Budget cuts show unstable school district finances

Budget cuts for the Plymouth-Canton school district will continue into next year and soon reach the classroom, according to school officials.

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools (PCCS) has cut $11 million over the last five years, and with the lack of aid from the state government, they will be forced to continue cutting expenditures in the next year.

“Our whole objective is to make these reductions as far from the classroom as possible, so that educational programs for students would be the last thing impacted,” said Patricia Brand, assistant superintendent for business services. “We are now at a point in the game that it will be impossible for us to have further budget reductions without impacting programs that impact kids.”

Plymouth-Canton’s funding aid lies in the hands of the state legislature. The government will decide on new foundation grants in the upcoming months, which could give the school district an increase of $108 to $215 per student. As of last March, PCCS received $7,140 per student.

“Our revenue is totally controlled by the state, and it has not kept up with inflation in many years,” Brand said. “Over the past couple years we haven’t even received an increase, and therefore it’s pretty difficult for us to make ‘A’ equal ‘B’ when we don’t control ‘A’, so we have made a lot of program reductions. I don’t see that changing until something is adjusted with how the funding works for schools.”

Barry Simescu, vice president of the school board, said the budget deficit is currently between $3 million and $3.5 million.

At this point we can’t do much at the revenue side and we’re looking at making some more cuts,” Simescu said. “We cut $4.2 million last year, and we’re going to have to cut some more next year, too. We’re just beginning that process now. We will have to come up with some further reductions in programs to help stem the tide here.”

PCCS’s rapid growth rate has also added to the financial struggles for the district. According to Simescu, the number of students entering the district has been too high to keep up with. PCCS grew by 219 students in 2007, and increased by 1,446 since 2004. The district passed Livonia to become the fourth largest school district in the state, behind Detroit, Utica, and Grand Rapids.

Two failed bond proposals in the last two years have hurt the district as well. The school district asked for a $120 million bond in 2006, and a $62 million bond in 2007, both to address the rapid population growth by facility improvements. By state law the district is not allowed to ask taxpayers for extra money to help with operational costs, only for improving facilities or building new ones.

“We had had two failed millages for facilities, and the specific hurt of it is we had the ability to reimburse our general fund, in other words the place where all the operational expenses are, through the purchase of land off of Cherry Hill road,” Brand said. “We only had a three year window, and with both of those bond issues failing, we lost an opportunity to put back about $2.1 million into the general fund. That was bad, it hurt us.”

The school board expects that the district’s population increase will slow down in the upcoming years, according to Simescu.

“I think we have about 220 kids this year, which was above what we expected so I think it’s probably going to slow down,” Simescu said. “Our demographics tell us that its going to dip down a little bit … but then it’s going to pick up again in a couple or three years. So it might slow up a little, but then it looks like its going to pick up again.”

The Plymouth-Canton Educational Park (P-CEP), the district’s three combined high schools, has seen the most student growth in recent years, and some of the biggest problems. Teachers are not receiving adequate funding for their classes, according to Mary Lou Nagy, an English teacher at Plymouth High School. Teachers in her department receive $75 for their classrooms.

“With the costs of everything, it’s not getting me much,” Nagy said. “That’s just some office supplies, like whiteboard markers. Divide that by six classes and that’s not very much.”

P-CEP students are also aware of the looming problems if the deficit continues. Plymouth High School senior David Hopper said that the students are noticing the effects of budget cuts, and he is worried about the future of his school.

“I’d be pretty scared for the district at this point, but since I’m graduating, I feel kind of like I’m leaving a building before it explodes,” Hopper said. “I made it out in time, before the self-destruction. You keep seeing things, little things like prices going up in the cafeteria and the vending machines, and you know things are getting bad.”

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