Faced with a looming $8-million shortfall, Anchor Bay School District expects to lay off a total of 35 teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff in early July.
In addition to the staff cuts, the district will implement kindergarten changes in the upcoming school year and merge elementary schools to create a second early childhood center.
"We want to protect the classroom as much as we can and this hasn't been easy for any of us," a visibly choked-up Superintendent Leonard Woodside said during the Wednesday night board of education meeting in .
A couple hundred district employees and concerned parents were eager to learn how they and their children would be affected by the changes, asking questions about who will lose their jobs and how daily education and programs would be impacted.
District officials said the estimated 35 layoffs have not been specifically determined but teachers, four-hour paraprofessionals and support staff like secretaries and custodians are likely to be among them, Woodside said after the meeting.
School representatives have been in bargaining sessions with unions and layoff notices are supposed to be sent July 8.
Besides layoffs, the district plans on saving money by altering its kindergarten program for the 2011-12 school year.
Children will be assigned to their home schools for full-day classes, unless they opt into another school. Once in their class, they will be taught by a regular kindergarten teacher half the day and a qualified paraprofessional the other half of the day.
Half-day kindergarten students will no longer be bused to school. Kindergarten students will also ride the bus with first through fifth grades, which was done before for morning classes en route to school and afternoon classes on the way home. The mid-day transportation previously had just kindergarten students, according to Lighthouse Principal Tom Huber.
Sugarbush Elementary Principal Marie Dewitte told the board that third-grader studies have shown students who went to half- or full-day kindergarten are at the same academic level. She also said that paraprofessionals and teachers will participate in shared lesson planning for consistency and similar learning experiences.
Dewitte also spoke of communication with parents about the changes concerning transportation.
"The parents did not object to transporting their children mid-day," she told the board.
Parents who weighed in on the issue had mixed responses to the kindergarten changes.
Woodside said he does not like having to to create room for a second early childhood center, but it is necessary to bring in revenue from the center's tuition base. The existing Early Childhood Center on Washington Street operates at capacity and there's an opportunity to serve more children at the other end of the district, he said.
While school officials applaud the merger as a creative way to help whittle down the deficit, some parents are less than pleased.
"I am pulling my child out of the district," said New Baltimore resident Debbie Tews whose twin sons attended Macdonald.
Tews said she plans to send her children to Merritt Academy in New Haven because she felt her questions about the merger have gone unanswered.
New Baltimore resident Nicole Plaumen's son attended Macdonald.
"I love that school; it's wonderful," Plaumen said, adding she is now considering utilizing the school of choice option for nearby L'Anse Creuse Public Schools or sending him to Merritt.
"They just don't have anything taken care of," she said of Anchor Bay.
Dealing with Budget Blow
School officials implore the community to bear with them during this difficult time, emphasizing they learned Gov. Rick Snyder's education cuts meant a $4.5-million revenue cut for the next school year just a few weeks ago.
"It was raining but Synder turned it into a tsunami," Paul Rogers, director of secondary education for Anchor Bay said. "The state has cut off the oxygen."
The district had already projected the budget to be in the red by more than $3 million, but the $701 per pupil reduction for next year set district officials scrambling.
On Wednesday, the board emphasized they're a part of the community, they also care deeply about the quality of education and that, under Proposal A, the state has 78 percent control over the district's finances. That means if they don't pass a stealthy budget, an emergency financial manager could be dispatched from the state to Anchor Bay.
"I have to tell you this is pretty damn frightening," board member Michael LeFeve told the crowd. "The enemy is not in this room and I'm not political so I can say that."
Anchor Bay Least Funded, Best Test Scores
Despite receiving the least amount of per pupil funding available in Macomb County at $7,316, Anchor Bay boasts the highest average 2010 MEAP scores and ranks among the top five for the Michigan Merit Exam in the county, school board members said.
Although the 1994 passage of Proposal A meant the then rural district was placed in the lowest funding bracket—under New Haven, Romeo, Clintondale, Armada, L'Anse Creuse and more—Anchor Bay out-saves many districts. An energy-savings program alone in the district has saved $804,665 since the 2006-07 school year, according to the district.
"We are forced to be efficient because we are one of the lowest funded," Anchor Bay Director of Business Services Kyle Anderson said.
Despite receiving the lowest state funding possible, the district will see the same per pupil reduction as schools that receive much more money, Anderson said.