Nearly eight protesters greeted Boyne City Public Schools administration and school board members as they entered last week’s special work session.
The protesters wanted the superintendent and school board to know they are unhappy with a proposal to cut nearly all of the schools 13 janitorial positions in order to help save money.
“Why am I doing this? I’m here to try and help save my husband’s job,” said Nancy Hosmer, whose husband works for Boyne City Public Schools as a custodian.
“I’m just here to support the janitors,” said protester Mike Scoggins. “I don’t believe they should be outsourcing jobs.”
“I’m here to save the jobs of the janitors who worked so hard over the years,” said Kathy Sutton.
The Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education met on Monday May 6 for a special session to determine how best to shore potential budgetary issues.
Boyne City Public Schools Business Manager Irene Byrne said the school system must cut between $500,000 and $550,000 in order to balance the 2013-2014 budget.
Assuming the school system balances its budget, the current estimated revenue for the 2013-2014 school year would be $12,125,948; the estimated operating expenses would be $12,125,948; the projected fund balance would be $1,445,710 or 11.92 percent of the budget.
Byrne said the schools recently received notification that their health insurance would be increasing by an average of 4.1 percent.
“So, actually, for Boyne City, that is going to be a $20,000 savings because our members go from a 15 percent co-pay to a 20 percent co-pay for the new school year,” she said.
The board then discussed a proposed list of items which could be cut in order to save the school system money.
The item of most interest to the protesters—janitorial services—was addressed first.
“There has been some discussion … on the third-party contracting for custodial,” Byrne said. “And, I do want to clarify: for the first year that would be approximately $195,000 savings, and unemployment has been factored in that.”
Even with the proposed cuts, Byrne said the school system would still need to spend nearly $148,500 from its fund balance in order to balance its budget.
The unemployment figures Byrne provided were only for half of the janitorial staff.
“I just took a stab,” she said. “We know that if a third-party were to come in they could look at potentially take a look at rehiring half of our employees.”
If half of the janitorial employees received 20 weeks of unemployment, it would cost the school roughly $35,000.
Boyne City Public Schools are responsible for paying 100 percent of a laid-off employee’s unemployment.
Moss said he had met with the custodians a week prior to the board meeting.
“(We) talked about different concepts … and they came back with a plan of their own,” Moss said.
Boyne City Public Schools Board of Education member Ross McLane asked Moss if he was considering the custodians’ proposal.
“I would say not at this time, Ross,” Moss said. “When we sat around the table I threw a number out there … and I told them a number that would make the board stand up and sit straight must be ‘such’ and the number didn’t quite hit that.”
Byrne said she priced the tentative cost reduction was for one year with an estimated savings of $100,000.
“If you look at our lead bid at this time, even factoring unemployment into it, we would have $195,000 savings in year one, $243,000 year two, $257,000 year three,” she said. “So, that’s just under $700,000 savings within three years.”
The bid in question is good for 99 hours per week of custodial work that would include grounds, cleaning and maintenance.
Officials discussed the possibility of keeping two of the thirteen janitors on the payroll.
“For every person you hold back (retain) you need to take $40,000 out of the $195,000 (in savings),” Byrne said.
Some school board members asked if janitorial personnel nearing retirement would be kept on until they retired.
Moss said that had been discussed but no decisions had been made.
The current custodians had proposed 88 hours worth of work as opposed to the third-party company’s bid of 99 hours.
There are currently 13 positions—five full-time and eight three-and-three-quarter hours positions.
Moss said he is visiting Boyne Falls schools, Gladwin schools and Traverse City schools to see how third-party janitorial services have been working for those educational institutions.
“No effort was made to track down where it didn’t work?” McLane said. “How can we be confronted with making a decision, if your research finds that this isn’t a good idea, why would we be rocking the boat so much at this point?”
Moss said there are time limits on dealing with the budget—schools must have their budget adopted by June 30.
He also said the new company would need to be given time to get ready to take over the custodial services at the school.
McLane said he knows of at least one example of a governmental entity that used a third-party janitorial service and had problems with it.
“It would seem to me as important to do the research on the negative experiences as it would be on the positive,” McLane said.
Moss said he would contact that institution and talk with them.
“It seems to me it’s a little late because, if there was sincerely an effort then the misunderstanding would have been taken care of months ago and that was one of the examples I could give you and there was not contact with me to secure others,” McLane said. “It seems to be a one-sided information gathering effort and I don’t know how that really provides us with a basis of a truly informed decision-making process.”
Members of the public attempted to applaud McLane’s comments on two occasions but were immediately stifled by the board and told they were there to “listen only.”
Moss said the schools he’s talked to so far are happy with their third-party custodial services.
