2011-05-14 / Top News

5 Teachers Receive Pink Slips

By Karen Gould

Half of Mackinac Island teachers received pink slips in a preemptive measure as school leaders brace for proposed cuts in state funding that could reduce operating revenue by $90,000. The move to place the five non-tenured probationary teachers on notice received unanimous approval by the school board Thursday night, April 21, and teachers received pink slips Friday, April 22.

Prior to the meeting, Superintendent David Waaso spoke with the five teachers, including athletic director, physical education and high school health teacher Bob Lohff, special education teacher Stephanie McManus, first grade teacher Millecent Weigandt, high school social studies, history, government, and geography teacher Chris Schoonover, and high school science teacher Rick Waite.

“Does this mean that they all are going to get laid off? I sure hope not,” he said.

The school has 10 teachers and 74 students.

By law, the school is required to notify people if there is a potential for layoff 60 days before the end of the school year, which the state has set as June 30, Mr. Waaso told the board and about 20 people attending the meeting.

“With the senate and the house, and the governor’s proposals, there is tremendous uncertainty as to whether some of the funding we’ve received in the past from the state will come through, mainly Saving Paradise money and Michigan business tax and a few other smaller ones that we’ve received in the past,” he said. “We’ve been told that those will all go away. Whether they do or not, we’re not quite sure.”

Budget Committee Chair Jason St. Onge said the board would like to work with the teachers union to continue to offer the same insurance coverage, but at a lower cost to the school.

“There are 10 of you [teachers] and probably two of you are going to lose your job over this if we can’t all get together and make some cuts and secure some funding,” he said. “This is a terrible deal we’re faced with right now.”

The teachers will know if they have a job within the next six weeks.

“We’re going to make our decision in May based on what’s currently in front of us and if that means no state money, those are the decisions that are going to be made… I guarantee this board is going to do all it can do to save the jobs,” said Mr. St. Onge. “We’re not talking about laying off a gym teacher, an elementary teacher, or a special education teacher, we’re talking about eliminating the physical education department. This is not fair to the students and this is not where we want to be.”

No one wants to lay off teachers, said Mr. St. Onge, but retirement and health care costs are contributing to budget issues. Long-standing teachers are making about $65,000 a year, he said, but they cost the district more than $100,000 a year with $24,000 in health care costs and $22,000 in a retirement contribution expense.

“One of the things we are going to do is reach out to the staff,” he said. “If you are a teacher here, married with children, your insurance is about $2,000 a month, $24,000 a year.”

The school, he said, is looking to provide the same coverage under a different policy, for a cost of $1,000 a month, 50% less than current costs. The proposed change, however, requires union agreement.

The school also is seeking legislative support to maintain funding, said Mr. St. Onge.

Lobbyist Dennis Cawthorne, a Mackinac Island seasonal resident, is trying to help the school, said Mr. St. Onge.

“That guy has done more for this district than any hired lobbyist could do for us and he has done it pro bono,” he said.

Mr. Cawthorne advised school leaders that legislatures were eyeing a measure that would strip fund equities from districts across the state. The move would take anything more than 20% of the school’s operating budget that sat in its fund equity and distribute the money to other districts. In response to this information, Mr. St. Onge said, the district began budgeting to get some of the fund equity reduced.

Even though the approximately $500,000 balance in the fund equity this year might seem good, said Mr. St. Onge, it is not enough.

“If we were to carry everything over in our budget, including the pay raises, insurance costs, and retirement costs… I don’t think anyone can disagree insurance is out of control,” he said. “Anyway, if we were to just keep everything where it is at, we are going to burn up approximately $470,000.”

He continued, “Do we have to get creative with some funding and some financing, absolutely. Can we have a T-shirt sale and make this up, no. We’re talking about a half-million dollars almost.”

In one year, the fund equity will be at about $50,000, he said.

The school has to cut down on energy use, said Mr. Waaso. The thermostats are set at 68 degrees, a standard for school districts, he said, and eighth grade science students under the direction of Mr. Waite have helped reduce trash through better separation of material. The school has not purchased any new library books, although it had looked into joining a consortium of Upper Peninsula schools. The cost to join would be prohibitive, at approximately $10,000, but the school is hoping to get that reduced.

“If you remember back to the budget we adopted for July 1, it called for the school to have a fund balance of $385,000 at the end of this [fiscal] year,” Mr. Waaso said.

In addition to those savings, money saved when a custodial position was reduced to a parttime position last year were not included in the budget and now Mr. Waaso estimates the fund equity will be close to $500,000 or $515,000 by the end of June.

Mr. Waaso said he is going through the budget looking for cost savings.

Scholarships Awarded

After reviewing portfolios submitted by senior students, the scholarship committee recommended and the board agreed to award to eligible students this year’s Stella King Scholarship of $500 each to Marie Bunker, Morgan Brodeur-Bunker, Ashley Gough, and Maggie Chambers. From the John Franks scholarship fund, $1,000 each was awarded to Miss Bunker, Miss Brodeur-Bunker, and Miss Chambers.

In other scholarship news, Robin Dorman, executive director of the Mackinac Island Community Foundation, said the foundation has created a new Founders Scholarship Fund. In May each eligible student will be awarded $2,000 a year for up to four years. The fund is supported by 16 members of the community donating $10,000 each, including Jim and Candy Wynn, who committed donating $250,000 over five years to ensure its success.

Also, the foundation will award $7,400 in other scholarships this year from the Wesley and Margaret Maurer Scholarship Fund, the Mark Gallagher Scholarship Fund, and the Manoogian Scholarship Fund. The Frank Horn Scholarship Fund will be awarded by committee, he said.

Overnight Trip Policy

Overnight trip chaperone Barbara Fridline addressed the board regarding a student who did not return to the room during an overnight basketball game. The missing student eventually did return.

As a disciplinary move the student was not allowed to travel with the team in the last game of the season, said Mr. Waaso and staff now are preparing an overnight trip policy, which would be discussed at the Policy Committee level before it would come before the board.

“We want our students safe,” he said. “We don’t want them someplace where they are not supposed to be and if they are not going to follow the rules and guidelines, there has to be some kind of consequence to that.”

During the meeting the board discussed further disciplinary action, but Mr. St. Onge curtailed the talk, saying any discussion should take place with the student present.

The school board next meets in the school library at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 19.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2011-05-14 digital edition