Esky schools optimistic about budget

ESCANABA — The Escanaba School Board discussed the probability of a positive upcoming budget season at its regular meeting Monday.

Interim Superintendent Steve Martin updated the board on the district’s current budget situation, explaining using the current blended enrollment count of 2,321 students, coupled with Gov. Rick Synder’s and the Michigan Legislature proposals for school funding, the 2017-18 budget year is looking brighter than in years past.

“Right now, we are projecting a balanced budget of revenues equals expenditures,” said Martin. “So that is good news because we are not looking at making any major cuts.”

For the 2016-17 school year, the board made major cuts within the district including reductions in teacher/bus aides, coaching staff, along with privatizing custodial staff. In addition, the board implemented an activity fee, where students had to “pay to play” sports or participate in an extra curricular activity the district offers. At the time, the district faced a shortfall of $954,896 within the budget.

Looking into the 2017-18 budget, Martin said the activity fee is no longer a factor, along with adding back athletic transportation costs into current expenditures. Martin said the probability of a balanced budget for the upcoming school year is due to the possible increases in funding from the state.

“We are in a better place than we have found ourselves in the past couple of years,” said Martin.

During last week’s committee of the whole meeting, the board discussed the Legislature’s proposals of possible increases in funding to schools around Michigan, as the numbers became available over the district’s spring break.

In the Michigan Senate’s budget proposal, there could be an increase of $174 per student, with no additional funding for high school students.

At risk-funding could also see an increase, noted Martin, but not as much as Synder’s proposal, which states that all Michigan school districts could see increases to help at-risk students and increases in per-pupil spending for all students by $128 million, providing an additional $50 to $100 per student.

A loss could come with reductions within the Michigan Public School Employees’ Retirement System (MPSERS), said Martin, and the district would have to pay to cover that reduction, creating a loss of about $172,00 toward the budget.

However, the district could still see an increase of $465,000 in funds from the Senate if the current budget plan goes through.

The House’s proposed budget for Michigan schools proposes an additional $100 per student, with no add-ons for high school students. At risk student funding could see a growth, said Martin, and would be more than what the Senate is proposing. If this budget proposal goes through, Martin said Escanaba Schools could see an increase of $473,266 in funding.

For at-risk students, the proposed budgets would offer an increase of $245,352 for Escanaba, said Martin.

Overall, if the governor’s and legislature’s proposals go through, the district could see an increase in funds of about $477,452, noted Martin.

In other business, the board recognized the various Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO) throughout the district Monday, with principals from Lemmer, Soo Hill, Webster and Escanaba Upper Elementary (EUE) present to give certificates of appreciation to PTO representatives.

“They are the force behind our funds, the effort, and volunteer work here at our schools,” said Martin, who also works part-time as the principal for the EUE.

Martin and other elementary principals explained what the PTO does, including fundraising, family outreach, and volunteer time the organization puts into making sure the elementary students have the highest quality of education possible.

“It’s just a tremendous amount of work,” said Lemmer Principal Matthew Johnson-Reeves. “We couldn’t do it without them.”

In other action, the board unanimously approved the extension of the lease agreements for Ness Field and Westside Park, which the district leases out to the city of Escanaba. Vice-President James Hermans was not present at the meeting.

The next meeting will be a special board meeting held on May 1 at 6 p.m.