2014-06-05 / Front Page

District seeking budget savings

Board listens to suggested cost-saving actions, ideas

MANISTIQUE – Cost-saving measures were the focus of last week’s special meeting of the Manistique Area Schools Board of Education. Lists of these measures from various groups of MAS staff were submitted and considered for possible implementation as the district’s budget deadline of June 30 fast approaches.

According to Superintendent Kathy McDonough, meetings with support, administrative, and teaching staff were held recently to share budget reducing ideas. The current budget, as proposed for 2014- 15 has the district overspending expenditures to revenues by $748,796, she said, resulting in a 2015 year-end negative balance of $296,364. This would bring the expected deficit to $96,364, which would be what the board and staff would be looking to replace via spending cuts, savings or other budget adjustments, McDonough explained.

During her meeting with support staff, McDonough said the list of cost-cutting suggestions included: closing the administrative office adjacent to the high school and moving the offices inside the school; raising hot lunch prices; changing à la carte options; limiting hot lunch options to the top 10 or 12 meals popular with students; lowering the cost of cleaning supplies; making changes to sporting event admission charges; increasing pay-to-play rates; limiting transportation to away sports; decreasing heating expenses by limiting heat to exterior or closed rooms and hallways; bringing alternative education students back into town; weather-proofing windows and doors; selling advertising and promoting attendance at MAS; using attrition or retirement as a means of cutting staff; changing pick-up points for students outside of the district; and not allowing bus drivers to drive buses to their homes.

McDonough explained the closing of the administrative building was “cost out” by Maintenance Supervisor Randy Watchorn and was estimated to amount to only a $500 savings.

She noted that hot lunch prices had been increased last year, but that the district is considering hot lunch menu changes.

These changes would be aimed to decrease waste and eventually lead to increased participation in the program, which was down in 2013-14.

As far as cleaning supplies are concerned, McDonough said Watchorn compares prices before making bulk purchases, choosing the lowest-priced option each time.

For sporting event pricing, the district currently matches the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s pricing, which is $5 for adults and $3 for seniors and students.

Pay-to-play rates, which are paid by students who wish to participate in some school activities, are currently set at $90 for full pay students, $60 for students receiving reduced lunch and $30 for students who receive free lunch.

McDonough explained the school does not currently offer transportation to away games for junior high basketball, wrestling, and some others.

She also noted all exterior rooms are currently being utilized and have their own thermostats to regulate the temperature

In regard to bringing the alternative education students back into town from the Hiawatha Community Center, McDonough expressed some concern.

“I will tell you, research will show students do better away from the campus where they were not successful,” she said.

On the topic of school efficiency, McDonough said upgrades, primarily in the middle/high school, are scheduled as sinking fund projects in the near future.

“The fire alarm system is the priority this year, but this (weather proofing) is coming up next,” she said.

The district is also looking to redo radio and TV advertising spots and may begin selling advertising on the school’s website, stadium, and inside buses.

McDonough said reducing staff costs through attrition and retirement has “always been a goal” for the district.

“So far we have not cut positions, we have not put out a request for proposal on anything, nor is it in my plan to do that,” she said. “I would like to do my last year in the district by retiring for attrition and not having to cut positions.”

McDonough added that sharing superintendent services with Big Bay de Noc School District could be an option as she prepares for retirement following the 2014-15 school year.

In the meeting with professional staff/teachers, McDonough said cost-saving suggestions included: increasing building efficiency; defining wants versus needs; streamlining bus routes within city limits; sharing more services, classes, teachers, and administration with Big Bay de Noc School District; seeking positive media representation; reducing evaluation costs; utilizing the building and pool in a more community-centered way; using an online “cloud” to share documents instead of printing; saving postage; moving from Styrofoam to washable lunch trays; and having boys and girls play simultaneously during games.

Using the school, especially the pool, as a community asset is a revenue-producing move the district has been exploring for some time, said McDonough.

“We did return to a community schools notion when we looked at all the building use fees,” she said. “We are semi-in that mode, it would just be looking at advertising that more and drawing in that population.”

Suggestions made during the administrative meeting included: replacing the retiring high school secretary on a 10-month schedule instead of 12; moving the special education coordinator to a three day a week position; saving money on alternative education teaching supplies; eliminating a two-hour food service position; and returning the Little Explorers program to a grant-supported program rather than tuition-based.

McDonough added that while the groups will continue to explore the actual cost savings of some of the ideas presented, a few were already known. She explained that switching back to washable trays would end up costing the district $8,000 initially and moving alternative education back on an MAS campus would save $10,000 a year.

Any suggestion would be accepted at the discretion of the board, McDonough added.

“A lot of this would depend on what the board sets as its fund balance minimum,” she said.

As the meeting concluded, board member Giannine Perigo thanked those involved in the budget sessions.

“I want to thank the people who took the time and made the effort to suggest all of these things,” she said. “All the $600, $700 items across the board add up.”

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