Northville School District Presents Uncertain Budget Future to Community
Rising costs and stagnant revenues are at issue for the district and could create a budget deficit, officials said.
Northville Public Schools could face a deficit sometime in the future, due to changing levels of state funding, the implementation of all-day kindergarten and increasing retirement costs.
Still, Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher assured the more than 25 people in attendance at Monday night's school budget forum that things are much more stable than they were this time last year. In the summer of 2011, the school district was in the middle of contract negotiations with various employee unions and was considering the privatization of some services, such as custodial and transportation services.
"The main takeaway is that on the cost side, there's the transitional cost to full-day kindergarten, which is really important, and the second one is the continuing increase in the retirement rate," said Mike Zopf, assistant superintendent of finance and operations. "Those are the two issues that we're trying to grapple with as we move forward."
Full-day kindergarten to begin in the fall
The Michigan legislature approved a measure last year requiring school districts to offer full-day kindergarten in order to receive full per pupil funding, which was $8,019 this school year. However, with full-day offerings come full-day costs, district officials said at the meeting, making clear that they will not receive additional dollars for offering full-day classes but the full amount of what they were previously receiving.
"Over 75 percent of our parents want full-day kindergarten," Superintendent Mary Kay Gallagher said. "The problem is we aren't getting more funding and we are increasing our staffing costs."
She also said there will be two sections of half-day kindergarten at the most, if at all.
Moving to the full-day kindergarten model will cost the district approximately $1.5 million.
For Kristin Hammoud, the parent of one kindergartener and an incoming kindergartener in the fall, the size of kindergarten classes are a concern.
"It's very disheartening," she said of the kindergarten budget update. Hammoud said her son is in a class with 25 other kindergarteners and no paraprofessional. While she said she is happy with the teacher, she is displeased that it doesn't appear next year's budget will allow for a reduced class size for her incoming kindergarten daughter.
"These kids need more attention," she said, adding that these are their formative learning years.
Retirement costs increasing
The district's payments into the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) is increasing with the number of district workers retiring, Zopf said.
"We have to turn around and pay almost a quarter to MPSERS," he said, "for every dollar of wages and salaries paid out."
Last year, the district's union groups, including the teachers organization, made big concessions and now pay into a high deductible health care plan.
"We have one plan for the entire school district," Zopf said. That has reduced the district's projected contribution in 2013 to $11 million from a previously projected $13 million under the old plan.
One person in the audience felt that the concessions were not enough and needed to be re-evaluated in the future.
"I don't know if people don't want to talk about it or what, but dealing with pay and benefits it seems like that's where the problem is," he said. "I work in the private sector and when my company went bankrupt I took big concessions. Today, I'm making about what a teacher makes but I'm working six days a week, 52 weeks a year."
He added, "I think we need to realize that yeah you guys took concessions ... but teachers do fairly well for themselves working 200 days a year."
Gallagher said that concessions have been made in salaries and benefits with existing contracts but is something that must be explored down the line. She said there is another factor to be considered when asking the district's employees to make concessions.
"On the flip side of that is that piece of looking to the future and how do we attract folks into a profession that needs our brightest, our strongest, our best to teach our kids," she said.
Much of the discussion revolved around the role that Gov. Rick Snyder and the state legislature play in awarding monies to schools. Come back to Northville Patch tomorrow for more on the school district's legislative update.