MDPS to cut $1.5 million to stave off potential deficits

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 31, 2019

 During a meeting at Wilkinson Middle School the evening of May 29, the Madison District Public Schools Board of Education discusses the district’s financial situation. 

During a meeting at Wilkinson Middle School the evening of May 29, the Madison District Public Schools Board of Education discusses the district’s financial situation. 

Photo by Sarah Purlee

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Since taking power in January, the five new Board of Education members for Madison District Public Schools have been reviewing the budget, joined by the new superintendent, Angel Abdulahad, and assisted by the Oakland Intermediate School District.

Together, they have identified two potential deficits in the district’s finances and have begun implementing measures to bridge the gap. This includes a proposal by the superintendent producing $1.5 million in savings, which was approved by the board at its May 29 meeting. The board previously authorized the superintendent to look for savings during the May 6 meeting.

One of the two potential deficits is in the general operating budget, ranging between $1 million and $1.3 million. The other potential deficit is tied to the district’s online learning program, SOARCE.

Last year, the OISD did an audit on SOARCE and raised concerns about how the program was being run, which led to the Michigan Department of Education deducting 164 per-pupil allocations, or $1.3 million in state aid. The district appealed this decision and the money was reissued; however, the decision is not final, so the district may yet have to repay it. The appeals process could take up to two years.

“These deficit numbers are projections based on current information, and they are continually fluctuating as we continue to make changes,” Abdulahad said. “Having a new chief financial officer come in will help us better ascertain our district’s finances.”

The new chief financial officer is Edwina Hill, taking over for the previous business manager, Michelle Schurman, who resigned in April. Her resignation was accepted by the board May 6. The district is also enlisting the services of auditing firm Plante Moran to fully evaluate the district’s finances.

As for the plan proposed by the superintendent and approved by the board, the $1.5 million in savings will be achieved through a mix of attrition, retirements, resignations, consolidation of positions and elimination of positions.

This includes eliminating the districtwide positions of athletic director and director of enrollment, as well as eliminating the SOARCE program and replacing it with a rebooted Madison Virtual Academy.

The board voted unanimously on all measures, except for the elimination of SOARCE and the elimination of the positions of athletic director and enrollment director. Board member Bill Pittman was the sole dissenting vote on those measures.

“Both full-time positions being eliminated will yield us considerable savings. The consolidation of administrators will also save us additional funds,” Abdulahad said. “We’re trying to be strategic in our implementation of cuts. We’re trying to get our fiscal house in order.”

MDPS Board of Education President Mark Kimble said cuts are “the first step in that direction,” but he also said that cuts alone won’t solve any potential deficits. The district will also focus on increasing brick-and-mortar enrollment by improving its value proposition to prospective students.

“We want to enhance student learning through individualized efforts,” Kimble said, noting that this could include tutoring, as well as counseling to help students plan for the future, and dedicated grant writers to identify new funding and scholarship opportunities.

Another part of the district’s pitch is better learning through improved technology, and at no cost to the taxpayers since it’s being paid for with grants. This includes a grant that the district recently received for nearly two dozen SMART boards at Wilkinson Middle School, which will replace traditional chalkboards. Students and staff can still write on them, but the SMART boards feature energy-efficient LED lighting for projections, and internet connectivity for accessing videos and files.

The district is in the process of installing fiber-optic connections, which will increase the information transfer speed within each building and across the district.

Also, the district is looking to add value in other ways by finding more opportunities to serve other members of the community, including senior citizens. School officials say more details will be forthcoming as plans are fleshed out.

“We want to be a more community-based organization for the people who have supported us and who have paid for this district time and time again,” Kimble said.

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