Avondale to Issue Pink Slips, Consider Recreation Millage

Eighty-three Avondale educators will receive layoff notices this spring as the district awaits word on what its funding will be for the coming school year and struggles toward eliminating a deficit.

Superintendent George Heitsch said he expects the majority of those who receive layoff notices to eventually be recalled. The list is long enough so whatever layoffs are necessary can be done on time, he added.

Three of the positions are at Avondale Academy, where a drop in enrollment is the cause.  Four to five other teachers currently on leave may not be returning, Heitsch said.

“It saddens me,” said school board Vice President Sid Lockhart. “Every year since I’ve been on here we go through this layoff list.”

Heitsch was in Lansing May 11, “meeting with everybody who would meet with us,” he said. They included the governor’s chief of staff and officials at the Michigan Department of Education involved with the district’s state-approved deficit elimination plan.

Heitsch said MDE officials expressed “some sympathy with our situation but very little sense of flexibility, based on how they have to react to the current law.” He plans to meet with state Treasurer Andy Dillon Friday, “just to tell our story. Because we feel Avondale is in a very unique situation with a deficit-elimination plan and deficit. We have not ignored our issues. We’ve been impacted severely.”

Due to a new state law giving new powers to state-appointed emergency financial managers, Heitsch and the board of education are worried about losing local control if they fail to meet the financial target in the deficit-reduction plan.If the district’s 2011-12 budget doesn’t meet the target, Heitsch said the state could withhold July and August state-aid payments.

“Our reality is if we miss a state-aid payment, we’re going to miss payroll,” he said. “And to miss payroll would just be another ding on that list that can trigger an emergency financial manager. … We just need to continue to work toward that ultimate solution that gets us out of debt.”

Differing versions of next year’s school-aid budget have been passed by the House and Senate; a conference committee now has the task of coming up with a compromise.  Heitsch urged parents to continue to lobby their legislators.

“They’re hearing form parents, they’re hearing from staff and we need to keep that up,” he said.

All the uncertainty had a few parents wishing for the days when districts could levy their own taxes and control their own destiny.

“The federal government has cut off funds; the state is going to cut funds. We’re relying on everybody else to run our school system,” said former Auburn Hills Mayor Robert Grusnick.  “That really bothers me. I think we should have a revenue stream that is all our own. … Perhaps the board has an idea of another source of revenue that hasn’t been brought forward.”

In fact, the board is consideringaskingvoters for a recreation millage as a way of diverting some existing costs.Public Act 156 of 1917 allows school districts to operate parks and recreation either independently, with municipalities or through a recreation board. The law allows school districts to employ staff, acquire property and operate on school grounds or on other public or private property in agreement with property owners.The Novi school district currently leviessuch atax.

Heitsch said the district needs more information on exactly what it could and couldn’t do with a recreation millage before discussing how much to seek.

Lockhart said the money could be used for extra-curricular activities including clubs, as long as those activities don’t include class credit.

“The more we brainstorm, the more things we can get in this budget,”he said. “The thing about having the school district run it, I envision, is you have a captive audience. … The board would have to assume the duties, or a subset of this board, to oversee this.”

At Monday’s meeting, the board of education sounded interested in getting the question on the Nov. 8 ballot, when there is already a scheduled school-board election.

Trustee Tammy Muczynski said the district must include the public in the conversation.

“I definitely think community needs to be involved if we’re going to do this,” she said“You need to try to touch all those entities because they’re all going to have ways that they’re going to want to see it used. … If you also have the community buy in, it helps.”

By Annette Kingsbury

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