2011-06-05 / Front Page

LCS officials work to close $8.6-million deficit

Students to pay more to play sports, eat lunch and park at school
BY JEFF HOGAN 810-452-2640  jhogan@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — District parents and residents will have an opportunity June 16 to offer their input on a proposal by the administration and the Lapeer Community Schools Board of Education to close the gap on a projected $8.6-million deficit for the 2011-2012 budget.

A special budget hearing will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the district’s Administration and Services Center on Second Street in Lapeer. Following the hearing the LCS board may vote to approve the budget that includes nearly $4 million in wage and benefit concessions from the district’s 350 teachers as well as reflects $2 million in cuts and higher fees for student lunches and to participate in sports.

The LCS board discussed the budget until nearly midnight Thursday, agonizing line by line on a list of suggested cuts and also setting the tone for future budget priority discussions including the possibility of privatizing janitorial services, reducing the number of athletic directors (currently four) while at the same time finding a way to ensure technology maintenance and upgrades remain funded.

As proposed, the 2011- 2012 budget, beleaguered by declining enrollment, a reduction in per-pupil funding from the State of Michigan and rising health care costs and other day-to-day expenses, includes the transfer of $2.6 million from the district’s fund balance to the general fund to compensate for the loss in state aid as recently approved by the state Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder. The reduction from the so-called “rainy day” fund will leave the district with approximately $2.8 million in the fund balance, or about 5.5 percent of the district’s overall $49 million budget.

“It’s been pouring for years. That’s what we budget that money for, but we need to be careful so as not to deplete that fund too much in event of any major unforeseen emergencies,” said Kevin Rose, the district’s finance manager.

The greatest savings to the budget crisis was announced last week when the district and the Lapeer Education Association said they had reached agreement on a one-year contract that includes no increase in pay as well a structural change that reduces the number of teaching positions in the district by more than 30 and increases the amount teachers pay toward their health care premiums.

The 2011-2012 budget calls for an increase in school lunch prices as the district works to meet an unfunded mandate by the federal government to increase the nutritional content in food served students, that will average about an 8-cent increase for as many as 600 students in the LCS district at the middle and high school level. In order to reduce childhood obesity and encourage healthier eating, the district’s food management company will be offering students even more fruit and vegetables while encouraging the consumption of water rather than soda beverages. All milk served in the district beginning next year will be no fat.

In an effort to raise more revenue, the district will likely also increase the pay-to-participate fee for high school students from $120 to $150 that will allow the student to play in up to four sports during the school year, while the students that qualify for free or reduced cost lunches will be required to pay $25. Currently this segment of the population pays nothing. Nearly 47 percent of the district’s student qualify for free or reduced meals due to the income level of their parents.

“As much as I don’t like this, when we came into this budget process I wasn’t sure if we were going to have sports or music,” commented trustee Mike Keller.

Also related to sports, the district proposes to make swimming an unfunded sport for a savings of $18,000; combine (East and West) or eliminate hockey to save $14,000; eliminate Saturday transportation for athletic events for a savings of $12,600; begin to charge for softball and baseball games to raise $10,000, and the consolidation of athletic trips to save $5,000.

The board also concurred that it must be firm on its resolve to fund sports teams who dress the number of players stated by previous guidelines for number of students per team necessary. For example, if policy states a team must have 16 players and only 15 come out for the team it likely won’t be funded in the future.

High school students who drive to school will also likely pay more to park, as the district proposes to change its annual parking permit fee to a per trimester fee. The parking fee is expected to generate $7,000 for the district.

Other savings will be found in management reorganization of noninstructional personnel in the elementary, middle school and high school buildings for a combined savings of nearly $450,000 as well as in the reduction of 12 benefit packages at the bus garage ($180,000). In other personnel matters, a special assessment coordinator position may be eliminated, dean of students will be contracted to save as much as $106,000, support positions at the administration building may be reorganized to save $50,000, while the assistant food director position may be reduced to part-time status to save $15,000.

Also in the transportation area, the budget calls for reorganization of bus garage staffing (mechanic, office) to save $61,700. An initial proposal to eliminate bus purchases for a savings of $360,000 was altered to include $90,000 in the budget that may allow for the purchase of two or three used buses. In addition, LCS students who ride a bus may in the future find advertising on the interior of the bus as a way to generate new revenue.

By its own bus replacement policy, the district is 14 buses behind in its plan to put newer buses on the road. The board was reluctant to eliminate all funding, since several buses are pushing 200,000 miles and repairs and parts are becoming increasingly expensive.

The board also agreed to restore $75,000 to the technology replacement budget. The budget proposed elimination of $150,000 from that fund, but with recent investment in new equipment district-wide as well as a system that includes many old servers and computers the board was leery to budget no money to support the district’s equipment. The central office administration has accepted a 2.5 percent pay cut as well.

Board secretary John Nugent isn’t convinced there can’t be more savings found at the administration level and inquired how many people work out of the Administration and Services Center.

Superintentendent Debbie Thompson said since 2000 when the numbers of positions totaled 28 or 29, she noted by next year there will 20 people in administration. Holding up a piece of paper, he drew an inverted triangle to demonstrate that he believes that district is top-heavy in high-paid administrators.

“I think we have looked at ourselves, and we are continuing to look at that,” said Thompson, set to retire from the district in two weeks after 40 years in education.

Nugent countered, “I think we need to look more like the business world that has gotten used to making due with less for years. Somehow education always seems to think they are different.”

As an example of how district officials are looking under every rock for savings or alternative outside the-box sources of revenue, visitors to the district’s website, lapeerschools.org, may even find advertisements on the home page, possibly generating as much as $25,000 for the school district.

“In my years as superintendent here, this has been the most difficult and painful budget we’ve ever had to work on. We’re coming up with some creative ways to do things, but it remains difficult when we never really know what the state is going to give us,” said Thompson.

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