“Together we have worked to discuss [the millage rate], crunch numbers and try to make what we believe is the right decision for our school system as well as the community and even though it has been a struggle, [Chief Financial Officer Todd] Hooper and his staff and the principals and the directors watch over our budget very, very, carefully ...,” Superintendent John Harper said during Monday’s BCBOE business session. “... We lowered [the millage rate] in 2009 and my desire is to keep it at 17.9 this school year.”
Board members John Howard and Anna Sullivan voted against maintaining the rate. Both cited two years of teacher and staff furloughs as well as decreasing the number of school system employees as main factors leading to their individual votes.
“As I have done in the last two years, the burden we have placed in the form of furloughs on our teachers, we’ve shortened the instructional day and we have chosen to cut programs and also we have cut coaching and staff ...,” Howard said. “We also have put extra requirements of state testing on our teachers and the way we thank [teachers] is we furlough them seven days and we furlough staff 10 days.
“I’m just thinking we’re losing money every year and I think it’s time to go to the community for help so maybe we could get some of those furlough days back for the teachers.”
Sullivan added, “Over the last month or so, each of the board members met with Dr. Harper and Mr. Hooper and had discussions about the budget and where we are with the school system and where we think we’re going to end up being with our reserve funds and with the programs and just the budget in general. I was convinced by those discussions that if we have not hit crisis mode yet, we’re perilously close.
“We’re needing to make some real changes and our millage rate is the lowest it has been in two decades ... and over the course of the last five years, we have asked our faculty and staff to take significant amounts of furlough days and a furlough day sounds like a ‘happy thing,’ but it’s not — a furlough day is a pay cut. We keep coming back to the people that teach our children and asking them to make more and more sacrifices for our school systems.
“I know we have to make sacrifices ourselves and from the listings Dr. Harper and Mr. Hooper, there have been significant cuts across the board in all areas. I also know we’ve also got a little more than 13,000 children who are dependent on us to provide the best possible education we can for them and I also know it’s not a short-term thing. Communities that have good schools and educational systems attract companies and businesses. If we don’t take some action as a community to support the efforts that are being made by our teachers, I’m afraid that within another year we truly are going to have a significant loss in programs and in other areas.”
She continued, “I would love to not have to make that decision and I know [Commissioner Steve Taylor] had to make a hard call himself [regarding the millage rate] and I know that’s hard. We’ve got families struggling in our community ... and I know families that have lost everything in the economic crisis, the mom is unemployed, the dad is unemployed, and I just can’t see our schools being that one final place that fails those families and I think it’s important to take some action. I know we’re asking the community to help us at a really bad time, but I don’t think we have a choice.”
In other school news, the board unanimously approved its consent agenda, which included the approval of nutrition services used by the school system last year as well as the first readings on a charter school policy and a concussion management policy.
For more on Monday’s work session and business session, read Wednesday’s edition of The Daily Tribune News.