Rochester Schools Approve Cuts for Next Year


By Annette Kingsbury

Spending down the savings account has never been the goal of Rochester Community Schools. But with so much uncertainty these days about what lies ahead, the board of education and administration have agreed to do just that next year in order to keep programs in place as long as possible.

The board agreed unanimously April 25 to the administration’s proposal to make $3 million in cuts, add $176,000 in new expenditures, and use $14 million from the district’s fund balance. That would leave a fund balance at the end of the 2011-12 school year of about $16 million, or just under 10 percent.
Assistant Superintendent William Mull said that’s about as low as the district can go and hope to avoid borrowing for cash flow. He and Superintendent Dave Pruneau said all the figures are tentative and expected to change as the legislature and Governor Snyder work toward a deal on the school aid budget.

“We may be back adjusting this a number of times before the end of June,” Pruneau said.

Since 83 percent of the district’s budget is related to personnel costs, a $3-million reduction means the loss of some jobs. The proposal calls for the elimination of 16 media assistants, eight paraeducators and two high-school deans. It also calls for reducing the police liaison program, reducing the subsidy to the athletic fund, and cutting in half planned school bus and furniture purchases and facility maintenance.

While no one is comfortable spending so much of the fund balance, no one wants to move to the next level of cuts.
“Unfortunately, when you look at the next round of considerations … we were really looking at the core of this school district,” Pruneau said. “Now we’re at the point that if we were not to spend down the fund equity, we would really be reversing those programs.”

The district is required to have next year’s budget approved by June 30, whether or not state funding has been decided. Pruneau and Mull have said, and the board has agreed, that having money in the bank gives the district the next school year to see how things shake out in Lansing, and how other districts will react.

Trustee Charles Moore said he supported the administration’s recommendation, “as opposed to the alternative, which is to impact the classroom.” Trustee Jennifer Berwick agreed. “I believe the next recommendation will impact our students and I’m not ready to go there,” she said. “My biggest fear is the loss of options,” said board President Barbara Cenko. “We have just lost all options. I consider going down to 10 percent (fund balance) pretty bare minimum. … “Next year the cuts are just going to be awful. … I don’t want those awful cuts this year.” Parent Jeremy Nielson cautioned the board not to rely on hoping things change in Lansing.  “Most of the cuts being discussed tonight appear to be discretionary,” he said. “There are no structural changes being proposed here. … “Hope is not an effective financial strategy, and spending down the fund balance … is not a good idea,” he  continued. “Please don’t continue to ignore our plea to protect our kids. I urge the school board to make tough suggestions.”
Paraeducator Therese Hetrick said her job and her finances are tough enough already. She said paraeducators work with at-risk and handicapped students and earn a salary she described as at or below the poverty line. If the district’s incoming new superintendent had to pay the same percentage of his salary for health care as she does, she said, it would amount to $9,000.
“We do it because we’re dedicated,” she said. “We love the students we work with. We couldn’t do it if we didn’t.”

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By Annette Kingsbury


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