Muskegon Superintendent Provides Deficit Update, Shares Service Consolidation Idea From State

Muskegon Public Schools Superintendent Jon Felske provided an update on the district’s deficit elimination plan at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

The district first filed its deficit elimination plan in June after concluding it had a deficit in May.  Based on the timeline Felske laid out, it appears the district’s course of action will likely be finalized with the state in the fall.

“We would hope that soon we would have a finalized discussion back from the state,” said Felske.

The district’s longtime Executive Director of Administrative Services, Gary Privasky, retired in June. The district’s new lead on budget and related matters is Catherine Kloska, who came from Coopersville Public Schools.  Felske states she is “in constant discussion” with the state.

Starting Monday, the district will also meet with teacher leadership, to talk about ways to get the deficit under control.  This comes on the heels of the layoff of 20 employees in the district earlier this summer.

In a related topic at Tuesday’s meeting, Felske showed the board of education a testimony given by State Superintendent Mike Flanagan on July 31 to the Michigan House K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee regarding consolidation of services between school districts.

Flanagan’s testimony emphasized multiple times that his plan was not to consolidate school districts, but would move various administrative services from individual districts to their local intermediate school districts (ISDs) to save money.

Flanagan cited food services and transportation systems as possible services up for consolidation.

“Do we really need hundreds of separate transportation systems?” said Flanagan in his testimony.

Muskegon Public Schools has already shifted some of its administrative service operations to the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District, including Kloska’s finance team. In its final years of operations, Muskegon Heights Public Schools did the same in an attempt to stem budget losses.

Felske also noted that the MAISD is currently working on a service consolidation study. Working with a consultant out of the Detroit area, they have interviewed people in districts served by the MAISD about ways to consolidate. Those interviews started in March.

Flanagan’s testimony also included stats on the number of districts in the state over time. In 1913, Michigan had 7,327 districts; in 1938, Michigan had 6,558; in 1963, there were 1,515; in 1988, 562.

Today, there are 549 school districts, 55 of which are in fiscal deficit. Flanagan expressed regret in his testimony

“We can’t continue dealing with these deficit districts one at a time,” said Flanagan. “These decisions are painful in communities.”

Andrew Trzaska

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