March 18 • 10:18 PM

Cuts run deep in Imlay

School district responds to Lansing's slash in budget

November 04, 2009
IMLAY CITY — With substantially fewer dollars in the government's coffers, Michigan lawmakers are struggling to balance the state's budget, while trying to maintain a quality education for students.

The state legislature recently cut K-12 school funding by $165 per student for the current school year. Because of the shortfall in the state's School Aid Fund, Gov. Jennifer Granholm has issued an additional mid-year cut of another $127. The legislature has until Nov. 21 to eliminate the shortfall and prevent the proposed mid-year cut.

When Michigan voters approved Proposal A in 1994, many hailed the opportunity to fund schools through sales taxes and lottery revenues rather than local property taxes.

Proposal A was based on the assumption that the state's economy would continue to grow incrementally. The recent collapse of the auto industry has caused a serious strain on the state's tax base.

Meanwhile, local public school officials have been stripping their district budgets in anticipation of a worst-case scenario.

In Imlay City, schools Supt. Gary Richards says the district could see its budget cut by $670,000 for the 2009-10 school year, equaling a loss of nearly $300 per student.

He says the future could get worse, as school officials project a shortfall somewhere between $1.3 million and $2.4 million for the 2010-11 school year.

Students fill the hallways at Imlay City High School, where school officials are tightening their belts to adust to expected cuts in school funding. photo by Tom Wearing.

Richards is urging state legislators act swiftly to avoid further cuts in personnel and programs in Imlay City and other school districts statewide.

"We are facing the largest cuts to K-12 education in recent years," said Richards. "The legislature needs to restore the funding cuts to Michigan public schools for 2009-10. They need to work in the near future to develop a long-term, sustainable funding solution for Michigan's public schools. Our students deserve a better future."

Richards says the district has cut more than $2 million from its budget in the past three years. They've done it through the elimination of eight teachers, a middle school librarian, the high school athletic trainer, several building and instructional aides, three computer technicians, a custodian, one bus driver, one mechanic and other positions deemed less crucial to school operations.

In other cost-saving measures, the district has eliminated busing for athletic contests held on weekends; increased pay-to-play for student athletes; and reduced funding for after-school enrichment classes and field trips.

Richards noted that building repairs have been delayed and money for classroom supplies and equipment reduced; along with changes in employees' health plans to reduce premium costs.

To further respond to the financial crisis, the district has formed a 35-member Budget Task Force, whose job it is to prepare and balance a budget for next year.

The task force is comprised of teachers, parents, administrators, secretaries, bud drivers, cooks, custodians, aides, maintenance workers and school board members.

Richards says the task force's goal is to develop ways to reduce expenses and generate income, while prioritizing essential services.

Once those tasks are completed, Richards says he will present a tentative budget to the Imlay City Board of Education in March or April of 2010.

He stresses the importance that state legislators act swiftly to avoid further cuts in personnel and programs.

Editor's note: See next week's paper to find out how other Tri-City area school districts are responding to the state funding cuts.

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