By Mary Kindig
Monday night’s Harrison Community Schools Board of Education meeting was sparsely attended, both by Board members and the public. Three school employees sat in the audience, and only four Board members were present: President Marie Roth, Treasurer Floyd Dennis, and Trustees Therese Haley and Dan Pechacek.
Most of the 45-minute meeting was devoted to legislative and other updates, given to Board members by Superintendent Thomas House.
Mr. House began his comments by presenting Board members with certificates in honor of Board Appreciation Month. “Boards in the last ten years, sadly, have had to make a lot of tough decisions, so for people to serve on a board and continue to serve on a board shows a great deal of dedication. It’s real easy to make that decision and give up time when everything is positive and everything is easy. When things are hard, to make a commitment is a bigger commitment sometimes, so I just want to…thank the members of the board for that commitment because it hasn’t been easy. That said, it still hasn’t been hideous, and things still move forward and we still have the same goals in mind,” House said, adding, “Thank you from me, but also on behalf of the administration, the community, the students, the teaching staff, [and] the support personnel.”
Superintendent House continued by updating the Board on pending legislative and funding possibilities. House noted that the Michigan Legislature had passed legislation expanding charter and cyber schools in December, but said he was unsure how the legislation would affect smaller districts such as Harrison.
“There’s a projected surplus in the State coffers, in Treasury right now. We’ll know more Friday; Friday’s the revenue conference down in Lansing where the pundits and the budget people get together and they predict how much money the State has or is anticipating to have. There’s a significant projected surplus in the School Aid Fund. This [an estimate from the Equity Caucus] lists it at $645 million,” House told the Board, noting that other estimates of the surplus were not as high.
“What the Equity Caucus has been telling us is don’t stand with your hand out and expect that because it’s in the School Aid Fund, that it’ll be dispersed to the schools. The Governor’s been very clear that he wants to be pretty cautious with any surplus due to the deficits we were running as a State the last several years. We have heard, and that has been reported in the press, that many of the lawmakers are saying they don’t anticipate cutting us going forward. That would be the first year since I’ve take this job that we’ve heard that,” House continued, “What you’re going to hear is ‘no cuts’, but they’re going to keep in the face of those legislators that ‘no cuts’ means we’re going to already have a lesser amount because we’ve never been restored to the foundation allowance from two years ago. That’s $7,316. We’re not there; we’re at $6,846.”
House commented that any new monies made available to districts will most likely be “incentivized’ — meaning there will be things a district has to achieve or do to qualify for the extra funding.
House also said that when lawmakers return to Lansing, the issues that will affect schools that are expected to be considered are the repeal of property taxes and the reform of the retirement system.
Although it has been several months since the Board had been informed of any millage possibilities, House reminded them about the two most likely options: a Career and Technical Education millage or an Enhancement millage. A CTE millage would need to be supported by a majority of the people in the districts within the RESD, and the funds would go to the RESD to operate the CTE programs. He estimated that ¾ of a mil would support the current CTE programs, even though the maximum CTE millage levy is 1 mil. As for the Enhancement millage, the maximum to ask voters for is 3 mils, and those funds would be distributed to districts on a per pupil basis, and could be used for broader improvements that may also include the CTE programs. House said that Boards will be asked to decide within a few months as to whether or not they wish to seek a CTE or Enhancement millage. If a majority of districts within the RESD pass identical resolutions regarding a millage, the issue would then be put on the November ballot.
Kudos were given by House and Board members for the Harrison High School’s success at raising money for United Way through their yearly Penny Drive. House reported that the school raised $800 to $900. The exact total was not available because the drive is initially counted by weight and not amount.
House spoke briefly regarding the SEBTC Grant, which will provide families with a voucher to ensure kids have good nutrition in the summer.
The Board had no action items on their agenda Monday night. The next Harrison BOE meeting is scheduled for February 13th, assuming, with several anticipated absences, the Board will be able to have a quorum present.