Rochester Board of Education members informally agreed Monday night to spend down the school district's fund balance to help cushion
The district has about a $30 million fund balance; board members will consider cutting that in half when they adopt the 2011-12 budget in two months.
"We think that it is a reasonable fund balance for next year," said Robert Mull, assistant superintendent of business, explaining that keeping a fund balance ensures the board will avoid borrowing money for cash flow purposes.
"We don't have many choices," board member Marty Sibert said, addding that the board may need to "take some courageous action at some point."
"The alternative is to impact the classroom," Gerald Moore said. He said he is comfortable with the budget plan.
"I am not comfortable, but I can accept this ... if I can delay those cuts even for a year," board member Lisa Nowak said. "This is, I hope, the worst-case scenario."
Board member Chuck Coutteau urged the board to remember the kids and give them the tools they need to be successful.
Board member Beth Talbert agreed and said she is "not opposed philosophically to spending down the fund balance" and that she cannot justify removing funds from the classroom until necessary.
"We are between a rock and a hard place here ...we are at that watershed moment," Talbert said.
Superintendent David Pruneau agreed. "This is a different direction than I have ever taken as superintendent here," said Pruneau, who retires in June after five years with the district.
Monday night's budget discussion was in response to recommendations from Pruneau and others for budget cuts.
Board members must approve the 2011-12 budget by the end of June. Their discussion and hearings on the budget will coincide with debate in the state Legislature about Gov. Rick Snyder's budget proposal, which originally included a $300-per-pupil funding cut.
In Rochester, the proposed budget calls for the elimination of media assistants, resulting in a savings of $633,723, and the restructuring of paraeducators that would save the district more than $700,000.
Terry Hetrick, a paraeducator at for 13 years, addressed the board. "This is not a done deal; the state has not made its decision yet," Hetrick said. "Many of us are required to be highly qualified. We are paid at below poverty or at poverty level. We do it because we are dedicated."
A 50 percent reduction of school bus replacement and maintenance costs will save an additional $1 million.
Lynnette Teller, a media specialist at , asked the board why the school state aid fund is carrying a surplus while at the same time bringing down budget cuts.
Parent Jeremy Nielsen addressed the board, sharing his concerns over the proposed budget for next school year.
"I am worried that we are going to be using hope as a financial strategy," Nielsen said. "Hoping it gets better next year is not a good idea. I urge the school board to make tough decisions so our kids can continue to have the best education possible."