Rochester School Board Hears About Potential Cuts to Combat $16.4 Million Deficit
Board may consider busing, program cuts in 2011-12 budget.
Rochester Community Schools leaders took a first look this week at an "unprecedented" $16.4 million budget shortfall facing the district and its 14,900 students.
Bill Mull, assistant superintendent for finance, prepared the school board for tough decisions ahead — decisions that he said will affect some of the crucial programs that attract families to Rochester schools.
The district faces a projected $16.4 million deficit in the 2011-12 school year. The projection includes a proposed funding cut from the state of $300 per pupil. It also includes a loss of federal EduJobs program money that was designed to save teacher jobs (an additional $170 per pupil).
Other cuts, including a projected decrease of 63 students and the loss of special education grant money, combined with a predicted increase in some expenditures, equal a $1,100-per-student anticipated loss for next year, Mull said.
As part of his budget presentation, Mull presented board members with seven pages of line-item budget cuts the district has approved over the last 10 years. Those include 210 full-time positions and $27.9 million.
"For the next school year, you won't see a list of 75 little things that will be cut; we've already done that," said Mull, who spoke for about an hour. "We've already picked at the low-hanging fruit, and now we're at the point where we're getting into the meat of our district.
"It will be difficult to not affect our programs."
Bus services, learning consultants are potential cuts
Mull presented board members with a list of potential savings, the biggest being the elimination of bus services for grades 9-12. The move would save $1.3 million. The savings would be tripled if busing was eliminated for K-12 students. Special education busing would still be required.
Another potential savings would be deep cuts to the Learning Consultant program that Mull described as one "cornerstone of our program in Rochester." It's a $3 million program and involves 40 full-time teachers and para-educators.
Superintendent David Pruneau said he and members of his administrative team will meet in the next month to carve out a proposed budget plan for the board to consider.
Other potential cuts outlined by Mull include:
- Cutting all school-level and district-level department budgets by 5 percent, saving $443,000.
- Eliminating half of the district's media specialists and all of the media assistants, saving $1.3 million.
- Eliminating the police liaison program.
- Cutting four full-time special education positions.
- Fifty percent reductions in replacement funds for school buses, technology and instructional furniture.
All of the potential cuts would save $8.1 million — half of what is needed. The cuts don't include several new programs the board is being asked to consider this year. Most notable is the switch from half-day to full-day kindergarten, which would cost about $1 million the first year and about $500,000 in subsequent years. (See related story).
What about the fund balance?
The district is operating at a 19 percent fund balance, the second highest in Oakland County (behind the Bloomfield Hills district). The county average is 8.6 percent. Board members debated Monday night how much to borrow from the balance to help make up for next year's shortfall.
The fund balance equals about $30 million, the cost of two months of operation.
"I don't think anyone at home, if they had two to three months of income in the bank, would say they were rich," Mull said.
"We are very well positioned, because we have built a fund balance reserve over the past several years to get ready for this. But do we want to be the first district to eliminate transportation, but still have a fund balance?"
Board member Lisa Nowak supports holding onto the fund balance. "I don't have any confidence that the Legislature is going to fight their way out of the mire anytime soon," Nowack said. "I think white knights are on the endangered species list when it comes to Lansing."
Board secretary Gerald Moore suggested funding half of the deficit through the fund balance.
The board plans a study session April 25 to hear the superintendent's and administrators' recommendations.
"This is going to be difficult for parents and students, but it is a fact of public education in southeast Michigan," said Board President Barb Cenko.
Doug Hill, president of the Rochester Education Association, which represents the district's 900 teachers, encouraged board members to keep in contact with state lawmakers.
Beth Talbert said she and other board members met last week with Republican State Sen. Jim Marleau, who represents the school district in Lansing. They tried to meet with Rep. Tom McMillin, the Rochester Hills Republican, but did not hear back from him, she said.
"It was not a very pleasant day — it's a depressing place to be right now," she said of her Lansing visit. "It is disheartening. Some members of our state legislature still believe schools are funded through property taxes. As a board, we need to try to educate the people who represent us on where we get our funding."
The 2011-12 school district budget is scheduled to be approved June 27.