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School districts undergoing a painful process

May 3, 2012
The Mining Journal

It's never easy for an organization to cut its budget - especially when those cuts involve eliminating jobs.

Unfortunately, that's exactly the situation some area school districts face as they work to balance budgets for the coming school year.

In the Gwinn Area Community Schools, it fell to Superintendent Kim VanDrese to craft the cuts. She recommended eliminating the equivalent of nine and a half full time equivalent teaching positions and four FTE paraprofessionals. These cuts, approved Monday, will help the district save about $860,000. It will use an additional $843,356 from its fund balance to make up the difference in the projected $1.7 million deficit, leaving a paltry $40,000 in the fund balance.

The Marquette Area Public Schools Board of Education is looking for budget solutions to close a $2.5 million gap. The MAPS board got its first look Monday at a plan drafted by central and building administration throughout the district that would eliminate at least 8.8 full time equivalent teachers and three paraprofessionals.

We're sympathetic to the teachers and school staffers whose positions will be cut; we know these people as our neighbors and friends. We also know that cutting teaching positions generally means larger class sizes and a greater burden on the teachers who are left.

But area school districts are confronting some inescapable realites. Enrollments - and state funding tied to enrollment - in the region are generally declining. And many schools are spending in the neighborhood of 85-plus percent of their budgets on personnel costs. So, when the revenue is squeezed, there is only one place to cut - personnel.

There may be creative solutions to help districts out of the bind, but they will not be painless and they will not be easy. District consolidation, building closures, early retirement plans and benefit reforms should all be looked at as potential long-term budget remedies.

In the short term, however, shrinking state aid and shrinking enrollments send one loud, clear message: districts need to get smaller and leaner. The plans put forward in the Marquette and Gwinn districts show that school boards and administrations are getting that message - as painful as it is to hear.

School boards and school personnel must realize that the current benefit packages for teachers, support staff and others in today's economy are not sustainable.

They must work together to lower these costs so the need to cut personnel of all types isn't as great.



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