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Cuts Possible as Deficit Looms Over Brighton Area Schools

Board Members must decide whether to implement cuts this fiscal year or look ahead to next year.

Brighton Area Board of Education members spent a good portion of Monday night's meeting discussing budget reduction ideas to offset what could be a $500,000 deficit this fiscal year if Lindbom Elementary does not sell. 

Superintendent Greg Gray said that Board members will have to decide at the next meeting whether or not to look at budget cuts recommended by staff prior to the end of this fiscal year or wait and look at them for next year's budget.

Board President Miles Vieau suggested his fellow board members should consider absorbing the deficit this year to use the extra time to make cuts for the 2013-14 budget because it is so late in the year. 

Gray said that currently, the district does not know what will happen with the budget, and that it could swing either way.

"It depends how long winter lasts in terms of projections on our heat and electricity," Gray said. "It depends on staffing costs, whether or not we have additional costs second semester with move-ins or move-outs, there's a number of factors that are just out of our control that we have to guess on. Most of the time we come pretty close, but we'll have to see."

Limited options

The Board will be considering options such as eliminating unionized maintenance and secretarial positions, then hiring them back through a third party at a reduced cost. 

In addition, Gray said that the new master schedule put into place for next year will reduce anywhere from 10 to 15 teaching positions district-wide, for an overall savings of anywhere from $1.5 million to $750,000, depending on the pay scale. 

Gray also said that the district will be bargaining all other contracts this year. 

"We've said 100 times the cost of a school district is tied up in people," he said. "So it will be less people or less money for people. That's primarily it."

Trustee John Conely suggested restoring Pay to Play fees, after Board members approved a 2-year elimination plan last June. He also recommended eliminating the Police Liaison position with the City of Brighton Police Department. 

The liaison contract comes before board members for renewal every year and was recently approved last August. Brighton Schools cover the cost of the police liaison officer's salary - including benefits - for the months he works at the school. They do not pay him during the summer months off. The salary the district currently pays the liaison is $79,663, including benefits. 

Board Secretary Nick Fiani made several suggestions for cutbacks including either shutting down the aquatics center or turning it over to SELCRA to run. The district has not discussed any such plan with SELCRA representatives. 

According to Fiani, the aquatics center has lost an average of $25,000 in the last two years. 

Fiani commented that the district was not running a country club. 

"It's certainly something we need to look at more seriously given the current conditions," he said.

Gray warned that shutting down the pool might drive even more students out of the district and into others with them. 

Board members will decide which cutbacks they would like to pursue during the next board meeting on March 11. 

In what areas do you think Board members should consider cutbacks? Tell us in the comments.