“When your budget is 80-84 percent salaries and you need to find any place to cut it’s salaries and it’s people,” he said. “These are not pleasant for anybody. I don’t enjoy bringing this to your attention but you need to be aware of another way to have cleaning done in your buildings and save the district (money).”
The board discussed whether the teachers’ union would be willing to help with the budget issue.
Moss said he has monthly discussions with the teachers’ representation.
“I’ve informed them … that it’s going to be another tight year,” Moss said. “The employees of this district have taken on more work, are paying more for their health care, have taken pay freezes … which has all been helpful but and you still just get some costs pile up that we can’t control—mainly, the retirement. The retirement system is killing us in terms of costs putting back onto us.”
He added, “They (teachers) feel like they have given and they’re just not interested in reopening the contract, which does reopen a year from now…. I understand their position and their reluctance to reopen their contract.”
McLane said his old firefighters’ union downstate made the mistake refusing to look at their contracts and ended up losing many employees because they could not afford them.
“Our average teacher is about 11 or 12 percent above state average in compensation,” he said. “I wouldn’t suggest the first place anybody would be looking to save money here is paycheck, but there are other things that are labor costs that could go a long way to help these custodians lives that we’re talking about here.”
One school board member asked if the issue of pay-to-play for sports was ever discussed. Moss said it had been discussed and deemed not worth trying because it could result in the loss of more students than the dollars it might save.
McLane asked how many smaller savings of two and three thousand dollars could be found if someone went through the budget.
The board and Moss briefly—with much laughter and joking—discussed the principals, superintendent and administration costs but no potential savings were attempted to be identified from those positions.
Moss was asked if the budgeting staff had gone item by item to find every bit of savings available.
Moss said he would like to think they have been “cleaning all that stuff up.”
The board was asked how much money in cuts they would like to see.
“The more you spend on your fund equity this year, it’s an automatic expenditure the next year,” Moss said. “The gamble is, will things be better? Will there be increases in the foundation allowance grant?”
The state legislature said it was giving schools a two percent increase but Boyne City Public Schools will actually see a decrease in funding.
Zareena Koch said she understands the desire to keep a custodian on for three months until he is vested in the system and one who has 18 months until he reaches retirement, but that everyone has reasons for needing their job and that it isn’t fair to choose which employees get to remain employed and which don’t based on their financial need.
If the board chooses to go with this plan, they would save $155,000 in the first year instead of $195,000.
“If the wish of the board is to get those two people to a favorable spot in their career we can do that but it will reduce the reductions,” Moss said.
Peter Moss said one possible avenue of savings will come from the retirement of two bus drivers.
“That will save about $18,000 right there,” he said.
The remaining bus drivers would pick up the slack of the retired bus drivers.
“We need to look at how can we be more efficient picking up and dropping off students in the city,” Moss said. “There are four routes out there (in the country) right now and we think we can do it with three.”
Boyne City schools is also looking at hiring para-pros instead of teachers to help with classes of larger than average class size. The classes that have 27 and 28 students receive a para-pro to help the teacher manage such a large class.
Some board members expressed frustration over the tough decisions which need to be made on the budget.
“It’s not an exact science,” Moss said, sympathizing with the board that there are numerous variables—such as student count and funding changes in Lansing. “We have to decide how many of schools of choice we’re going to let in because we are approaching our maximum level of classrooms. And, if you start letting too many come in you have to add staff and it’s the law of diminishing returns.”
The school had planned on having 92 kindergartners by fall and right now they have 91 kindergartners.
During the public comment portion of the meeting several people spoke out in favor of the support staff and para-professionals.
Michelle Demming said she was concerned about the proposed cuts.
“You are making decisions that directly impact the lifeblood of this district. Custodians being outsourced, para-professionals being cut and teachers not being replaced,” she said. “We continue to sit on a 10 to 12 percent fund equity nest egg, a number that you set that was built and saved for times like these.”
She added, “Our community and staff have been told time and time again that we need to make cuts yet we continue to have, at the end of each year, a surplus.”
One audience member said the school is asking the lowest paid staff to take the financial cuts.
The board closed the meeting by commenting that the proposed cuts were not personal in nature and merely a business decision.
Moss said there is an enhancement millage that the schools could go for to raise extra money, but it would need support of at least half the voters of the Char-Em ISD to pass it.
One board member said he heard of a school that put its students to work refinishing their gym floors to save money.
The possibility of approaching the community for funds to pay for needed repairs was also mentioned.
No decisions were made.
The board was scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on Monday May 13, where they were likely to discuss the budget further. Go to www.boynegazette.com for the results of that meeting.