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Published: Thursday, 6/18/2009

Whiteford Agricultural district trims staff, cuts hours

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA LAKE Whiteford Agricultural Schools officials last week laid off teachers and staff and privatized food service workers to trim $335,000 from next year s budget.

The district joined the list of Monroe County schools to downsize teachers and staff to offset projected deficits for the 2009-2010 school year.

Without the cuts made by the school board, the district would have faced an almost $900,000 deficit for next year, Herb Gabehart, interim superintendent of the 740-student district said.

The $335,000 in cutbacks were achieved by laying off a full-time math teacher and special education classroom and bus transportation aides.

Also, two teachers, including a instrumental music teacher, were reduced from full time to part time.

The board also decided that the four food service employees who are on the district payroll will be transferred to Sodexo, the school system s food service management firm.

If you don t have funds coming in from Lansing, then you have to reduce the work force, and it is getting worse, Mr. Gabehart said. From here to Marquette, all Michigan schools are in the same boat.

The school board projects spending $6.5 million for the school year that begins July 1 and revenue of just more than $5.9 million, forcing the district to take about $600,000 from savings.

Mr. Gabehart said the district s savings, often referred to as fund equity, will be down to about $500,000 at the end of June, 2010.

Whiteford, like many districts in the state, must make drastic budget cuts to offset enrollment loss and decreased state revenue sharing coupled with increased operating costs.

Bedford Public Schools is reviewing operations to offset a projected multimillion deficit, and Monroe Schools approved a elementary consolidation plan to help offset a deficit.

If the situation becomes worse, the schools will have to take other measures to balance their budgets, Mr. Gabehart said.

Whiteford expects to have about 15 fewer students when school starts in September.

The layoffs at Whiteford could have been worse. Two elementary teachers will keep their jobs because one will transfer to the middle school and the other to the high school to replace retiring teachers.

Mike Baumann, of Michigan Education Association, the union that represents bus drivers, custodians, and food-service workers, said the decision to privatize food service workers breaks a promise made to them in 2006 when the district change food management companies.

Mr. Baumann said that an agreement made by then Superintendent Craig Haugen and approved by the board guarantees employment to four food service workers unless they quit or retire.

The transfer of the cafeteria workers to Sodexo will affect the employee s retirement. The workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that doesn t expire until June 30, 2010.

They breached the agreement not to privatize and breached the collective bargaining agreement, Mr. Baumann said.

Mr. Baumann said a grievance and lawsuit will likely result because of the change, and the litigation will negate any savings that the board hoped to achieve by transferring the employees.

This doesn t make sense to everyone involved, he said.



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