Mike February 27, 2013 at 08:22 PM
All the data would suggest that you cannot match that income, certainly not in private schools. I have not researched the topic of science teacher's demand in the private sector. You failed to mention that Brighton schools deposited more than 25K into your pension this year. I do not know the cost the schools absorb for your benefits, of which you pay how much? 10%? I forget, sorry. I would encourage you to take the numerous better compensating postions you refer to, though you will likely have to work at least 11 months / year. You would make room for the many bright young teachers who are not compensated worth beans AND lower the cost structure for the district and based on your comments, be better off yourself. A win / win.
Mike February 27, 2013 at 08:25 PM
A tripling of real student spending, over the last 40 years, is insufficient? Will it end with a quadrupling? Is it more? Should we add more administrators? Could we get some idea of what is enough, as for 40 years the funding has increased without pause and still the district is BROKE.
Martha February 27, 2013 at 09:51 PM
Mike - did you miss the memo that the governor took a portion of the per pupil funding back after the school year had already started and the districts already had budgets in place. Also, can you define real pupil spending?
Mike February 27, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Real student spending would be operational costs, adjusted for inflation. Certainly many school systems have played with these numbers (I cannot specifically speak to Brighton on this subject) calling some historic operational costs capital expenditures either via a change in measurement or to obscure the never ending operational spending. Indeed, the state is pretty poor, as are many states. Without a doubt surprise funding reductions are always difficult (as they are for taxpayers relative to their incomes). But after 40 years of never ending increases, it is a bit disingenuous to reflect on that as the only problem. The points I have made are valid and once again I would suggest that if there is a need for additional funding that the school system lay it all out for the people, showing how the bulk of the budget is devoted to a couple of hundred staff members. Did you miss the legislation that mandates pension contributions and the percentage, now at about 30% of salaries. Total corruption at the state level, totally funded by teacher's unions. Collective bargaining should go both ways, but for state employees and relative to teacher's contracts, the bargaining has been between two intertwined parties with the taxpayers decidedly NOT represented. Lay it out for the taxpayers, FULLY disclosing where the spending actually is going. Do you think that we should cut more while contributing 30K+ / senior teacher to their pensions? When do the kids get their turn?
AC February 28, 2013 at 05:00 AM
All about interesting opinions, but thought it’d be helpful to add a few less interesting, but important facts to this conversation. Nearly 3/4 of the district's funding is collected and distributed by the state per 1994's Prop A, so inevitably the district's financial condition is directly tied to school aid decisions made by the Legislature. Local taxpayers cover capital like the recently passed bond, but that is a different conversation from the operating deficit. In terms of nominal dollars, BAS' state foundation allowance has increased from $6,856 in FY 04 to $6,995 in FY 13 according to the Senate Fiscal Agency— 2% over 9 years. That seems pretty tight. But real dollars is probably a better measure b/c it considers the costs of everything we buy. If we increased that same FY 04 allowance at the rate of inflation using Detroit's Consumer Price Index (and energy & health care have far outpaced CPI), BAS' state allowance would be $7,994 today. That'd be roughly $6.7 million more in state aid based on last year's enrollment. Seems to put that $500k deficit into perspective, as well as the impressive work of the district’s leaders. Sure Mike, state politics created a pro-collective bargaining environment in years past, but hard to make that case today. Politics has also played into legislative decisions to squeeze school aid and force districts, including BAS, into a constant state of financial crisis.
AC February 28, 2013 at 05:00 AM
I recognize that it's easier to get the talking points from our favorite commentators, but a few sources below where more facts can be found: http://www.senate.michigan.gov/sfa/Departments/DataCharts/DCk12_StateFundingVsDetroitCPI.pdf http://www.senate.michigan.gov/sfa/Departments/DataCharts/DCk12_FoundationHistory.pdf No excuses… it’s been a tough few years for MI budgets, households and governments, but let’s aim our frustrations in the right direction, and be willing to give some credit where it’s due.
Mike February 28, 2013 at 11:12 AM
Your response is consistent with the never ending requirement for greater funding. Yet that funding is not available. As such, the district will continue to cut services for the children and community. It, of course, ignores my initial point that from a spending standpoint, ever larger percentages of the budget are consumed by a small group of staff and there are higher levels of administrative staff than funding will support, unless of course keeping expensive administrators is more important than the children. Relative to collective bargaining, the law still remains requiring funding of pensions without any collective bargaining.
Mike February 28, 2013 at 11:15 AM
And in the mean time, cuts will continue to be placed upon the children and community while ignoring the greatest drain on the budget, a couple of hundred highly compensated staff members. Certainly it is your right to side with these folks over the children.
Mike February 28, 2013 at 01:00 PM
