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Farwell BOE slashes budget – Approve $586k in cuts

6-6-14 Farwell BOE Carrie Carncross

Carrie Carncross urged the Farwell board to “wrap this up, so we can stop pitting [ourselves] against each other.”

By Pat Maurer
Correspondent

It took up most of three hours Monday evening, but at the end of the meeting the Farwell Board of Education finally made their decision and voted in several motions to cut $584,300 from the coming year’s budget.

The budget was the only item on the agenda.

During the public comment  time, which lasted for most of the first half of the meeting, board members heard from many parents and staff members about their concerns with the proposed cuts, with the Chinese Immersion Program, choice rooms, athletics and smaller class sizes the most stressed as most important to maintain.

Superintendent Carl Seiter had presented the board with a list of potential cuts at the last meeting. He stressed, “My job entails insuring stability to the district. With the current staff and programs we would be deficit spending over $500,000 this year. The fund balance in the current budget is $421,000.” He continued, “I have to do my job and work toward financial stability in a way that impacts all of the children the least.”

The first audience member to speak to the board was Farwell District resident and Grant Township Supervisor Dan Dysinger. “I am a former board member,” he said. “One of the problems we faced was lack of a fund balance and an inadequate fund for capital improvements. I support the Superintendent in this (proposed cuts). The school district should never operate without at least a ten percent fund balance. The Superintendent outlined a plan to bring (the district) back to some kind of balance. He presented a list of cuts totaling $915,000. If you implement them, you start the process to bring the district back to financially sound. I urge you (board members) to enact every one of the cuts and begin a two to three year program. If you don’t have $2.1 million in the bank and an additional $400,000 in a capital improvement fund, you need to implement these cuts.”

Dan Dysinger urged the Farwell BOE to implement all cuts recommended by Superintendent Carl Seiter. He said "If you don't have $2.1 million in the bank, you need to implement those cuts."

Dan Dysinger urged the Farwell BOE to implement all cuts recommended by Superintendent Carl Seiter. He said “If you don’t have $2.1 million in the bank, you need to implement those cuts.”

The largest cut on Seiter’s list was the Chinese Immersion Program which employs five teachers.

Margaret Morales, who has a daughter in the immersion program said, “This is important to me. It’s important that you keep this program. You need to fix the problems not cut them.”

Curt Thornmeier, the parent of two children in the Chinese Immersion Program, told the board, “We are one of only three schools in the State that offer this type of program. The others are big schools in Lansing and Grand Rapids. That makes up pretty unique. Don’t take that away, we are putting excellent people in the world with this.”

April Frost, Farwell Middle School teacher spoke against cuts at FMS saying, “Our teachers work long hours to do what we feel is best for our students. Cuts will jeopardize what we provide for our students. Other schools look to us because of phenomenal increases in MEAP scores. We had two full time counselors, now we are down to none; we had two gym teachers, now only one; our choice room is on the chopping block; and the elimination of two core teachers would be a great loss. Farwell Middle School is great because of the teachers we have. Please don’t make these drastic cuts.”

Para-pro Teresa Mackie said, “I was proud the day my daughter graduated from Farwell. I volunteered here for four years and have been a para for 20. I know there will be cuts, and I understand, but we cannot afford to let the assistant principal go in Middle School. [Keeping] the Chinese program means more other programs, other teachers will have to go.”

Another parent, Joy Geib, who has two children in the Chinese Immersion program, said she chose to send her children to Farwell because of the program. “It will provide a foundation for success,” she said. “What have we done to try and find extra funding, to increase enrollment? Why are we just hearing about this [cut] now?”

High School Principal Dee Yarger asked the board to “look at the future, we have a phenomenal community and staff. The college and Chinese programs are showing great results. We think there are creative solutions, for example ‘splits’ where students move forward at their level rather than at their class level. We hope you allow us to continue this vision.”

John Pakledinaz said, “Examine the list of [potential] cuts and chose ones that affect students the least. We need small class sizes in Elementary and Middle School.” He said he had sent a list of cuts to consider.

