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Ishpeming schools weigh options for budget cuts ~ Part 3

July 7, 2011
By JOHANNA BOYLE ( , Journal Ishpeming Bureau

ISHPEMING - In an effort to identify further cuts to improve the district's budget, the Ishpeming Public Schools Board of Education held a special budget work session Wednesday evening.

Although possible cuts have been identified, the board took no action on them and has yet to agree on how the savings would be used.

Similar proposals from Superintendent Stephen Piereson and board Trustee Mike Flynn called for cuts to in-county busing for all sports, workshops and conferences, local travel, custodial supplies and materials, teacher overtime, cutting dual enrollment tuition payments and other options.

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The board approved a budget for the 2011-2012 school year at the end of June, including $884,782 less in revenues and $794,616 less in expenditures than the current school year. Although the approved budget leaves the district a $24,872 surplus for the year, the district is still under a deficit elimination plan to draw down an overall deficit of $395,524.

One option for the savings would be to hire back one or two teachers, specifically for the first and fourth grades, where larger class sizes have become a concern for parents. Flynn, whose proposed cuts included cutting the assistant coaches for the varsity and junior varsity football teams and the assistant swim coach, said his total cuts of $62,503 would be enough to hire back one teacher.

"I don't think these are drastic cuts, but it's at least enough to hire one teacher back," Flynn said.

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In addition to some of the cuts also identified by Flynn, Piereson said the district will be going into negotiations with its teachers union to try to agree to health insurance changes that could save the district $101,000.

Administrative staff in the district made similar changes last year, which also brought the district savings, Piereson said.

Although those cuts weren't "drastic," as Flynn said, once they're made, the board must decide what to do with the money.

"I hope that we've all put that in the back of our head that the cuts aren't over with," Trustee Lyle Warner said. "If we did both of them (the insurance changes and the individual cuts) and did nothing else, it doesn't cut our deficit in half. That's something that's very serious to me."

Warner said he did not feel entirely comfortable reallocating money to rehire teachers when the district's budget is so tight.

"I'm suggesting if we do the cuts, maybe bringing back the teachers isn't the place to move the money...

"When we're prioritizing, everybody has their own view in what's most important. Take it from one set of kids and give it to another, be sure that's exactly what you want," Warner said.

The board is expected to discuss possible cuts, including those discussed Wednesday, at future meetings.

The district's head football coaches for the varsity and junior varsity programs spoke at the meeting in support of keeping the assistant coaches in the budget.

"I want to make it known right now that I understand the plight every district is in because of cuts at the state level..." head football coach Jeff Olson said. "Get rid of athletics... when every school in the Upper Peninsula has it, you'll see kids leaving."

Board Vice President David Leverton asked Olson what cuts could be made from the athletic and football budgets if the assistant coaches are kept..

"Everybody on the board understands the value of athletics," he said.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.



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