Onekama board OKs interim superintendent contract

ONEKAMA — Onekama Consolidated Schools Board of of Education voted 6-0 on Monday evening to approve the contract of new interim superintendent Mark Parsons.

Members of the Onekama Consolidated Schools Board of Education intently study the budget, which proposes $300,000 in cuts. The board voted 4-2 to approve the reductions. (Ken Grabowski/News Advocate)

Parsons will be replacing retiring superintendent Kevin Hughes when his contract expires on June 30. The first day on the job for the new interim superintendent will be July 1, and the district agreed to terms which call for $450 a day for 100 days of service throughout the 2019-20 school year or a total cost of $45,000.

Manistee County School Business Cooperative director of finance Kris Mauntler explained the contract to the board. She said it came from the Thrun Law Firm, which is the district’s legal counsel, and Michigan Leadership Institute’s Mike Hill, who has been hired by the board to assist in the interim and final superintendent searches.

“It was discussed with Mr. Parsons,” said Mauntler.

Board of education president Sally Koon said the contract was also reviewed by a committee consisting of herself and board members Sam Catanese and Gary Madden.

“We all agreed with the amounts,” said Koon. “He is very excited and happy to be starting.”

Madden then made a motion to accept the contract and it was supported by Catanese before being approved by the whole board.

Hughes informed the board after the approval that he will be meeting with Parsons this week.

“I will meet with him and Mike Hill to start going through all the different procedural things on where we are at in the district,” said Hughes.

Board members also took action to slash $300,000 from the 2019-20 budget to offset a deficit the district is facing due to declining enrollment numbers. The state mandates that all school districts must have a balanced budget in place for the upcoming year by July 1.

To reach that number they approved staff reductions of three OCS teacher aides, three EDUSTAFF aides, one professional staff reduction in hours and the resignation of two teachers.

Koon asked Hughes and Mauntler to explain the reductions.

“The only way we are going to get to balanced budget is with staff reductions,” said Hughes. “That is just the cold hard facts. We budgeted for 425 students (state aid based on student count) and we came in at 419 students. There were zero foreign exchange students (can be used in student count) and we had several move outs.”

Hughes said because of those factors they feel a 405 student count is reasonable for 2019-20.

“We graduated 36 kids this year and it is more than likely the incoming kindergarten will be in the mid 20s as declining enrollment is happening all around the county,” said Hughes. “So we will be down 10 kids right there and we have done this before, as there have been years where we cut as many as nine people.”

Hughes said they have to make sure the staff reflects the number of students in the district. He said instead of planning for 425 kids this year they are planning for a 400 students.

The superintendent said they also have two staff resignations which will assist the bottom line. Elementary teacher Megan McCarthy submitted her resignation, as did part-time teacher John Burtch, who taught two hours of history classes for the district.

“We have other staff members capable of doing what John did, so we are going to rearrange some staff for the other position as well,” said Hughes. “That helped the budget immensely and if it wasn’t for that we would be asking for layoffs of teachers tonight, which we are not. We protected our professional staff.”

A lot of the teacher’s aides are being paid by federal money and the district plans to keep the professional staff in place using some of that money.

Catanese asked how they can do that with federal dollars and if the teachers needed to be reclassified.

“Right now we have two teachers in Nick Bradford and Kelly Lyman where we are doing that through classroom size reduction,” said Hughes. “We decided to maneuver teachers into that pot of money, but unfortunately it means losing the aides. There are some aides we will be keeping, but not all of them.”

They also cut one hour from the music department to balance the budget.

“Other areas were looked at, as I am not going to cut bus drivers since we barely have enough now,” said Hughes. “We barely have enough custodians to clean the facility, so can’t cut there and athletics is the kiss of death if you start cutting that, watch the kids run out of here. Our athletic budget is not that out of line compared to other districts.”

Hughes said over the past 25 years they have tweaked athletics budgets, cut coaches and some of the busing, but that those things are not the will of the community.

“We feel with the staff we have in place we can absorb this in moving forward,” said Hughes.

Board member Gary Madden disagreed and said he felt athletics was something that should be on the table and considered for cuts. He said he understands the importance of sports, but doesn’t think it should be immune to cuts.

“There has been cuts everywhere except athletics,” said Madden. “I think the athletic program is important at a school but the educational one is more important. That is my opinion. This is a very small district and at some point we have to make a choice, do we want our funds on community entertainment?  As that is what an athletic program is. But our fundamental mission is to educate the children here.”

Board member Heidi Wisniski reminded the board that if enrollment comes in higher than expected this fall, the positions cut will be replaced.

“We can bring those aides back,” said Wisniski.

Hughes agreed and said three years ago they had a low budget and picked up 25 kids that resulted in them hiring more staff.

Madden wondered how they went from a $180,000 deficit to $276,000 one. Administration explained that when a person resigns they are are paid for their unused sick days and that money is due the teachers and Hughes.

Mauntler added that federal funds are down by $30,000 are down along with the fact that they are down 13 students, which made that deficit grow by more than a $100,000.

Koon reminded the board that the fund equity is at 5.41 percent and if they go below 5 percent the state issues an early warning. If they remain below that 5 percent level, the state will step in.

“We got a letter from the state and had to send them details on how we are going to lay off people and have some resignations,” said Hughes.

Board members voted 4-2 to support the cuts with Koon, Nick Dye, Wisniski and Chelle Hrachovina supporting the measure while Madden and Catanese opposed it. Board member Steve Brooks was not in attendance at the meeting.

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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