Farwell Wrestling Coach Steve Smith asked the board to keep that program. “It’s important for those kids who may not be able to be in other competitive sports. We have the highest winning Middle School program. It takes a lot of self-discipline and motivation and … builds character.”

Another school of choice parent, Wendy Odykirk, praised the district. “We have a wonderful staff – teachers, bus drivers, everyone – I’m afraid cuts will jam students into larger classes. The Chinese Immersion program only has a minority of the students. Keeping Chinese Immersion should not be at the expense of our teachers, staff and bus drivers.”

Holly Thrush commented, “If you shut the door on this program [Chinese Immersion], our kids will never see it again. This program means a lot to my family and means a lot to the district.”

Spanish Teacher Sean Hill also supported the Chinese Immersion program. “Fluency in a foreign language is the hottest job skill and China is our top trading partner. When we first started I was worried, but I’ve seen the gains, I never thought this would happen in Farwell. In six to ten years it is what Farwell will be known for. The program is important. I’m willing to reduce my own income to keep it.”

Carrie Carncross urged the board, “Please wrap this up so we can stop pitting against each other.”

Middle School Principal Cathy Gross said, “We are here to do what’s best for all students. We put a lot into making our students successful. I ask that we find the least harmful edition [of cuts].”

Business Manager Jacob Sullivan said, “The State requires us to adopt a budget with a positive fund balance. If we finish with a negative fund balance the State steps in and we must start with a plan for deficit reductions and possibly a State appointed emergency manager. If that happens, the board and superintendent lose control. They can force us into a situation of financial stability.”

Business Manager Jacob Sullivan said, “The State requires us to adopt a budget with a positive fund balance. If we finish with a negative fund balance the State steps in and we must start with a plan for deficit reductions and possibly a State appointed emergency manager. If that happens, the board and superintendent lose control. They can force us into a situation of financial stability.”

After hearing all of the public comments, the board voted 5-1 with Duffy Doxtader voting no, to make $411,300 in cuts including:

*$40,000 from reduced MESSA rates,

*$10,000 from transportation,

*$10,000 from athletics,

*$10,000 by eliminating non-Title I paras,

*$40,000 from Special Education paras,

*$41,000 by replacing retiring teachers with new hires,

*$4,000 reduction in building and grounds,

*$1,000 by increasing event/building use fees,

*$68,000 by filling the Social Studies position from within,

*$89,400 by filling vacancy from retirement from within,

*$56,500 layoff of teacher due to overstaffing in certification,

*$1,000 from the Timberland building budget,

*$37,900 by reducing board secretary position to 1-2 days per week, and

*$2,500 by elimination of board stipends for meetings.

Next came a lengthy board discussion on other suggested cuts including choice rooms, building secretaries, the High School Athletic Director and the Chinese Immersion program.

When questioned, Sullivan said each additional Chinese Immersion teacher would cost an additional $50-$55,000. John Gross said, “My feeling is that it is in the best interest of the district to cut that [the Chinese Immersion] program and have parents look for a way to support it.

Saying “This is hard for all of us,” Rose Sharp made the motion to eliminate the Chinese Immersion program, seconded by Gross. The board voted 4-2 to cut the program with Duffy Doxtader and Terry Ellenwood voting against the motion.

The board voted 6-0 to add a fourth grade teacher because of class sizes and 6-0 to keep the High School Athletic Director.

Another unanimous vote by the board will keep building secretaries; and by a 5-1 approval the board voted to keep the Middle School and Elementary Choice Rooms and eliminate the Choice Room in the High School.

The changes included:

*214,000 for Elimination of the Chinese Immersion Program,

*$20,000 for elimination of the High School Choice Room,

The final total was reduced to $584,300 by the addition of $61,000 for a fourth grade teacher.

The cuts will cover the projected district deficit, but not leave much to add to the fund balance.

In a Facebook post, Seiter said, “Without action, the district would be placed in an unrecoverable situation. Please understand that these decisions are made with all students in mind and ensures programs like the Dual Enrollment and Farwell Early College continue. This program is and has been recognized state-wide as a program of excellence.”

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