11/21/08 — Schools asked to return $760,000 to state

View Archive

Schools asked to return $760,000 to state

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 21, 2008 1:53 PM

Wayne County Public Schools is being asked to return $759,977 to the state to help ease its government shortfall, sending officials scrambling to determine where cuts can be made before the end of the year.

Earlier this week, the Department of Public Instruc-tion notified the state's 115 school districts of the request -- totaling $58 million, based on student population. The amount equates to about $39 per student.

The timing of the announcement came as a surprise to many. Public schools typically are asked to return unused money at the end of the fiscal year.

"It would have been much easier for us to make adjustments if it had happened at the beginning of the year," Dr. Steven Taylor, schools superintendent, said Thurs-day afternoon. "It makes it more difficult because personnel is already employed (and we're) already obligated for some of the money in different avenues. Our concerns now, particularly with the economic downturn, we want to avoid laying off personnel, if possible."

Districts are being given flexibility of where to make cuts, with the stipulation that it not impact the classroom and instructional programs.

"Everything we do impacts the classroom and instructional programs," said Nan Barwick, assistant superintendent for finance, who has been working this week with the superintendent on several scenarios to comply with the request.

"I have made two suggestions and recommendations to the superintendent," she said. "He and I are going to meet with the leadership team to discuss these and then we'll take them to the board."

At first glance, personnel might be the obvious choice since it is the largest portion of the district budget, but Mrs. Barwick said that is not the ideal choice.

"We know we're going to have to look at any vacancies that may occur from now until the end of the year," Taylor said.

This is not the first time the "negative reversion" has occurred across the state, Mrs. Barwick said, but it is rare to have to deal with it in the middle of the school year and the magnitude definitely presents a problem.

"The last time we had a reversion, about four years ago, we did cut positions through attrition but the state never restored those," Taylor said. "This certainly would be a double whammy, but at the same time we know we have to do our part like everybody else. Right now ... we are looking at possible cuts to be made."

At an economic time when every dime is needed, Taylor said officials will do the best they can to meet the state's mandate.

"This is a situation where it's not optional," he said. "We do not know at this time if it's permanent or just for the rest of this fiscal school year. ... Our plan will be to try to respond and have a contingency plan for some additional cuts (if they come back and ask for more). Our hope is that the economy will turn around, and we will not have to deal with this for the rest of the year and face permanent reversions."

The district's recommendations must be completed and given to DPI by Dec. 19, Mrs. Barwick said.

"The way it's worked when we had to do the negative reversion, when we send the form in, that lets them know what allotments to pull the money away from and they would pull them the first of January," she said. "That's a guess, but I would guess they would probably do it the end of December."