Rochester Community Schools will look to state lawmakers tonight for an update on how this year's state budget will affect the district's 14,800 students.
The Board of Education invited Sen. Jim Marleau and Rep. Tom McMillin, the Republicans who represent Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township, to a public forum on school budget issues tonight.
The "Community Conversation" begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Harrison Room of the school Administration Building. It is expected to last about an hour; the regular board meeting will follow.
"We are really looking forward to hearing what they have to say about public education, proposed funding changes and new legislation," said Barb Cenko, the board's president.
"We're hoping a large number of community members will come out and offer comments and suggestions."
Gov. Rick Snyder said last week he had reached a deal with Democratic lawmakers that would lessen the cuts he had originally proposed to K-12 education programs. But still — a loss of federal grant money that saved teacher jobs over the past two years, along with some cuts in state funding, are contributing to an expected shortfall of almost $17 million for Rochester schools. The state budget bill is in a conference committee; the governor's office has said it will be approved by the end of May, in time for the school district's June 30 deadline.
Tonight's forum will include a presentation on where things stand with Rochester Schools' 2011-12 budget. To alleviate the anticipated shortfall, the district is looking at using $13.9 million from the district's $30 million fund balance, in addition to making $3 million in proposed reductions.
The proposed reductions include:
- A 5 percent across-the-board reduction in school building and department budgets.
- The elimination of media assistants in all buildings.
- A reduction in paraeducators.
- The elimination of two part-time high school dean positions.
- 50 percent reductions in the school bus replacement, infrastructure maintenance and instructional furniture replacement programs.
- A 10 percent reduction in the district's subsidy of athletics.
School atheletic directors are expected to bring specifics of the atheletic program cuts to tonight's board meeting. Right now, the district's pay-to-play fee for high schoolers is $185 per sport; for middle schoolers, that fee is $85 per sport. A proposed increase of $10 for high schoolers and $15 for middle schoolers will be discussed as an option.
But even with these cutbacks and even if the district borrows from its fund balance, the district's future financial stability has been questioned, repeatedly, by some parents and members of the community. Jeremy Nielson is one such critic, and he plans to speak to board members again Monday night.
"We need to stop hoping things get better – don't lock us into a path that will hurt our kids' educational opportunities next year," said Nielson.
Cenko said that she specifically wants to hear from Marleau and McMillin about the long-term forecasts for education spending in Michigan so the board can determine how the future years will look for Rochester.
"Is the problem we're facing short-term, or are we looking at (the funding cuts) being a repeat problem year after year?" Cenko said. "I am hoping to hear that there will be an upside to all of this."
Tonight's forum: What to know
- The forum will begin with a brief presentation from assistant superintendent for finance William Mull; he will detail the latest budget forecasts.
- McMillin and Marleau will have 10 minutes apiece to speak.
- Members of the audience will be invited to ask questions of Marleau and McMillin, in writing, on cards. Debbi Hartman, the district's community relations director, will read the cards and ask questions of the lawmakers.
- The forum will be followed by the board's regular meeting. The budget will be a main focus.