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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2005

Monroe OKs $3M package of school cuts

MONROE - Before an overflowing group of angry parents, teachers, and counselors, the Monroe Board of Education last night passed a package of budget cuts that will help the system deal with a $3.5 million deficit for the 2005-06 school year.

The cuts total about $3 million. The most controversial aspect - not hiring new teachers to replace the 21 teachers expected to retire at the end of the school year - will save $1.9 million, the board said.

Other cuts approved included reducing the district's custodial and maintenance staff, eliminating nongrant funding of the system's teacher's aides program, and cutting supply purchases.

The measure passed 5-1, with board member Lawrence VanWasshenova casting the dissenting vote.

Mr. VanWasshenova persuaded the board not to cut the system's fifth-grade band program, which costs $5,000 a year.

This month, the board approved cutting weekend bus trips for athletic events, decided not to replace a retiring administrative assistant, and cut the technology budget by $200,000, saving about $252,000. The board also raised annual athletic participation fees from $50 to $150 for high school athletes and from $25 to $50 for middle school athletes, which will add $130,000 in revenue.

The district's deficit, which has been growing for several years, is from decreased state funding and increasing expenses.

"The governor has put us in a bad way," board Secretary Donald Thurber told the crowd.

Said June Knabusch Taylor, the board's vice president: "There's no other money in any pocket left."

A steady stream of parents, school district employees, and students spoke out against the cuts. They were particularly concerned about the possible elimination of many of the system's counselors and teacher's aides. Under the cutback plan, other certified employees, such as counselors, will move into slots vacated by retiring teachers. The counselors likely won't be replaced, the board said.

"Counselors provide the building blocks for children to learn," said Lynn Simmons, an elementary school counselor with the system.

Said Alexandra Horenstein, a Monroe High junior: "I think cutting 21 teachers is ridiculous. I would rather get a better education with less classes than a mediocre education with all the classes I have now."

Other employees who will be impacted by the cuts also spoke out, including a bus driver who said, "It's easy to cut us, but we're just as important as everyone else."

Several speakers suggested the board consider cutting administrative posts. Teachers, one speaker said, are a school system's most important asset.

The board, giving itself some leeway, did agree not to pin down the exact number of positions impacted by the plan.

Board member Glen Ohlemacher pushed for that language because "it will give us some flexibility. Maybe we can save a couple of counselors or other jobs," he said.

Terry Serbin, district personnel director, said he didn't know if there would be any layoffs next year, but "it's probable."

The board still has to cut another $500,000 to cover the $3.5 million deficit.

Other possibilities include eliminating bus service to students who live within 1 1/2 miles of school, and perhaps eliminating transportation for high school students altogether.

Asking Monroe voters for a tax levy to raise more money is not an option since Michigan voters approved Proposal A in 1994, which raised the state's sales tax from 4 percent to 6 percent and drastically reduced property taxes as a new way of funding public schools in the state. The plan also restricted new property tax levies to money for building schools.

In other business, the board approved not renewing the contract of Toby Wegener, assistant principal at Monroe Middle School. Mr. Wegener was suspended without pay earlier this month after an internal investigation found evidence of possible theft and misappropriation of school district funds and property.

Superintendent David Taylor declined to reveal any details, but said no criminal charges have been filed against Mr. Wegener.



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