle of the act. The purpose of the stimulus is to avert layoffs and retain jobs.”
The Royal Oak Education Association represents teachers and several other categories of staff in the district.
The district is in line to receive $1.2 million to be restricted for special education purposes and approximately $350,000 for use for at-risk students, known as Title 1, from the stimulus package passed by Congress earlier this year. The district had suggested they would use the money for technology upgrades, professional development, the hiring of transition coordinators and developing after-school programs, among other items.
Superintendent Tom Moline said the federal government has asked school districts to refrain from creating special education or Title 1 positions that will need to be immediately eliminated when the federal funding ends in two years.
“The federal government is advising school districts to be creative in re-imagining the current education system, reforming public education and training teachers to more effectively teach special education and Title 1-eligible students,” he said.
The district gave layoff notices to 17 teachers April 16, as it attempts to eliminate a multi-million dollar deficit for the 2009-2010 budget. The district is proposing cuts across the board to close the operating deficit, once predicted at more than $3 million. The district currently projects expenditures to be a little more than $60 million.
Among the cuts and changes considered is a pay-to-play system for athletics, a change in custodial services throughout the district and changes to the day at the middle school level.
At the rally, County Commissioner David Woodward, D-Royal Oak, said the intention of the stimulus package was to protect and create jobs.
“The financial problems being faced today are real, but we have to unite together to say that we are going to do everything in our power to save every single job here in Royal Oak,” he told the crowd through a megaphone. “We need to make sure our kids get the best education possible.”
He also spoke out against a plan to privatize the kitchen staff in the district, saying privatization leads to compromised quality of service and typically doesn’t lead up to the cost savings public bodies believe it will.
“Privatization is a bad idea,” he said. “It’s a bad idea for our kids and it’s a bad idea for our community.”
Moline said the Board of Education approved a bid by Chartwells School Dining Services, to begin in the 2009-2010 school year. The move is expected to save at least $40,000 annually.
“The Board of Education’s intention is to reduce spending in non-instructional areas to maintain quality and current conditions in the classroom,” Moline said. “State funding for public education continues to erode with the decline in our state’s economy.”
Also at the rally, Frank Houston, executive director of Michigan Common Cause, a nonprofit advocacy group, said he was deeply concerned about the district and the choices they were making.
“I do have a lot empathy for people in this parking lot, and those in the board room,” said Houston, who ran unsuccessfully for the Board of Education in 2008. “We are living in a time of a lot of tough choices.”
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