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Grand Rapids school administrators face “immense” responsibility to balance budget

The 2016 M-STEP results come out Tuesday morning
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Administrators said keeping bus transportation, art and music, and avoiding making athletics pay-to-play programs were some of their top priorities to save from cuts.

Administrators at Grand Rapids Public Schools are proposing to eliminate close 138 positions. Most of those are teachers and support staff, but include cuts from many departments. The cuts are part of a plan to help solve a $22.2 million budget deficit for next school year. School officials say that’s by far the largest cut they’ve faced.

Grand Rapids schools Superintendent Bernard Taylor has made a number of trips to Lansing lately, petitioning state lawmakers to reduce the cuts to K-through-12 schools.

“Those efforts are paying off but we cannot allow ourselves to be lulled to sleep. If good financial stewardship does not continue then we allow ourselves to become vulnerable.”

Taylor plans to use more than $5 million from the district’s savings account to cover part of the shortfall. He does not want to have to make cuts to art and music programs, or transportation. They also want to avoid making athletics pay to play.

These are some of the assumptions they’re making to determine the deficit.

  • $300 per pupil cut (plus $170 per pupil cut from last year that’s not been restored)
  • 400 fewer students in the fall (the state bases most of school funds on how many students a district has)
  • Either a reduction in or a loss of several special funds called “categorical programs” (they fund education for bilingual students, special education students, districts with declining enrollment, and others)
  • 13% increase in health care costs
  • Loss in revenue from property taxes (because of declining property values)

Jan Gietzen serves as vice president of the school board.

“The threat of not running this budget drill well is immense. It’s called an emergency financial manager which gives them more latitude than anybody in this room would like to see.”

Grand Rapids schools are not immediately in danger of getting an emergency manager. But under the proposed plan the school district would use more than 5 million dollars from its savings account to cover part of the 22 million deficit. That could be used as a red flag to the state under the new emergency manager law.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 26th. The school board plans to vote on the administration’s plan the first week in June. They have until the end of June by law.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station'sAmplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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