By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
Albion is one of a growing number of Michigan school districts that are passing deficit budgets that put them under state oversight.
The Albion School Board last week approved a deficit budget for 2010-11 because it was facing a $1.48 million dollar shortfall. The district will now have to file a deficit-reduction plan to the state by December.
As Michigan’s economy has soured, the number of school districts on state deficit reduction plans increased to 31 in 2009 — up from 18 in 2005.
“We just have to keep talking about the pros and cons to determine which of the solutions (the community and board) come up with — which none of them are going to be popular — will be the least damaging and most palatable,” Albion Superintendent Frederick Clarke said. “We need to work really hard to build relationships with more community members and parents and provide them with extra opportunities whenever possible.”
Albion resident and Albion High School alum Marcus Trammell said the board should view this dilemma as an emergency.
“It’s clear this school district is in crisis. We need radical transformation through the community, or in a few years this district will cease to exist,” he said. “We have to put good faith in the citizens and trust them … if not, this is going to be a race to the bottom.”
Clarke said the “school district belongs to the community,” and he and his staff will exhaust all communication avenues to inform people of future meeting locations and dates. The district has two fiscal years to eliminate the debt, according to the State School Aid Act of 1979, and the district can file for additional time by proving extenuating circumstances.
The state will be closely monitoring Albion’s general fund balance through monthly budget reports starting this year, according to Glenda Rader, the deputy director of the State and School Finance Office.
“We work with them very closely in the process of developing a deficit-elimination plan, but they make their own decisions and should be working hard to find places to cut because it is up to them to make the tough decisions,” she said.
Technology Director Mark Deschaine introduced some major budget reduction ideas to consider at Tuesday’s school board meeting, with the objective of suggesting cuts that do the least damage to “teachers and classroom instruction” in a district that has seen enrollment decline from 2,025 in 1999 to 1,033 in 2009.
Among the options include staff layoffs in the high school and the elimination or reduction of athletic programs, pupil transportation and library services. Deschaine provided some initial dollar estimates to how some of those cuts might reduce the deficit.
He said eliminating public transportation for the district would save about $450,000 per year, but the district would have to buy two buses it is currently leasing from Dean Transportation.
He said the athletic department has around $250,000 in expenses and $25,000 in revenue estimates for 2010-11, but a lot of consideration needs to go into these programs because for the first time state law mandates the athletic budget become part of the general fund.
“To start, we need to have an actual athletic department budget in the coming years,” he said.
Deschaine could not associate a cost savings with the elimination of library services, but did note the district would lose its North Central Association accreditation if it terminated them.