Tuesday, November 24, 2009

K-12 Cuts Starting to Take Shape, Wyoming Teachers Offer to Donate Salary to Save Jobs

For those who don't know, Wyoming is a city that borders Grand Rapids. Faced with a $2.4 million dollar deficit and the elimination of 57 jobs in the school district, 20 of those teaching positions, some teachers are looking at the possibility that they could donate part of their salaries to save jobs.

But some teachers offered a solution to save some of the jobs: they could give some of their salaries back as a charitable donation to the district.

Teacher Theresa Almonte presented a letter to the board -- signed, she said, by more than 50 teachers -- calling for the union to discuss and vote on the idea.

"It's something that I felt inside that I had to go forward," Almonte told 24 Hour News 8. "To represent the people in the union who don't feel their voices are being heard, maybe, by leadership."

An earlier attempt to cut pay across the board was voted down by the union, in part because pay cuts to teachers near retirement would affect their pensions. This new approach alleviates that problem, and discussions will continue to try and reach a solution where they can save jobs - but for how long?

This is just one of many stories of how districts across the state are starting to deal with the aftermath of the Bishop-Dillon K-12 budget. Since the legislature never addressed the unfunded $100 million in revenue that was promised, the full proration cut will take affect with the December payment to schools. School boards and parent groups are meeting now to discuss and plan for both the immediate and long-term future, and the cuts are starting to take shape as it becomes very obvious there won't be any help coming out of Lansing. In fact, some are already preparing themselves for further cuts to come in January after the next revenue sharing conference, and as far as the rumored $500-$600 per-pupil cut in the 2010-2011 budget? They are shaking in their shoes.

There have been examples, like the Wyoming one above, where districts are working with employees, both union and otherwise, to mitigate some of the damage from the budget cuts. But overall the stories that are drip, drip, dripping out by the day involve many layoffs and cuts to programs such as sports, music, transportation, operations, building closures - and ultimately districts pushed towards bankruptcy. And, since a lot of this is in the planning stages, these stories will be repeated when the cuts actually do happen in December and January. Thousands of jobs will be lost when its all said and done, not to mention to reduced quality of education all across the state.

Here are some examples of the cuts being discussed at this time, to districts big and small, and everyone in-between. Gathering them together like this show hows quickly it all adds up...

Jackson - Closing one middle school, cutting 29 positions, gets them halfway through a $2.4 million hole. Talks underway for concessions on employee health care to make up some of the difference.

Portage - 53 teachers and other employees cut by Feb. 1st. Program cuts, and more layoffs will follow in the future to close a $2.5 million gap.

Novi - From the home of the Cassis, privatization of bus and custodial staff is on the horizon, affecting 68 employees.

Dearborn - Cutting nearly 300 employees including 90 teachers. Increased class sizes and closed schools in the works.

Athens - Tiny Athens will close one of its three buildings after cuts in the beginning of the year took teachers, other school personnel, and sports. With no savings left, Athens will be in deficit by June.

Hudson - The district is already sharing services, has reduced energy use and cut supplies. Athletics slashed by 25%. Three more layoffs will occur on top of the nine that already happened in October.

Ludington - After already cutting teachers and other staff, the district is now considering cutting programs such as sports, non-required classes, extra-curricular activities and transportation. Increased class sizes may allow them to cut more teachers.

Royal Oak - A $3 million state cut will put everything on the table for consideration, including "elimination of bus transportation, the instrumental and vocal music programs, and all-day kindergarten at two of the district's elementary schools" as well as cuts of teachers and other staff. From the same article, Southfield schools are looking at closing buildings to address a $3.8 million cut, along with more layoffs. Clawson is taking cost cutting measures on equipment and other things as they negotiate union contracts; they also will look at spending their rainy day fund. Ferndale schools are looking at a $1.2 million cut from the state, and while they believe they can hold their own, they are urging parents to contact lawmakers about the cuts.

Oakland - Eliminating 36 positions and accepting resignations on 28 more. Looking at cutting another 36 positions by 2011. Furlough days and wage freezes, as well as cuts to supplies, equipment, and contractors' pay rates already in play.

Grand Ledge - 53 positions cut, teachers and staff. Transportation for high school cut. Cuts to athletics. Consolidation/closing of school buildings. Cuts to music programs. Employee salary concessions.

Hillsdale - Facing deficit spending over the coming year, the district will offer "severance packages to 10 to 15 teachers and 10 to 15 support staff members". It's not expected to entirely close the gap.

Saugatuck - The school board gave the superintendent the power to cut staff, up to 59 teachers and other positions could be affected.

East Lansing - Talk of eliminating some or all of their transportation. Cuts to athletics, closing some schools, furloughs and teacher layoffs all on the table.

Alpena - 13 non-teaching positions, safety patrol, DARE, Science Olympiad, and school supply cuts are being recommended to avoid dipping into the rainy day fund. Cuts to athletics on tap. Next year will see the possibility of more layoffs and school closings.

Byron Center - Cuts of 12 teaching positions, elimination of "block scheduling", reductions to graduation requirements, all could be the "tip of the iceberg" as the district looks to close a $420,000 deficit. This comes on top of a $545,000 cut already made in October.

Escanaba - Sports, supplies, pay freezes, cuts to staff all being considered to close a $439,000 gap. Elimination of Boys Tennis, Middle School Track, Girls Gymnastics will happen by December. Administration, transportation, instructional support received cuts, adding time to the school day to eliminate 5 days from the school calendar, and closing an elementary school in the works.

Brighton - 10% pay cut across the board for all employees. Elimination of teacher, counselor, secretarial, principal positions. Livingston would take over busing. Privatize custodial staff, close an elementary school, increase class sizes by 15%, are some of the options the district is looking at to reduce a projected shortfall of up to $15 million by the end of the 2010-11 school year.

Midland - Closing "four or five" schools won't even come close to filling a deficit that is expected to grow to $9.5 million next year. More details on cuts to be released later.

Mt. Pleasant - A story on mid-Michigan schools has officials nervously eyeing the future cuts that may come in January. Mt. Pleasant has laid off support staff, will increase the class size for kindergarten, and has eliminated some transportation. They also tapped their reserve funds. Shepherd schools had already cut $700,000 before the year began, Beal City has avoided layoffs by using attrition, Clare was taken aback by the size of the cuts and is now in a "holding pattern".

Let's go back to the words of Matt Marsden on Oct 30th:

"Those two guys (Dillon and Bishop) got a budget passed," said Bishop's spokesman Matt Marsden. "This was a bipartisan budget. It was voted on by both Republicans and Democrats. It was the best budget that we could come up with that did not rely on tax increases. It's time to move on."

Thousands of angry voters across Michigan would probably agree, although not in the "let's brush it under the rug" way that Marsden is suggesting. If this keeps up, and all indications are that it will, we will help you ALL "move on" to careers outside of public service just as fast as we possibly can.

With the attitudes such as Marsden's on display, and lawmakers running off for long vacations, and pollsters worrying themselves with attack ads and other nonsense, the real world is left to deal with the consequences of the legislature's cowardice, inaction and obstruction. It's no wonder people are absolutely furious at what has happened here.

Sad thing is, unless there is a 180 degree turn in behavior, it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.