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Published: Wednesday, 7/12/2006

District feels pinch of flat enrollment, state budgets

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

PETERSBURG, Mich. - The Summerfield School District is feeling the pinch.

The district may look flush, what with this summer's ambitious $3.5 million construction program, but because that money was provided by a bond earmarked for construction, the district can't use it for its operations, said Superintendent Jack Hewitt.

So the school board has approved a deficit budget, using $300,000 from its fund equity, or rainy day fund, to meet next year's anticipated expenses, Mr. Hewitt said. The district's total budget is about $6.5 million.

It's a situation many Michigan school boards face, Mr. Hewitt added.

"It's not a great time in Michigan school finance right now," he said, echoing statements from other area superintendents and boards, including Mason Consolidated and Bedford, which have had to cut their budgets this year. "We're pretty much at the mercy of the state."

Part of the problem, also mentioned by other boards in their budget talks, is that they don't know how much the state will allot them per pupil. Another issue is flat enrollment figures.

Summerfield has 825 students from kindergarten to grade 12.

"If we had more students, we'd get more money," he said. "Enrollment has not been increasing."

Other costs figure into the problem too.

"We've budgeted for increases in fuel, electricity, and natural gas, as those expenses are going up," Mr. Hewitt said. "Insurance costs are going up, and retirement rates are going up."

Meanwhile, the board has a tentative, unapproved agreement for a two-year contract with the teachers' union.

The agreement would net educators 1.5 percent annual increases.

The district found easy budget cuts when six people retired from the district at the end of the year.

"We retire the more expensive people and hire at the lower end of pay scale," he said. Plus, the district will leave two of those positions vacant.

Other cuts include textbooks and classroom supplies, and the freshman boys' basketball and freshman girls' volleyball programs, Mr. Hewitt said.

The district does not have a pay-to-play policy, although it has considered one.

"We have looked at that, but at this point, the board has decided not to do that for the coming year," Mr. Hewitt said. "We do charge athletes for supplemental athletic insurance. Our most expensive sport is football, and that's $22 a year."



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