School Board Highlights: Financially Solid, Increased Covid-19 Concerns, and Staffing Shortages
Superintendent Will Heath provided a status update to the School Board on Monday night that included great news about the school’s annual budget. What was projected to be a $1.4 Million deficit just weeks ago has pivoted to a $709,834 surplus for the 2020-2021 school year. School Finance Director, Derrick Stair, explained that the turnaround was due to several factors including the fact that the state did not cut its Foundation Allowance of $8,111 to $7,411 ($700 per student) as was originally projected due to lost revenue from the impact of Covid-19 on the state’s economy. “That accounts for most of the turnaround”, said Stair. Other factors include the fact that the hiring of eight new teachers for the new school year, and the lower salary and benefits they qualified for, saved an additional $859,000. In addition, enrollment is up to 2,118 students district-wide (13 more than last year) which added another $105,443 unanticipated revenue for the year. In the final analysis the district has about $511,000 of unanticipated revenue to invest in salary increases, student intervention support at Westwood, curriculum, and classroom supplies, two new school buses, and future capital projects as well as a Human resources support position. Approximately $200,000 of the surplus is restricted for estimated Covid-19 costs. The School has a healthy fund balance of almost $4 Million dollars which would have been tapped to cover the projected deficit had it been necessary.
Covid-19 itself continues to play in the shadows of every school day. Heath shared that the Ionia County Health Department has reported that cases are alarmingly on the increase. There have been forty-seven new cases in the county during the past seven days and one-hundred new cases county-wide since the beginning of October. While the numbers remain small overall, the rate of increasing cases are worrisome. Ken Bowen, Ionia County Health Department Director has told all the county’s school superintendents to “be ready to go full virtual” if cases continue to climb at the current rate. Heath told the school board, “There have been no new cases at school. Outbreaks are coming from gatherings in the community but not at the schools. We are doing our best and will continue to do that. We are fighting to continue in-person attendance. We can also shut down a school building without closing the district, and as cases increase, we must be ready to do that. Our plan is still working.” On another note, the State of Michigan is requiring each district to solicit public comment on its own district’s Covid-19 Learning Plan. Comments must be received in person to the school board. The next school board meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 26th.
Finally, Heath reported that there is a serious support staff shortage throughout the district including bus drivers. Teacher aide openings are at a critical level. In addition, finding substitute teachers is becoming much more challenging. Anyone interested in working for the school district can contact the Superintendent’s office directly.