School district cuts 30 positions

ESCANABA – Approximately 30 positions at Escanaba Area Public Schools have been cut for the 2013-14 school year as part of a number of budget reductions approved by the Escanaba School Board Tuesday.

The cuts, estimated to save the district $1,639,165 as they face an approximate $1.8 million deficit, include a reduction of 15 teachers, 10 program aides, 4.3 custodians, and one non-union position among various other cuts, which the board unanimously approved.

Escanaba Superintendent Michele Lemire said additional cost-saving measures may need to be considered as time goes on since current numbers reflect best estimates at this time.

A reduction to the equivalent of 15 teachers is expected to save the district $1,083,250, according to Lemire, who highlighted the cuts in a presentation during the special school board meeting.

This includes seven junior high/senior high school teachers, three at the Upper Elementary, 3.5 at the K-3 level, and 1.5 teachers who would move to grant-funded positions half-time.

“As I’ve been talking about at board meetings, we anticipate less state funding because of the proposals that both the House, the Senate, and the governor have proposed,” she said. “We expect less money for schools period. Secondly, we know that we’ve anticipated declining enrollment. We have our enrollment assumption, and although the board approved some other types of projects that we hope will position Escanaba to gain students, we won’t know until we see the whites of their eyes. Therefore, we still have a loss of students in our budget projection.”

Lemire said over the years the district has spent its fund balance to operate hoping the state would come through with appropriate funding for schools, but they have not.

“We can’t look beyond our means,” she said. “We need to take measures that none of us want to take because we have to have a balanced budget.”

By reducing the 4.3 custodial and 10 program aide positions, the district expects to save $198,650 and $171,057 respectively. The elimination of the non-union discipline officer position would save an estimated $57,660.

The district’s athletic program will also face $77,547 worth of cuts. These include a reduction in athletic transportation costs, estimated to save $45,000, and the elimination of gymnastics, boy’s tennis, one junior high girls’ basketball team, and one junior high boys’ basketball team.

The district also projects a savings of $51,000 due to a support services offset made possible through the recent implementation of a closed campus at the high school and Great Start Readiness programs created at Soo Hill and Webster elementary schools.

According to Lemire, the reductions: keep all core instruction intact, keep the district’s fine arts program supported K-12, still provide for a robust athletic program, allow advanced placement and accelerated opportunities to remain in place, and still provide interventions for students who need extra help.

Trustee Will Carne noted all the district can do is hope for more state funding.

“We’ve been down this road before and we always hope for a little more money from the state and if that should happen, we could reinstate some of these,” said Carne.

A few people in attendance addressed the board during public comment.

Dan DeLong, a teacher with the district, voiced his frustration that the cuts weren’t addressed sooner.

“Those of you who were on the board last year agreed to take $1 million out of the fund balance to pay the deficit that we had, but that $1 million that you took out was never cut for this coming up year,” he said. “We had to know that we were going to spend another $1 million in this coming up year and we never addressed that issue.”

Jamie Peterson, of Escanaba, said he hopes the board’s goal is to make cuts that have a minimal impact on students’ education, but also questioned why no other options were discussed.

“I’ve been to several meetings in the past, seen other proposals brought; consolidation and privatization on these things were highly opposed by unions and members that it would affect, and I don’t see any of that being revisited,” said Peterson. “So much effort and time was put in and belief that some of those actions were cost effective, and they’re not touched this year.”

Richard Clark, also of Escanaba, said he knew the cuts were coming ever since the state legislature removed money from the school aid fund to the general fund to pay for tax breaks to businesses.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the damage that the legislature has done to your school system,” said Clark. “And I think that it’s incumbent upon anybody who’s upset with this to call those people and tell them that you’re upset. The money was there. They took it…I understand why we’re upset, but before we pick on each other, I think we need to pick on the people who were responsible.”