I understand your desire to ignore the budget issues in Brighton by pointing to funding issues. The fact remains that the funding is currently what it is. Would that mean your "plan" regarding Brighton's district deficits is entirely based on complaining about funding. How will that resolve the budget deficit? Back to the issue, either more services are cut for the community and children, or other budget areas are addressed. Administrative staff levels (many at very high costs) and senior teacher compensation costs have hardly been touched, yet that is the area with the most spending as a percent of the budget. You can choose to protect that group of a couple hundred people over the kids and community, it is your right. Most people, if understanding the facts, would choose the children. Or since you seem to only be concerned about revenue, you could make it up yourself I guess.
Kate February 28, 2013 at 04:57 PM
I do question the priorities here. If there is a huge deficit, remind me why a new field is even necessary? It's not. The BHS track and field/football field was basically new-looking fifteen years ago, and many school do not get new fields. Laying down a new layer of track, I understand. Patching it. Understood. New seed on the field. Fine. Huge, brand-spanking new field right now? Ridiculous. I understand wanting things, but if it's still working, slap some paint on the announcer's box, clean the bleachers, put down good seed on the field, and leave it alone. For now. It's not a priority. The pool is an absolute must. A new pool is not needed. If anything, a temporary idea for Lindbom could include transferring senior students/those who can drive there for classes. Make it a temporary senior high (junior/senior). Get some of the crowds out of BHS. Brighton is too obsessed with brand-new. You cannot have it all. First things first. You want to retain good teachers, you don't cut pay/benefits. Not now. You can teach a kid in a hut. Literally. Good teachers who are well-paid make all the difference. I've been to BHS and all you need is to maintain right now. Stop upgrading. Use what you have. The only upgrades should be books/minor technology, i.e. computer upgrades.
jennifer lazzari February 28, 2013 at 05:18 PM
Pretty sure the teachers backed the bond and helped get it passed - the bond is not the problem and that money can't be used to help the deficit. I'm all for paying teachers accordingly but the facilities need upgrades - a fresh coat of paint will no longer do. I'm afraid our problem lies in the Board that was elected - please don't drive Dr, Gray and the progress we have made away.
Mike February 28, 2013 at 05:55 PM
Of course the teachers backed the bond, they always support further funding. And indeed bond money is not to be used for operational activities. Which brings us back to how Brighton closes their operating deficit. More cuts on the kids and community or addressing the one area of the budget that has been protected but also comprises the majority of the expenses. The progress made to date has almost all been impactful to the kids and community. Many of us do not consider that progress.
jennifer lazzari February 28, 2013 at 06:06 PM
I would agree that more cuts to kids are irresponsible - what are you doing, besides this forum, to have your points heard - I feel that many of the things you are saying should be looked at and considered, you obviously are well informed and it would be nice if all sides were taken into account instead of this turning into such a for/against argument. Can we at least agree that the youth on the current board may be stirring the pot in directions that are not necessary nor are they productive?
Mike February 28, 2013 at 06:14 PM
A fair comment. I know that several years ago anyone who spoke up at meetings was demeaned for not having all the information, which of course was not available to the public. I have not returned to watch the show. The problem is obvious and has been for many years. But the money for school board elections comes from teacher's unions and in almost every district, they essentially control the board. The latest super signed a new contract, completely ignoring the issue, within a month or so of his arrival. It was such an obvious sign of his loyalties. There is such great fear of speaking of teacher comp, specifically senior teacher's comp, as all want to believe that we have great teachers. Indeed, we have many great teachers but the fact remains that we cannot pay the compensation as we do today and a large part of it (pensions) is dictated by corrupt state legislation. I will make it a point to attend a board meeting. Unless the board raises the specific issue I have mentioned, it will be clear that there is no intention of attacking the problem but only imparting pain on the community. It is very cut and dried despite all the attempts to deflect from the issue. Thanks for your comment.
jennifer lazzari February 28, 2013 at 06:23 PM
I agree that the issue will more than likely not be addressed unless they are forced to do it (and appreciate you frustration with attending Board meetings) - perhaps a well thought out letter to the Argus and the School Board and attendance at Board meeting would at least put it out there for others to ponder - I know there are many people right now rallying to start attending meetings and become more informed - they are truly concerned and afraid to let status quo continue. We need new answers!
Mike February 28, 2013 at 06:27 PM
I only receive the argus on Sundays. It is stunningly one sided and the editor is not only a moron, but incapable most times of conveying a lucid thought. The next board meeting is March 11. If not out of town, I intend to be there. Maybe there will be a miracle and I will be pleasantly surprised.
Kate February 28, 2013 at 06:31 PM
I personally believe that having folks who have never been teachers on the board to be a sometimes dangerous thing. I understand wanting a balance. However, sometimes non-teachers can be fully out-of-touch and even envious, perhaps, of the benefits that teachers receive. Also, why are there not term limits on board members?
Kate February 28, 2013 at 06:33 PM
It is not a good idea to have people who are extremely politically-driven on the board. It's more important to have people on the board who are less interested in winning an argument and more interested in the well-being of the community and the kids.
Mike February 28, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Hello Kate, I am not meaning to call you out, but can you provide some description of extremely politically driven? Thanks.
Kate February 28, 2013 at 06:42 PM
I don't mind at all. The GOP?
Mike February 28, 2013 at 06:47 PM
