Esky board says ‘no’ to red ink ISD budget

ESCANABA – The Escanaba School Board “approved to disapprove” of a 2014-15 general fund budget for the Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District at Monday’s school board meeting.

The ISD’s general fund budget is presented to the board annually as a formality and gives them an opportunity to pass a resolution to approve or not approve the budget.

Action was taken following a question brought up regarding a negative balance within the ISD’s budget.

When addressing the question, Escanaba Superintendent Michele Lemire said essentially the ISD adds up all of its negative balances and passes those down as costs to be shared among the local school districts to ensure each of the budget items are funded.

“The superintendents from all the local districts have expressed concern with this,” said Lemire.

Some school board members voiced their frustration with this method.

“It’s frustrating…” said Board Secretary Natalie Clouse. “They’re passing that (cost) on to us and we have no say in that. They’re providing us the service, correct, but we’re providing them money to provide those services as well.”

Lemire noted the move to approve or reject the resolution supporting the ISD general fund budget has no consequences on the district as it is mostly done to ensure budget transparency. However, she said that by not approving the resolution, it would send a message to the ISD about the school board’s concerns.

Prior to voting on the resolution, Board President Cathy Wilson pointed out that it seemed the board hoped for the ISD to do more work to contain costs.

“We’ve had to do that year after year,” she said. “We certainly know they do wonderful work, as does our district, but from what I’m hearing, this motion is in the interest of encouraging some cost containment rather than asking for more money from the districts or spending down the fund balance.”

Ultimately the board unanimously approved to disapprove the ISD general fund budget in a 7-0 vote.

Though not on the agenda, the board also heard concerns from several citizens and employees of the district over the possible privatization of custodial services. In March, the board voted to put out a request for proposal for transportation and custodial services to find out how much these services would cost the district when looking at all possible cost reductions and efficiencies for the 2014-15 school year.

Kevin Keveney, the business agent representing Teamsters employees in the Escanaba School District, spoke to the board on the impact of privatization.

“Aside from the devastation that it could cause to 10 employees in the Escanaba School District…it’s going to have an effect on the community too,” he said.

Keveney pointed out several issues privatization brings forth such as tax dollars leaving the area and liability concerns. He also noted the district would struggle to keep good employees at lower wages should they choose to privatize custodial services.

“You’ve got a group of Teamsters that have done their fair share to help the Escanaba School District over many, many years improve their bottom line,” he said. “We would like you to look elsewhere and we’ll help you.”

Tammy Chouinard also addressed the board by reading a letter on behalf of another concerned citizen.

“We are confident that our superintendent and the board members can come up with better ways to balance the budget,” she said, noting everyone suffers when jobs are lost.

“Education is important for our children,” she added. “Don’t our workers, our schools, and our town deserve better than that?”

Following the comments made during citizens and delegations, Board President Cathy Wilson said privatization is just one item the board has to look at as they consider all options.

“We have not made any decisions. At this point we’ve just been information gathering and that’s what we’re doing,” she said. “We appreciate the feedback. We appreciate you being here and being involved.”

In other business, the board:

– heard a presentation from Escanaba High School Principal Doug Leisenring on the results of the PLAN test given to freshman and sophomore students in preparation for the ACT. The results indicated freshman students performed slightly better than the national average in most categories, only falling a bit behind in mathematics. The sophomore class performed even better – far exceeding national averages in each category. He noted the PLAN test scores are a powerful tool to identify where students are doing well in addition to problem areas that should be addressed.

– approved the second budget amendment for the district’s general fund for the 2013-14 fiscal year. According to Sue Furney, the district’s director of business services, the main reasons for the amendment were higher student enrollment numbers than originally expected, increased utility costs, and changes in use of grant funding. Prior to the budget amendment, Escanaba had expected to use $141,000 of the fund balance, but with the approved amendment is now able to reduce this to $54,000, she said.

– approved a Teamsters wage/insurance reopener agreement that shows no wage increase for the 2013-14 school year as well as the same insurance package as was provided during the 2012-13 school year.

– authorized conducting a market analysis to determine the value of property located behind the high school, at the approximate cost of $100.

– approved the overnight trip for the Escanaba Robomos team to compete in the FIRST Robotics World Championship in St. Louis, Mo. The team has secured the $20,000 of funding needed for the trip and plans to leave for the competition on Wednesday.

– approved renewing a shared time services agreement with Holy Name School for Escanaba to provide music, physical education and art for fourth and fifth grade students at Holy Name.

– approved using the district’s practice of paying non-staff coaches for compensating all non-staff personnel who work in extra-duty positions to ensure consistency and accuracy of pay.

– approved the hiring of Shayne Dix for an open junior high assistant track coach position.

– approved the hiring of Tony Punzel for an open assistant baseball coach position.