By BROOKE STEVENSON
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE — Several changes made under Wyandotte Public Schools’ financial reduction proposal caused many parents to voice their disapproval at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.
Supt. Patricia Cole read the proposal during the meeting after holding several meetings with administrators and staff, as well as sending a letter home to parents announcing closing of McKinley Elementary School and the move of its students to Monroe Elementary. It also announced the closure of the 60-year-old McKinley building.
Also included in the proposal was the restructuring of Wilson Middle School. All of the district’s sixth-grade classes would move there, along with the seventh- and eighth-graders.
A decrease in student enrollment, staff raises and increased health care and retirement costs were cited as the cause of a $3.7 million spending deficit for the next school year.
The structural changes are meant to balance the district’s budget so that it is not taken over by the state.
“Everyone is asking, ‘Why now? Why all of a sudden? Why did this happen?’” Cole said.
She explained that at the beginning of every year she and district Business Manager David Gutenschwager begin planning for the next.
“There is usually a reduction required somehow, through attrition, through some way that we can squeeze everything a little bit tighter and balance the budget as we look forward,” Cole said. “We knew that it would be a tighter budget than usual, and came up with some ideas to cut that would be bigger than usual.”
However, they had no idea how much the budget would be off balance until December, and when officials saw an additional loss of students during the February count, they knew they needed to do more, she said.
In the last year the district lost 100 students, according to the 2008 February and September counts. Because it receives $7,316 per student in state funding each year, the decline in number of students equals a loss of $731,600 in revenue.
This year the district could manage due to a fund balance, but officials believe next year would prove more difficult to get by, since officials expect the same drop in enrollment.
Last month’s count showed an additional drop of 24 students, which will count toward the 2009-10 school year.
“We will lose that much money again, and that was one of the factors that we didn’t think would be so devastating to us,” Cole said. “We could not have anticipated how devastating that student count was.
“There will be no increase in revenue. We are required by law to balance the budget.”
The student population continues to decline in the district as the community ages and the economy worsens, she added.
“We need to merge McKinley and Monroe,” Cole said. “They are our two smallest schools. We need a school on the south end, we can’t close both of them — and shouldn’t.
“We need to figure out how to deliver better, more efficient service.”
Only 90 of McKinley’s 321 students are neighborhood children; all of the others are school of choice.
Monroe has 200 neighborhood children out of its 350 students.Those totals are the lowest numbers in the district.
Many parents don’t agree with the idea of the school closing, class sizes increasing or the additional distance to a new school.
Bridgette Barton, a fourth-grade teacher at Monroe who has children at McKinley, believes children will suffer because of the merge.
“It is 1.7 miles to Monroe (from McKinley), which is unwalkable,” she said. “Would you want your young child walking that far across five lanes of traffic at Eureka — and no, a crossing guard does not solve this issue — then through Roosevelt High School traffic and the students and their mouths and their actions.
“Then they would have to cross Oak Street. I would like to invite anyone who passes this (proposal) to come to my home and walk my baby that far through all of this, then tell me that it is acceptable.”
Not all parents believed the proposal was unreasonable.
Amy Farkus has two children at McKinley and works there as an aide as well.
“While I would love for my children to stay at Mckinley Elementary School until they are in the sixth grade, I don’t want every other person in this district to have to suffer for one school to stay open,” she said.
She added that she believed in Cole and trusted her decision would be what was best for the district.
To create room for the displaced students after the merge, all sixth-graders will move to Wilson, with all of the district’s seventh- and eighth-graders.
“Integrating the sixth grade into Wilson has been our dream for a long time with the sixth-grade teachers and the Wilson staff and administration,” Cole said. “We know that this is a better fit, socially and academically.”
Many parents spoke out against the sixth grade move. All opponents said that sixth-graders do not belong in the same building with eighth-graders. Some parents even threatened to pull their children from the district if the move to Wilson happens.
Despite the opposition, however, Cole said she believes the proposal is a viable option to keep the district afloat.
Merging the two elementary schools will save the district over $300,000 through utilities and laying off three teachers, the building’s custodian, secretary, media technicians, lunch aides and a cashier.
She said she hopes that at least five teachers will retire before the move, and said current Monroe Principal William Strait is retiring this year.
With all of the changes, Cole believes the district will have a $387,000 fund balance, instead of a $3.7 million deficit.
The proposal is not yet final and will be discussed further at the next Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. March 17.