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July 17, 2013

Approved Ferndale school budget cuts teacher, secretarial positions

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

FERNDALE — The Ferndale Board of Education is trying to avoid spending from the school district’s fund balance in upcoming years, and while the new budget achieves this goal, it comes at the cost of teacher and secretary positions.

The board approved the operating budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year during the June 25 meeting, which will see the elimination of 9.2 instructional positions, as well as five secretarial positions.

The proposed budget reflects revenue coming in for the next year at $37,094,805 and expenses of $37,054,448, giving the district a year-end surplus of $30,357. Last year’s budget saw the district spending slightly more than $1.9 million from the fund balance and board President Jim O’Donnell said the goal is to replenish the fund balance slowly over the next couple of years.

“This budget represents the administration and board’s joint view of the best allocation of resources for the coming school year,” O’Donnell said. “While this budget does require reduced expenses in goods and services, as well as a regrettable need to reduce some staff positions, we are continuing to work hard to minimize the impact on current employees.”

The district’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30 of the following year. The board approved both Amendment No. 2 for the 2012-13 operating budget and the upcoming operating budget during the June meeting.

In January, the board voted to use $1.4 million from the fund balance to avoid making any mid-year changes that would have been disruptive to students, educators and administrators. However, a larger-than-expected water bill and a low student count from the Michigan Department of Education raised the fund balance spending to $1.9 million.

The district received a water bill from the city for $225,775, which was $191,090 more than the district had allocated for the bill. And official count numbers came in with 63 full-time equivalent students fewer than the district counted, decreasing the state aid $427,563.

The district is appealing both the water bill and the count, and expects to get some money back from both, but the board had to approve a 2012-13 budget that accounted for both, just in case.

“The fact that the water bill came in at what it did, the city thinks it’s an error and we think it’s an error, but we still had to account for that from a budget perspective, because if it isn’t an error, we have to have those funds appropriated to pay the bill,” Superintendent Gary Meier said.

“When you think about using money from the fund balance, you can’t just simply replace that. So we need to make sure we have a balanced budget and incrementally replace the dollars we spent.”

The 9.2 instructional positions include two elementary teachers, 1.5 elementary Spanish positions and six secondary teachers, which saves the district $690,597. The five secretarial positions will save the district $315,241.

Principals and administrators at each school had several meetings discussing possible cuts for the next year. The budget accounts for projected lower-than-normal enrollment numbers, meaning the two secondary schools — Ferndale High School and University High School — were able to cut some sections of subjects that totaled up to the six secondary positions cut.

In the primary school, Meier said classes may have a kid or two more than normal, but the lower projected enrollment numbers meant the board felt comfortable eliminating two elementary teacher positions. The only eliminated positions that should affect the curriculum are the 1.5 elementary Spanish positions.

“The 1.5 elementary Spanish teachers is a reduction, and we acknowledge that it is a program change and there is a number of reasons for that,” Meier said. “Part of the reason is because there is a desire to have more instructional time in reading and math. Programmatically, it is an impact, and some may argue it is one we shouldn’t make, and others might think it is appropriate to have more math and (English Language Arts).”

O’Donnell said the instructional positions that were cut are just part of the budget as a whole and the curriculum change resulting from the cut Spanish positions will allow more time to help the district improve on state test scores.

“This really is an example of how the budget is done in a holistic way,” he said. “There is talk about the need for more time with core classes and the need to improve scores and reduce the achievement gap. The primary constraint on that is the instruction time.”

One of the secretarial positions eliminated was vacant, so there is a possibility only four layoffs may be necessary. The number of layoffs necessary will depend on how many current secretaries may take the severance incentive, which may result in no layoffs, which will be handed out at the end of July.

As for the teachers, Meier said if enrollment numbers are higher than projected in the fall, some positions might be brought back to provide the best possible educational opportunity for the students.

“It’s a tight budget, there is no question about it, and we’ve had to squeeze as much as possible in certain areas to align it and make it work,” Meier said. “It is a workable budget, but one we have to monitor with our principals and our staff along the way. Our goal is to provide a full-service school district and we’ve made a conscious decision to find a way to make it similar in service to what the students received the year before.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.