With Deficit Plan Deadline Looming, MAISD Offers Proposals To Right Heights Public Schools Finances

Andrew Trzaska | January 9, 2012

With no time to waste in the new calendar year, the chief financial officer of the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District offered recommendations to the Muskegon Heights Board of Education and set a timeline to provide the board greater financial options to eliminate a deficit that if left untended may reach $11.6 million by 2013.

At Monday’s special board meeting, acting Superintendent Dave Sipka from the MAISD formally introduced Marios Demetriou, who shared many initial recommendations for the board of education to consider.

Despite widespread misinformation, the board of education retains decision-making powers for the district.  While the school board asked the state last month to install Demetriou as an emergency financial manager for the district, the state has not taken action on the matter; Demetriou remains in an advisory role only.

“Marios’s role in this at this point is consultative,” said Sipka. “He doesn’t have that power now.  Our recommendations to you now are simply that. They are recommendations.”

The district has received an extension on its deficit elimination plan until February 2, which leaves the board one more regularly scheduled board meeting on January 23 to approve any changes to the plan. The intent is to increase the amount of cuts to the district’s budget to counteract the district’s growing fund balance deficit.

From July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, the district took in just under $18 million and spent just over $22 million, creating a deficit of $4.3 million for the year.  On top of the district’s existing deficit, their total deficit stands at $8.5 million.

The MAISD’s analysis of the district’s recently submitted audit stressed the need to make decisions now with a deadline less than a month away.

“If nothing happens, at the end of this year it will be approximately 11.6 Million in deficit,” noted Demetriou.  “We don’t really have a lot of time.  We have to act immediately.”

Among the recommendations brought by Demetriou:

 

  • Elimination of the district’s alternative education program, a move finalized with a 4-0 vote at Monday’s meeting. Students in the alternative education program will report to the high school and will have special hours
  • Elimination of the position of superintendent for the district in the budget, a move put into motion with the retirement of Dr. Dana Bryant effective January 1, 2012.
  • Transferring the Great Start & Head Start programs to the MAISD starting July 1, a move noted by
  • Elimination of the data technician position.
  • Elimination of the special ed bus aide positions.
  • Elimination of the administrative building receptionist and outsourcing of substitute teacher searching to PS&G(?), a move Demetriou noted has saved other Muskegon County districts a total of $4 million.
  • Acceptance and review of Request for Proposals for staff privatization, originally sent out in December 2011. Expected to be received on 1/13.
  • Meeting with union groups on 1/10, with a request for a decision on concessions by Friday, 1/13.
  • The winterization of Roosevelt, Glendale and Lindbergh Schools to save on utility costs.
  • Closure of the district’s administration building starting July 1, 2012 and the dispersal of its staff to either the middle school, high school or both.
  • The transfer of the district’s business functions to the MAISD, a move Demetriou stated has been taken by 4 other districts in the county.

The board raised several concerns and questions on the list.

On a question from trustee Trinell Scott, Demetriou indicated he would provide all figures possible if district unions chose to take concessions as well as privatization RFP figures, with no preference toward the privatization angle.

“[I will] absolutely give you that information. Our intention in this whole process is for Muskegon Heights to maintain its independence… we will have all answers and we will bring them before you.”

On the matter of winterizing two empty buildings and the soon-to-be-empty Lindbergh building, Demetriou and Sipka stressed that the savings documented would only be a matter of utilities, and if the district chose to fully shut down the buildings they could further drive down costs.  First-year savings would grow to true savings in the second year, as some costs would be incurred in the initial winterization.

Board opinion leaned toward not taking Demetriou up on his offer to explore further shutting down the buildings.

“We don’t want boards [on the windows],” said board president Avery Burrel.

On the matter of transferring Great Start, Head Start and business responsibilities to the MAISD, Burrel echoed Demetriou’ point that Muskegon Heights is not the first district to look at service management transfers to the ISD.

“That is something a lot of other districts are doing.”

Sipka stressed the role of the MAISD in the county as a support system for its 13 districts.

“It’s a team effort,” said Sipka. “You get a team of people coming from the ISD.”

Burrel indicated the board would consider scheduling a special board meeting in its typical off-week next week.  The board’s next scheduled meeting is on Monday, January 23 at 6 p.m.

Demetriou indicated that RFP and union concession data would be available to the board ahead of that time for review and a possible vote that night.

Trustee Kassandra Kitchen, board vice president Ronald Jenkins and treasurer Ivory Morris were not in attendance at Monday’s meeting

Andrew Trzaska

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