Muskegon Public Schools Renews Superintendent’s Contract; Deficit Forecast Improves

Andrew Trzaska | September 18, 2013

Jon Felske will continue in his role as superintendent as Muskegon Public Schools, after the Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to extend his contract.

Currently, Felske has held the superintendent’s job for about two and a half years. This extension will add three more years to his contract, covering him through the end of 2016.

Felske replaced former superintendent Colin Armstrong in 2011, the only candidate the board interviewed in March of that year.  A fan of the City of Muskegon, he had previously interviewed for Armstrong’s job five years before.

Previously, Felske had been superintendent of Wyoming Public Schools from 2002 to 2009, then dual superintendent of Godwin Heights and Wyoming from 2009 to 2011.

Felske’s contract extension comes just two months after he was approached for the superintendent’s job at Lakeshore Public Schools in Stevensville. Felske completed two rounds of interviews for the position and was offered the jobs, yet opted to stay with Muskegon Public Schools. Among his reasons, Felske said his family would collectively miss the Muskegon area.

Board members laughingly suggested that Felske’s tenure may last beyond 2016 if he would want to, saying they would have preferred his contract last through 2017 or even 2020.

Felske deflected those suggestions but did thank the board for remaining supportive of him, specifically calling out the period of time he was in discussions with Lakeshore Public Schools.

“I thank everyone who sits up at this table, for working with me through late July and early August…” said Felske.

No word was available at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting what Felske would earn. Salary projections from his previous contract place him at a salary near $200,000 in wages and benefits.

Felske’s Fiscal Work Continues

Felske came to the district with a reputation of fiscal discipline, at a time when Muskegon Public Schools was showing signs of financial distress.

Since them, he has overseen the closure of four school buildings, reworking of grade levels at the remaining facilities, consolidation of two middle schools into one, staff reductions nd other cost-cutting measures.

After two years of staying in the black, Muskegon Public Schools has fallen into deficit. They currently reside in Category 4 of the State Superintendent’s quarterly district report, which includes school districts who have not been in the red but are projected to go into deficit in the next year.

One bit of positive news about the deficit is it does not appear to be the full $2 million that was previously projected.  New deficit projects show a deficit of closer to $1.2 million. Yet, the district still has to submit a deficit elimination plan to the state, which must show how the district will get out of its deficit within two years.

Felske said at Monday’s meeting that cuts to student programs would be minimal, and instead would lean on a 7% pay cut across most of the district’s unions, previously passed in the budget in June.  Now comes the task of negotiating those cuts with most of the district’s unions. The excluded bargaining unit that includes bus drivers, custodians and maintenance staff, who recently took a 5% pay cut.

The district’s deficit elimination plan will also include the layoffs of 15 teachers and support staff.

The state is set to approve these details of the deficit elimination plan in the coming weeks, as they have advised Muskegon Public Schools in fine-tuning it over the past several months.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst