O-E to use savings; not filling teaching positions

Argus-Press Photo/Greyson SteeleThe Ovid-Elsie Area Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved the district’s 2020-21 budget Monday.

ELSIE — Ovid-Elsie Area Schools will depend on existing staff to absorb open teaching positions, and draw more than $1.5 million from its savings to balance a 2020-21 budget that officials say is still very much in flux, given that the state Legislature has yet to pass its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Ovid-Elsie’s preliminary budget, approved unanimously by the district’s board of education Monday, projects revenue at $13.8 million, with expenditures of about $15.4 million.

Budgeted revenue is down more than $1.6 million from the final 2019-20 budget, in part due to a projected $870 cut per student by the state in the district’s foundation allowance because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district is also anticipating a flat enrollment of 1,487 students this fall, according to Superintendent Ryan Cunningham.

Ovid-Elsie’s 2019-20 revenues also took a hit Monday night, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey and House Speaker Lee Chatfield announced a deal to balance the state’s 2020 budget that includes a $256 million cut to the foundation allowance for K-12 schools, approximately $170 to $180 per pupil. The deal allocates about $512 million to Michigan school districts to help cover expenses incurred from the ongoing pandemic, as well as prepare for the fall.

For O-E, the per pupil funding cut equates to about $250,000 in lost revenue for the 2019-20 budget year, according to Cunningham, who received word of the budget deal shortly after 7 p.m. during the district’s board of education meeting.

“I felt good about closing this year until I got that email; now I feel like I got punched in the gut,” Cunningham said, noting the announcement came in the eleventh hour, as the district’s 2019-20 budget year ends today. “(Looking to next year) I’m optimistic we’ll come up with some creative solutions. We do have a healthy fund balance and so the board is willing to give some, but as I showed, if you do it two, three years in a row you’re done.”

As a result of the projected cuts to state revenue, Ovid-Elsie will absorb three vacant teaching positions at the elementary level with existing staff. Literacy coaches at E.E. Knight and Leonard elementaries will fill the corresponding teaching vacancies at their respective buildings, and a math interventionist will do the same at Leonard Elementary, according to Cunningham.

The district has also decided not to replace three retiring paraprofessionals at this time, and has eliminated its Chinese language and culture program amid the uncertainty.

Overall, the moves equate to about $330,000 in cost savings, according to Cunningham.

“We really want to make sure we’re still providing appropriate services for kids, and it stinks to take away our interventions,” Cunningham said. “I think the kids are going to need more interventions as they come back, you know, those kids that got behind, but those are just added costs that right now we don’t have the luxury to afford.”

To balance the preliminary 2020-21 budget, the district will pull roughly $1.5 million from its general fund reserves, leaving projected savings at the end of the year at $2,598,121, about 16.8 percent of total expenditures.

In addition to absorbing existing teaching vacancies and eliminating three paraprofessional positions for the time being, Ovid-Elsie administrators have also discussed the possibility of a pay freeze for all district employees for the month of September.

The proposal, which has yet to be approved by any of the district’s corresponding unions, would maintain employee salaries at their current rate for the month of September, the first month of the new contract year, according to Cunningham.

The pay freeze, if approved, would allow the district to potentially have a better understanding of its overall financial picture, he said, given that the state Legislature is required to finalize its budget by Oct. 1.

“Once we figure the (state) budget out, we can say, ‘We really need you to take a pay freeze for the year,’ or ‘We’re going to retroactively pay you (your negotiated pay increase) for that month,’” Cunningham said.

Despite the uncertain financial future that Michigan school districts are facing, Ovid-Elsie Middle School Principal Brian Powell said he’s confident O-E can weather the storm.

“With all of this uncertainty, we lean on our teachers,” Powell said. “When we came back as administrators (this spring) and said, ‘We might need you to do this, can you do this to help out?’ Everybody jumped in, saying ‘I’ll cover this, during my elective I will teach this.’ To me, that ‘s the thing we can count on moving forward. At a time of uncertainty, I do feel certain that we’ll make it, because of the teachers.”

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