By Genine Hopkins
Harrison Community Schools’ Board of Education was the scene of a hot debate over the need for an Assistant Principal at the High School/Middle School complex. The adoption of the FY 2014 budget included a salary package for an assistant principal; however, the board voted to delay the posting of a position until after student county date, usually in October.
The need for an Assistant Principal was brought up by BOE President Marie Roth, who was absent during the board’s approval, and was questioning why the board hadn’t posted the position yet, since it would take roughly a month to interview. Additionally, she felt the board would lose out on qualified applicants, who were searching for jobs during the summer for the upcoming 2013-2014 school year. The cost for the salary and benefits package for the position runs roughly $100,000 per year.
“Why did we not post this?” she questioned, “My recommendation is to post this immediately so we can hire an individual for the position in August, prior to the start of the school year.”
At the heart for budgeting the money for the position was the need for an individual to assist the principals with handling discipline issues. Several High School teachers were present, noting their increasing role in discipline, or having the clerks handle the role.
“If you’re going to have administration meetings outside the buildings then you need an assistant principal,” said teacher Andy Dennis, “The kids know when there’s no one there to handle issues and we see an increase in disruptive behaviors during these meetings. Both myself and other teachers have taken on the responsibilities, along with our clerk, and we don’t have the authority to this, nor should we be held responsible.”
Both HHS Principal Jeremy Thomas and HMS Principal Rick Foote attend twice monthly meetings outside of their buildings. Foote stated he sends a proxy to the RESD meetings to remain at the building for those monthly meetings. Superintendent Tom House stated that the meetings are held during school hours due to both buildings having afterschool sports and activities.
The argument became heated, with President Roth feeling that the district was already losing students to other area schools and that increasing discipline problems provide just one more reason for parents to chose other districts.
“You may not only lose students, but also some teachers as well, who are fed up with having to handle these issues on their own. We need to look to where we can cut in other places to help cover the salary for this position,” she told the board, “We’ve already done so in transportation. We’ve budgeted for an Assistant Principal this coming year and we’ll have to worry about the 2014-2015 school year when it comes.”
House told the board it would be a dereliction of duty if he didn’t keep the board informed of the state mandates that could hurt the district in future years.
“If you don’t look at this year, next year, and the year after, we’ll end up like Inkster, with the state coming in and making demands,” he said, “Even though we have a fund balance, it’s shrinking, and next year’s approved budget, with the Assistant Principal salary, was almost a million short of our anticipated revenue.”
The anticipated revenue is set at $13.17 million and the budget is approximately $14 million. Should the board continue to use fund balance money to cover differences in revenue versus budget, eventually that general fund balance will be zero. According to the State of Michigan law, no local governmental body can operate at a negative budget with a zero fund balance.
Trustees Connie Cauchi and Angie Cullen both stated that the board had agreed to hold off on posting for the Assistant Principal position until October, although when the actual motion was read back, it was to hold on posting until after student count.
Cullen, who has a daughter at the high school, stated she felt empathy for the need of help in discipline, but wasn’t sure spending that kind of money with so many other budget cuts that have taken place over the years was the best way to handle the issue.
“I understand that Jeremy (Principal Thomas) needs help, but what if we have to lay off next year?” she asked.
Cauchi stated that the board already has begun addressing the discipline issues, predominantly at the lower levels, by hiring additional teachers to reduce classroom sizes, making it easier for teachers to maintain classroom decorum.
In the end, despite Roth’s passionate pleas to move forward on hiring immediately, the board failed to support a motion to that effect.
“I disagree,” stated Roth, “We lose students, we lose students.”