After Rocky Year Lansing Schools Rollover-Budget Passes

by Matt Cooper

Lansing voters approved a $22.83 million budget for the 2008-2009 school year at last Tuesday’s election. The district’s budget passed with 613 voting yes and 357 voting no. A proposition to purchase new school buses and vans for the district also passed with 595 voting yes and 338 voting no.

Candidates Glenn Swanson, Glenn Cobb and Richard Thaler were also elected to the school board. All three ran unopposed. Swanson will return to his seat as incumbent while Cobb and Thaler will take Bonita Lindberg and current board president Thomas Keane’s places on the board.

The budget, which comes in at a 3.37 percent increase over last year’s and a 4.74 increase in the tax levy, is a “rollover budget.” It does not include any increases or new items compared to last year’s budget where they could not be avoided.

However, because of a more than $200,000 shortfall in last year’s budget, school officials had to cut more than $1 million from next year’s proposed budget, some of which came from programming and staffing.

The district will lose its director of instruction, technology integration specialist, two receptionists, five teaching aides and one teaching assistant. In addition to the loss of personnel, the athletic department will have to suspend junior varsity football, JV football cheerleading, JV girls soccer and modified cheerleading.

The cuts were necessary to keep the tax levy increase from soaring to around 12 percent.

The budget was prepared by Superintendent Stephen Grimm and the district’s former interim business administrator, David Klem. Klem’s grim budget forecast earlier in the year challenged administrators and staff throughout the entire district to take a hard look at their spending and consider cuts.

Many of the positions that were eliminated had already been vacated by staff. The director of instruction, Deborah Pinchette, left the district at around the same time as former Superintendent Mark Lewis and former Business Administrator Larry Lawrence. Others were simply retiring teachers that were not replaced.

The district has also begun examining some cost-saving measures through a possible energy management contract through Johnson Controls. The contract is a tax-exempt municipal lease that would allow improvements to be made to the school that could be funded through the resultant energy savings. The project would not need to go to public referendum and would pay for itself through the resulting energy savings. If it did not at the end of a 15-year period, Johnson Controls would be required by law to pay for the remainder.

The teacher’s union at Lansing, which normally receives about $24,000 from the district due to contractual obligations, pledged to return that money. Board President Thomas Keane said that money would be used to continue the 5 p.m. bus runs on Monday through Thursday, summer school activities at the middle school and regular field trips for the middle school, high school and elementary school. Late bus runs, summer school activities and field trips were all slated to be cut as cost-saving measures.

In addition to that donation, the Lansing Community Council gave $500 to the principal of each school, telling them they could spend it on whatever they wanted.

by Matt Cooper

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