Van Dyke board approves staff cuts

School officials to look at additional reductions

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published June 15, 2012

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WARREN — As the financial picture grows bleaker in Van Dyke Public Schools, administrators and school board members continue to look for ways to cut expenses.

At a Board of Education meeting June 11, the school board voted 7-0 to eliminate approximately 35 staff positions for the 2012-13 school year. The cuts become effective June 30, and the approved reductions will save the district $1.37 million.

The bargaining unit cuts included 9.5 teaching positions; 6.5 paraprofessional positions; 5 positions from Local 989, which includes bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers; and 3.5 secretarial positions. Eleven positions not represented by a union also were eliminated.

Prior to the vote, VDPS Superintendent Joseph Pius — for about 90 minutes — outlined the district’s financial outlook for the 2012-13 school year.

“It is a preliminary budget,” the superintendent said. “It is based on what Lansing has given us. It is not a final budget until next year, June 30, 2013.”

School officials predict the district will receive $7,728 in per-pupil funding next year. With revenue projected at $29.7 million and expenses at $34 million, VDPS is looking at a shortfall of about $4.3 million. Per state law, school districts must balance their budgets, and when there is a shortfall, school officials must look at additional ways to cut spending.

Van Dyke is not alone with its financial woes. School districts receive money from the state, and because of Michigan’s economic downturn, there is less and less money in the state aid fund for public education.

During the meeting, Pius presented a number of what he called “suggestions” regarding ways to further reduce costs in Van Dyke. The suggestions included closing the Thomas Community Center; grant reductions; and eliminating the kindergarten assistants, Lincoln Middle School and Lincoln High School athletics, and the State of Michigan School-To-Work program. According to the presentation, the cuts would save the district a total of $1.4 million.

The superintendent’s second list of suggestions included reducing instructional staff by 7.5; reducing contracted staff; reducing an assistant department head; and reducing bus drivers, custodians and support staff by two members per department. The savings would amount to nearly $1.06 million, but the district would have to budget $209,000 for unemployment, which would bring the savings to $847,000.

Other suggestions, which could save the district more dollars, included closing Kennedy Elementary, removing elementary enrichment and secondary band and vocal music, and adding students.

Pius pointed out that if programs and athletics were to go, the district would most likely lose students, thus taking dollars with them.

The board did not take any action on Pius’ recommendations. The school board is expected to hold a board meeting June 25 to vote on a preliminary budget for next year.

“We are as close to being a deficit school district as you want to be,” Pius said. “This has been agonizing.”

Should Van Dyke become a deficit school district, Pius said, school officials must submit a deficit reduction plan to the state. A district has two years to get out of deficit.

“Additional years are granted if you are moving in the right direction,” Pius said. “You have to show you are making dramatic changes across the board. The deficit (reduction) plan is reviewed monthly.”

Because talk of impending cuts circled through the district, many employees and parents attended the meeting.

“I’m heartbroken … devastated,” parent Beth Hinsley said at the thought of Kennedy closing. “I don’t want to lose our teachers and displace our kids. We just got a new principal, and she’s amazing.”

Hinsley’s son Jacob will be in second-grade this fall and her daughter Isabella will start kindergarten. Hinsley, who also has an 11-month-old, is a member of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, which is very active.

“We had a great turnout for Coney Night back in March,” Hinsley said. “We raised money for a family who lost their house in a fire. We had a Secret Santa and bought coats for the kids.”

Stephanie Ware, who has two children at Kennedy, is concerned that if athletics are cut, kids will be on the streets. She also doesn’t want to see the Kennedy students split up.

“The odds are you’re going to be breaking up a lot of best friends,” said Ware, who also has a son in the World of 4s program and one toddler.

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