2013-05-02 / Front Page

Goodrich votes to layoff 19 teachers, other cuts on table


Scott Bogner Scott Bogner GOODRICH — As briefly reported last week, Goodrich School Board voted unanimously to issue layoff notices to 19 teachers in order to meet a deadline of notification by May 1.

Following is additional information regarding the boards’ budget crisis.

“Our hands are tied,” said Board President David Cramer. “If you think it’s (education) gutted now, wait until he (Gov. Rick Snyder) get his hands on it. We don’t want to do it.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by all the board members who are attempting to make up for a fund balance which has continually been dipped into since 2008 and anticipated cuts to continue from Lansing budget negotiations.

Although most public comments were addressed regarding the proposed privatization of bus services, the teacher cuts were not popular either. Student representative for the board, Nathan Hagerman, said many kids developed bonds with the teachers and were not happy having to worry about seeing them go.

Protesters were recently picketing Goodrich Schools administrative offices to object to talk of privatizing some services within the district such as maintenance, transportation and secretarial employees. Protesters were recently picketing Goodrich Schools administrative offices to object to talk of privatizing some services within the district such as maintenance, transportation and secretarial employees. “Please believe we do listen,” said Board Treasurer Chip Shultz. “The choices we make are the hardest choices we have to make. This is about the children.”

Although he and other administrators were sympathetic, they indicated the only choice they had, to be fiscally responsible in their duties, was to make the cuts. They did however encourage the audience to help change things by contacting their elected officials.

“Contact Joe Graves, contact Senator (David) Robertson. Meet with them — I will go with you and discuss why we need this money,” said Trustee Ryan Starski. “Take the passion you showed tonight and go to meetings.”

This was echoed by other board members as well.

The president of the Custodians, Maintenance, Para-Pro, and Transportation (CMPT) group, Betty Butterworth, discussed the sacrifices they have made in recent years to assist the budget, including wage decreases and hours cut, and claimed these should have produced significant savings to the district.

“You are turning on the very people who have helped you,” Butterworth said. Several speakers mentioned the dedication and “above and beyond” service they have grown to love and expect from not only the transportation employees, but the secretaries and para-pro’s as well.

“They’re as close to the kids as they can get,” said Tom Cavric, a resident who related a story about the potential danger of “strange” drivers who won't care about the kids.

“We all go above and beyond,” said Secretary Betty Griffiths, “because we are members of the Goodrich education community.”

Like many in the transportation department, Karen Lavelle felt the board was cutting from the wrong end of the deficit.

“We’re not here for the big moneybecause we don’t get it.” she said. “We’re not here for the benefits, because we don’t get those either.”

Another resident, Teesha Lieber, said she thinks at least one of the companies being considered for transportation services was a subsidiary of a United Kingdom business and was concerned about jobs being given to an overseas service who had no concern for local kids.

Stacey Ayotte mentioned that these positions are hired for low wages and no benefits, and there is a high turnover, or as Lieber stated, a tendency to “Do Eight and Skate”, referring to a typical hourly worker who is not invested in the community.

Cindy Nance, also a transportation employee, said there is more than 175 years of experience in her department and felt that was priceless to the district.

“They’re a valuable resource,” said resident Donna Perkins. “I need you to acknowledge that.”

“You can't put a price on people,” said Maureen McCallister, an MEA negotiator. She and others accused the board of holding money in the ‘rainy day’ (General) fund rather than protecting jobs, but Superintendent Scott Bogner said this was not the case.

The next day he went over the balance sheet which indicated the district has been in “deficit” ever since 2008, when they began pulling from the general fund every year to meet expenditures.

A lower fund balance leads to higher borrowing, Bogner explained, which is something that costs taxpayer money which could be going to stu- dents or salaries. Because the state budget year falls after the school budget year, school districts borrow money every year and end up paying interest ($30-40,000 annually) on money they should have gotten from Lansing in a more timely manner, according to board officials.

“This is an unnecessary cost to taxpayers,” said Bogner. “It’s our job to serve kids and prepare them for jobs that haven’t been created yet.”

Although public concern was expressed for the loss of the computer science teacher, he said the same skills could be acquired through the skill center program.

“I will not throw kids under the bus,” said Bogner. “It’s short-term pain for long-term gain.”

In May, following meetings in Lansing on the state budget, he expects the board will have a better idea of how things are going to be, but for planning at this point, they have to assume a loss of approximately 40 students based on current trending.

McCallister said the district should not lose jobs when they have a positive fund balance and also commented on the authorization to purchase school buses in the same meeting, claiming that these types of decisions were not fiscally responsible.

“We’re spending money on buses to keep kids safe,” Cramer said, and was supported by Mechanic Craig Hart, who indicated the district’s spare buses are from 1996 and any significant issue with them would be costly to repair.

Atlas Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones said she came to the meeting to give the board good news; reporting there were 11 permits so far this year for homes or home construction and they are seeing an increasing trend in this area.

Cramer reassured the crowd in the board room they are currently exploring a lot of options and that aside from the announced layoffs, no final decision has been made. He said in a finance committee meeting last week they discussed budget cuts and are doing their best to keep them “…away from kids as much as possible.”

The board was also willing to hear suggestions from the public.

Options for increasing revenue were also voted on at the meeting, the Schools of Choice (SOC) program and the shared time program.

“This board is being pro-active,” said Bogner. “We reversed our position (on SOC) from last year and as variables become clear, we can adjust accordingly. We can't spend more than we have…the taxpayers expect us to be good stewards of their money.”

Starski asked if there was a significant increase in students would the board bring teaching staff back; and along the same line, Trustee Timothy Zirnhelt asked if there was a plan in place to control class sizes. Bogner said SOC students must be accepted if qualified and the board would definitely look at recalling or hiring if that was indicated.

“If we cut (SOC) off, we can ensure privatization,” Cramer added. “We don’t live in a perfect world.”

Starski countered that students coming from other districts are basically reaping the benefit of the Goodrich taxpayers approval of bonds and millages, and stated it wasn’t fair to the people the board represents— which was met with loud applause from the crowded room.

Finally, Bogner said, “I have a tremendous passion for kids. All I know is kids have to win and if they don’t, at some point, we’re going to lose.”

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