‘We’re all sliding down the hill heading toward this cliff. We’re all trying to put the brakes on.’ — Business Manager David Gutenschwager
By BROOKE STEVENSON
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE — Despite recently making a substantial number of cuts, Wyandotte Public Schools now is exploring new ways to reduce costs.
The Board of Education recently has approved cuts including the closure of McKinley Elementary School, the transfer of sixth-graders to Wilson Middle School and staff layoffs.
“We have recommended these reductions because we are financially strapped,” said Supt. Patricia Cole. “Our revenue was flat, our expenses were going up and we had to do something.”
Cole announced that she and district Business Manager David Gutenschwager have been discussing ways to make additional cuts throughout the district in light of recent financial news.
On May 15 he finished the district’s budget for 2009-10, and it projects a fund balance of $143,000 as of June 30, 2010.
“That is nothing,” Cole said.
Michigan’s State Revenue Consensus Conference also was held that day. Attendees were briefed on projections for how the revenue is coming and what the sales tax will look like, as well as what the prognosis is for the state for the rest of the year.
It was announced that the total general fund and school aid fund revenue is down 11.9 percent, or $2.5 billion, from the 2007-08 year.
“Worst-case scenario, of course,” Cole said. “There is much less money.
“Along with that, one of the assumptions we made was that the stimulus money being sent directly to the district would be helpful to the district.”
She added that with further clarification on the federal stimulus money, the administration would be “ill at ease” using all of the $700,000 awarded to the district as direct revenue. Instead officials will use a $400,000 figure.
The state also will receive stimulus money in the amount of $1.3 billion for the education fund. The money was meant to stabilize districts throughout the state for the current year and the next two school years.
“The purpose of the money they’re getting directly is to fill the gap, to make education whole,” said Cole. “The gap in Michigan is so big that the stimulus money will fill it for the next year and following year only.”
In addition, the state also may cut school districts’ revenue for the 2010-11 school year.
“This is the information,” Cole said. “We could get revenue cuts, we have a $143,000 projection for our fund balance and we are worried that the student count could go down in the fall.”
She added that the district needs some sort of “cushion” in the event that the student count in late September drops.
Cole and Gutenschwager have met to begin discussing additional cuts after all of the recent information came to fruition. They have been investigating what the cuts will be, how they will affect the district and how much they would realistically help the budget.
“It’s not like it was just us that all of a sudden found this out,” she said. “This new information was shocking.”
Gutenschwager said districts throughout the state are suffereing.
“All the school districts in the state of Michigan are heading toward this cliff,” he said. “We’re all sliding down the hill heading toward this cliff. We’re all trying to put the brakes on.
“We need to preserve anything we can preserve right now and get prepared for that following year, even if we get through next year.”
On May 14 Cole, along with 14 other Wayne County school superintendents, met with Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Cole was asked to speak specifically on the topic of what cuts mean to a district.
“I enumerated all of the cuts we have made and what it is doing to us,” Cole said. “And this is what her response was: ‘This is a dark time in Michigan’s history, but the darkest hour is yet to come.’”
Details of the cuts that Cole and Gutenschwager are considering have not been revealed to anyone else in the district. They plan to discuss them in public at the next financial committee meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
Any cuts discussed and agreed upon then will go to the board for public comment and approval during their next regular meeting June 16.
“I appreciate everyone’s support and understanding,” Cole said. “This is just so unbelievable, but we’ll make it work, and I know (everyone) will help us do so.”