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Grappling with cuts


School district holds public meeting to air concerns about looming budget issues, teacher negotiations


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High School Principal Mike Mrozinski encouraged parents to consider hosting foreign exchange students as a way to bolster funding. photo by Maria Brown.

January 13, 2010
CAPAC — Significant mid-year budget cuts don't appear likely at Capac Schools.

At a special meeting on Jan. 5, the board examined a list of potential cuts compiled at their request by Supt. Jerry Jennex. Though the cuts totalled nearly $500,000, Jennex and several board members expressed their desire to 'weather the storm' and reevaluate their finances at the conclusion of the 2009-10 school year. The board will host another public meeting on Monday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. at the high school activity area.

Member Greg Warnez said mid-year cuts would be "terrible."

"None of these really interest me," he said of the list that included privatization of employees and some teacher layoffs.

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Several parents also expressed their opposition to budget reductions.

"You can't do away with things that help kids," parent Heather Hayes said. She said she was especially upset at suggestions of restructuring the kindergarten program and eliminating band and choir classes in the middle school.

Adding to the uncertain financial times is the fact that Capac teachers and support staff have been without a contract since summer 2008. Negotiations have come to a standstill and last summer, the employee unions filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the school district, alleging Capac was no longer "bargaining in good faith." A decision could come as early as February.

At the meeting, Capac Education Association President Colleen Burke gave board members a list of 55 cost-cutting suggestions compiled by teachers and staff. Ideas ranged from sharing administrators with neighboring school districts to charging athletes for busing.

Board Vice President Dale Stuever said the list focused on what everyone but the teachers should do to cut costs. Kathy Kuretich said she and her fellow teachers have already sacrificed. While educators elsewhere in St.Clair County saw pay raises up to 2.5 percent, Capac teachers have gone without the last two years.

"We need to get this contract done," said parent Steve McArthur.

"Parents are sick of it."

Board member Barry Geliske echoed those comments, saying it's imperative an agreement is reached.

"We have to start talking...I'm willing to go all night if that's what it takes," he said.

Parent Jason Tyson advised the employees that more sacrifice may be required. He and others who spoke said they've been required to take pay cuts in their own jobs. However, making cuts mid-year would only spur families to move to other districts, Tyson added, and only make things worse.

In December, it appeared the district could be facing a $1 million deficit. Since then, state officials have indicated a $127 per pupil funding cut likely won't be instituted. That could save them about $200,000. Still, Jennex cautioned, it's estimated per pupil funding will be cut another $230 dollars for the 2010-11 school year.

Capac began the 2009-10 school year with a $2.6 million fund balance.

"I'm not comfortable waiting to make cuts," Stuever said, although adding that he's not in favor of teacher buyouts.

"I don't see how we can ride this out."

Board Treasurer Bill Ellis said several of the reduction proposals made sense. Board Secretary Gene Sinda, a teacher in the Davison School District, called the return to first and third grade contractual class size idea "doable."

Board President John Antilla said he'd like to see the board and community have discussions about student retention.

The board took no action at the meeting but plans to continue the discussion on Jan. 18.

In other board business:

•Members voted 5 to 2 to adopt a resolution in support of the Race to the Top program. Ellis, Sinda, Antilla, Steuver and Warnez voted in favor while Geliske and Norm McDunnah voted against the motion.

Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.
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