WB-RC mid-year budget reductions approach $90,000
Transportation changes proposed, privatization still up in the air
WEST BRANCH – Over the next few weeks, budget-reducing changes will be implemented at West Branch-Rose City equaling $88,968 in savings. The mid-year cuts were approved by the WB-RC school board Jan. 3.
Superintendent Dan Cwayna said the budget-reduction measures will take effect as soon as possible.
“Those are cuts that will be taking effect immediately or in the second semester,” he said.
Keeping a spending freeze in place will save the most money through the remainder of the year, Cwayna said.
“The biggest chunk is the spending freeze for non-essential items,” he said.
A list of budget reductions shows the spending freeze is expected to save $66,249 between Jan. 21 and June 30. Eliminating conferences for staff members paid for by the general fund is being implemented, and will save about $16,718, Cwayna said.
Staff members will be able to continue attending conferences funded by grants, he said.
“We have conferences that are paid for out of Title funds, and those will continue,” he said.
Some classrooms will also be shuffled this year, Cwayna said. He said some sessions held in larger rooms will be moved to smaller ones, which is expected to save about $1,605.
The district hopes to save approximately $862 by reducing the number of days mail is run from school building to school building this year, according to Cwayna.
“We reduced the mail run from four days a week to three days a week,” he said.
School administrators will no longer be paid to attend away games and oversee students there as part of the mid-year budget reductions.
“We eliminated, effectively, high school administrators supervising at some of our away varsity contests,” Cwayna said.
Other possible budget-saving measures were discussed Jan. 3 but did not pass, or were approved, but will not take effect until next year. The biggest cut was closing Rose City Elementary. Closing the school is projected to save $484,610. In 2013-14, Rose City Elementary students in grades K-6 will attend school at the current Rose City Middle School, and all seventh- and eighth-grade students will attend classes at Surline Middle School.
A budget reduction that will be implemented next year includes eliminating French class at Ogemaw Heights. Eliminating the class is expected to save $6,458.
Cuts discussed Jan. 3, and at past meetings, included changes to transportation and privatizing maintenance, custodial and transportation positions.
Transportation proposals include single runs, cluster stops for all ages
Transportation Director Butch Hart presented two proposals to save money in the transportation department. These included changing to a single K-12 bus run with cluster stops, which would decrease driver hours and nearly 1,000 miles of travel a day. Proposal one would save about $71,866 if it were implemented this year, and $174,000 over the course of a full school year, Hart said.
The second proposal would keep double bus runs, one for K-8 and one for 9-12. It would reduce miles traveled and driver hours, but not as significantly as proposal one. Hart said proposal two would save $56,445 if it was approved for the rest of the current year, and $137,000 over a full school year.
Despite presenting the proposals, Hart said he does not think either one is a good idea in the middle of the school year.
“I don’t like either one,” he said. “I don’t think either one of them mid-year is practical. Can it be done? I can do it. But I don’t think it’s practical.”
Hart added it would take 45-60 days to implement either plan.
No movement was made by the board on changing transportation, but Cwayna said the board is still weighing the proposals made by Hart.
“We’re still looking into the single bus runs and the cluster stops for K-8,” he said.
Privatization talks continue
In recent months, the board has had several discussions about submitting requests for proposals (RFPs) for food service, transportation, and maintenance and custodial positions. In December the board voted not to request bids for food service. Privatizing the other two departments was discussed Jan. 3, but no decision was made to draw up an official RFP.
Several board members were concerned about the cost of preparing an RFP. Cwayna said it costs $3,000 to $3,500 to have an RFP prepared, and some board members said they did not want to spend that money, especially if there is no board consensus on wanting to privatize.
Board member Jack Money said he does not want to spend $7,000 on RFPs if the board does not want to privatize services.
“I’m not sure where this board wants to go,” he said. “Do they definitely want to go down this road where we’re going to privatize?”
Board President Dick Bachelder said if the bids were received, the board could take those numbers to its United Steel Workers employees and work on concessions. However, board member Mike Eagan said he did not believe outside bids should be held over the head of district employees.
“I see this as a negotiations ploy,” he said. “I’ve seen this the whole time as a negotiations ploy.”
“We approve a Steelworkers contract in October, November?” Eagan added. “Now we’re looking at privatizing again?”
He said that employees who have agreed to a contract are looking at their positions being outsourced, when not all bargaining units in the district have agreed to a contract.
“We’ve agreed to a contract with our Steelworkers,” he said. “We’ve agreed to a contract with our administration. And we’ve got our teachers that we don’t have a contract with yet. We’ve got to get a contract with them.
“We’re sitting with our most expensive group out there, and it’s January, and we don’t have a contract.”
Board member Richard Nelson said he would prefer sitting down with all of the employee groups and getting an across-the-board wage reduction. He said that was the only way the board was going to make enough cuts to reach its goal of more than $2 million over the next two years.
“My opinion of this whole thing, and I’ve looked over the papers time and time and time again. In our budget, when 85 percent of our cost is labor-related, the only way you’re going to get this money out of the budget is a drastic pay cut from every employee,” he said. “Do you want to bite the bullet now, take a substantial wage concession, and we stay liquid as a school district, or give us another nine months and we’ll be in the red? Because that’s where we’re going.”
Board members said they would prefer to get ballpark figures from companies willing to submit them, and then, using those, see whether an official RFP would be appropriate. District Business Manager Chavon Nihls said there are templates that have been used by other districts, but added that according to the Michigan Department of Education, the RFP process has to be completed before privatizing any service, meaning the $6,000 to $7,000 projected for the RFPs would have to be spent.
“With the MDE regulations, we do have to go through the RFP process,” she said.
Cwayna said businesses would not likely just submit ballpark figures.
“It can’t be just ‘Come in and take a look around,’” he said. “They have to have some specific parameters.”
While the board did not act on RFPs, Cwayna said privatization will still be discussed.
Board members have been working to make cuts in an effort to save approximately $800,000 to $1 million this year, and $1.5 million next year.