Who would the GOP be? The corrupt leadership of the Washington GOP? Do you find that preferable to the corrupt leadership of the Washington dems? 10s of millions of us have no party. And might you provide an example of a position you consider extreme at a local level?
Kate February 28, 2013 at 06:50 PM
Mike, if you've spent a decent of amount of time in Brighton and are aware of the activities of the board and who has been on the board, for the past several years, you'll know where political leanings lie.
Mike February 28, 2013 at 06:55 PM
I cannot claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of board activities. And I really cannot determine where their political leanings lie. I do know that the obvious issue, relative to the budget, has not been addressed at all. The balancing of the budget has been born by the children and the community. What political party would choose to protect a couple of hundred staff members over the children and the community?
Kate February 28, 2013 at 06:59 PM
Sadly, political leanings do come into play, even when it comes the children. And, in an increasingly diverse community, it's important to have a board that is as open-minded as possible. I can tell that we're probably not on the same side of the coin on this issue, but I understand that you're frustrated, too. I'd implore anyone, regardless of party affiliation, to attend board meetings and become more aware of the issues/what goes on at board meetings/speak your opinions. That's why they're made public.
Nicole Krawcke (Editor) February 28, 2013 at 07:04 PM
Jenni, you can also submit Letters to the Editor on Brighton Patch by emailing me at nicole.krawcke@patch.com.
Mike February 28, 2013 at 07:43 PM
Interesting. My position is that the people are in near total agreement on every basic issue, other than abortion. The politicians desire to keep everyone believing we are divided so they can continue their corrupt behavior. It prevents any discussion of policy and keeps people arguing about divisive issues which are generally small, specific topics, and while important to many, not meaningful in basic policy discussions. There are so many examples of this from both established parties and their leadership. For instance, do you know anyone who would allow children to starve? I don't, yet we hear leaders make this claim about 10s of millions of Americans on a regular basis. Conversely, do you know anyone who hates America? Once again, we are told there are 10s of millions of Americans who hate America. I could go one, there is a long list, but I suspect that at a basic issue level, we are very much in agreement and would be surprised that discussions along these lines would match that agreement. And for clarification, I have no party leanings, as both parties, at least at a national level, are corrupt to the core. Some might call me conservative in many ways, but then the politicians also use many labels to keep us apart as well. Thanks again.
Kate February 28, 2013 at 09:00 PM
I respect what you're saying. However, you mentioned in your previous comment: 'I cannot claim to have a comprehensive knowledge of board activities. And I really cannot determine where their political leanings lie.' You went on to state that they agree on every issue but abortion, to your knowledge. If you can't determine their political leanings, it would be difficult to know their stance on that issue. Therefore, I deduce that there is an apparent political stance among members, and that is being reflected in the decision-making process. If you Google some of the members, you will also learn what parties some of them are affiliated with, some more... extreme than others. And I think the extreme nature/closed-mindedness of some board members can be toxic to an environment like a school board. It becomes a battle of wills, pro-union vs. GOP, duking it out at the expense of the teacher and the kids. Ultimately, I will tell you, the GOP wants the teachers to lose their pensions, period. Anyone is fooling themselves if they think otherwise. I think we are both in agreement that the most important people at stake here are the children. I just hope that adults involved can keep them the central focus without any other agenda muddying the waters. Have a good week, Mike, it was nice picking your brain, and sharing some ideas.
Mike March 01, 2013 at 10:19 PM
With regard to teacher's unions, many would phrase your "pro-union vs. GOP" as anti-child vs. everyone else.
Kate March 02, 2013 at 12:52 AM
The 'many' people phrasing it that way would obviously not be using their intellect, if that was the case, as many 'pro-union' folks are teachers. Unless, of course, you're accusing teachers of being 'anti-child'. Odd, bold statement.
Kate March 02, 2013 at 01:14 AM
Again, the people who think that teachers need their compensation cut are usually the people that have little/no respect for what teachers do each day. It comes down to sheer envy, often, of the benefits that teachers have from educating the masses. I have a feeling that any of the folks on the board would be pretty peeved if their pensions were threatened. I can get on board with minimizing renovations and cutting corners in other ways. Teacher pay is the least of the district's 'problems'. Pay = the solution to educating kids well. Unless they'd like to cut pay (pay freeze is understandable, in a pinch) or even worse, get rid of benefits like pensions--watch the good teachers jump ship, watch the school district tank due to lack of quality education, and then watch property values tank as well. Yes, let's punish the teachers. The logic is lacking. Badly. All of the teachers that I've known live fairly modestly. Comfortably, as they should for the work that they do, but no one is living large, that I know of. This myth that teachers are rolling in dough, and really just have a grand old time being 'wealthy' is rather hilarious. If they're lucky they gain tenure and they're able to put some money away, feed their families, and have a nice life. Stop perpetuating the myth that teachers are 'ballers', as the kids say. From what some board members and community followers would have you believe, they can afford golden toilet seats. Don't believe the hype.

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