2007-06-14 / Front Page

Les Cheneaux Schools Cut $137,000 From Budget

Aide Position, Athletic Busing Eliminated, Will Be Reinstated if Finances Improve
By Amy Polk

Les Cheneaux Community Schools Board of Education made substantial cuts to balance next year's budget and reduce a projected $190,000 deficit at a special meeting Wednesday, June 6.

"By cutting some of these things, we are not saying the program is cut, we're only saying the general fund is not going to pay for these things," Superintendent Rod Goehmann told residents.

One person was laid off, and busing to athletic events was eliminated. The board trimmed 11 days from the school calendar by lengthening the school day, and a fulltime special education teacher will be replaced with a part-time teacher. Students will pay for copies they make at school, and coaching salaries for fourth through eighth grade athletics were eliminated. Board members gave up $5 of their $25 meeting stipend and the board secretary will receive $25 instead of $30.

The vote was not unanimous; Dan Burrows, Tony Hakola, Marianne Coyne, and Carl McIntire voted in favor and Dave Murray voted against the cuts. Dave Sudol and John Causley were absent.

Eleven cuts were made to trim $137,073 from next year's budget, so the district can adopt a balanced budget before next fiscal year begins July 1. Michigan public schools are required by law to adopt a balanced budget that shows how expenditures will be paid for during the school year. Trustees plan to use fund equity to cover the remaining $52,927 deficit, if additional revenue isn't realized.

2007-2008 School Year

Budget Cuts Adopted June 6

+ $7,760 - four fewer school days by eliminating some half days.

+ $420 - board salary reduction, at $5 a board member, based on seven board members and one meeting a month for 12 months.

+ $8,500 - extra bus runs, primarily to athletic events. Coaches or athletic programs will provide their own transportation, or pay to use the school's bus. Estimated cost will be $1 per mile, plus the driver's wages.

+ $11,743 - salaries for elementary and middle school coaches. Having no coaching salaries will save $2,198 on fourth to sixth grade athletics, and $9,545 for seventh and eighth grade athletics.

+ $1,900 - approximate savings from introducing student printer paper fee, a suggested $10 per student for an estimated 190 students. Administrators said there is software available to monitor paper use, and suggested there may be other ways to recover the cost of paper and printer cartridges.

+ $5,000 - lump sum cut from the athletic fund, to be trimmed at the athletic director's discretion, most likely in invitational and conference fees and miscellaneous expenditures.

+ $1,400 - lump sum music program cut, to be made at the music director's discretion, most likely music purchases, and festival and competition fees.

+ $20,350 - add 28 minutes a day to cut 11 days from school year. Next year's school schedule has not been adopted, but an 8 a.m. start and 3:20 p.m. end was suggested.

Mr. Goehmann said the cuts don't mean programs should be discontinued. He pointed to St. Ignace Area Schools, where athletic transportation was funded privately when the district was forced to stop paying for the service.

Likewise, Les Cheneaux district athletes and their supporters have options. Funding may come from a source outside the schools, Mr. Goehmann said, or teams can pay to use a school bus and driver.

Other options include carpooling or taking one's own car to events. Parents and fans can drive students to events, or students of legal driving age can transport themselves. Sports programs and organizations can also raise money if they want to use a school bus.

"The only thing the board is setting by adopting this is that there won't be bus transportation for athletics coming from the general fund," Mr. Goehmann said.

The district will save $8,500 a year by not bussing teams to athletic events.

Cedarville resident Joe Forrester said he would research ways to pay for bussing to athletic events. He feared burdening Athletic Director Dave Duncan with coordinating team transportation.

"I will go on the record that I am 100% against pay-to-ride, and I will start looking at what else we can do," Mr. Forrester said.

Mr. Duncan was surprised by the proposal to cut athletic transportation, and is doubtful the athletic program will be able to attract more private funding than it already gets. The transportation cut is not part of the $95,000 athletic budget. The fund is already supplemented by the Cedarville Trojan Booster Club, which replaces a $5,000 cut made two years ago. Mr. Duncan fears the community may tire of all the fundraising by school and community organizations.

"I think we've beaten this community to death with the fundraising, and I'm not so sure they'll be so generous with athletics," he added.

Volunteer drama teacher and Cedarville resident Lisa Dunn took the opposite view.

"Judging by the generosity of the community in the past, I think when it comes to keeping the school open, people would give," Mrs. Dunn said.

She said she believes the district's first priorities are keeping the school open, heated, and providing a safe place for students to learn.

"All the choices put before us were very gut-wrenching," Mr. Goehmann said of the administrators' decisions over the past two months. Dave Murray likened the cuts to "plugging holes in a sinking ship," and commented that "it seems we're building this on the backs of the support staff, and boy, that's hard to take."

President Dan Burrows noted that 82% of next year's budget is for staff salaries and benefits.

Trustees accepted the recommendations of the administrators, who made some voluntary concessions to save money. One is that Mr. Goehmann will not take a raise over the next four years, but the district will buy a year of service toward his retirement. Trustees signed a contract he offered them to set the district's portion of his salary at $49,500 a year for the next four years as dual superintendent of Les Cheneaux and DeTour Area schools. The additional year toward retirement will cost $8,167.50. DeTour Area Schools signed an identical contract to pay the same amounts over four years, setting Mr. Goehmann's salary at $99,000 a year through 2011. Both schools will pay $16,335 for the year toward his retirement. Mr. Murray voted against the contract, with the rest of the board voting in favor.

The other concession was Elementary Principal Eric Cardwell's return to the classroom, which will save the district an estimated $5,000 a year in reduced salary, because he will be paid as a teacher for part of the time.

At Wednesday's meeting, trustees analyzed each of the remaining recommended cuts and their consequences.

One of those was eliminating a teacher's aide position held by Meri Dresbach. In what amounted to be the second largest cut, the position elimination will save the district $23,000. High School Principal Randy Schaedig admitted the aide position was created when the district had more students, and Mr. Goehmann added that Mrs. Dresbach had the least seniority of the aides.

"Regrettably, to reach the goal of reducing the $190,000 deficit, we [needed] to do that, and we were reluctant to do so because it affects a person," Mr. Goehmann said.

Trustees said they would reinstate the position if additional revenue comes in. Four potential sources identified by Mr. Goehmann include at least $80,000 from the sale of the school-owned house, $80,000 in anticipated health care savings based on last year's savings, $35,000 in possible transportation assistance, and $30,000 if the state's retirement rate is lowered. The state retirement rate, a percentage of employee payroll paid by all public school districts to fill the school employee retirement fund, is now 18.56% of payroll, Mr. Goehmann said. Legislators have proposed lowering that rate to 16.6%, which would save the district $30,000.

Trustees had mixed feelings about giving up their salaries for board meetings. Mr. Murray proposed the board give up the entire stipend, calling a $5 reduction a mere "token."

"If we cut our entire salary, the students wouldn't have to pay for paper," Mr. Murray said.

Trustee Marianne Coyne agreed to forego the salary, but the rest of the board disagreed on whether $5 was enough, or even too much of a cut.

Proposals not implemented included reducing the athletic director's time to one hour a day instead of two; eliminating the game site supervisor's position to save $2,800; privatizing custodial services to save $23,261; reducing secretary hours by 10 days (five at the beginning and five at the end of the year) to save $3,500; pay-to-participate for all extracurricular activities ($40 a student for 190 students in middle and high school) to save $7,600, and cutting the morning bus run to save $53,000.

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