Gwinn continues school budget talks

A packed house attends Monday’s Gwinn Board of Education meeting at the Gwinn Middle/High School Library. Possible budget reductions were discussed during the meeting in which Superintendent Tom Jayne also announced his retirement. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

GWINN — The Gwinn Board of Education will meet at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Gwinn Middle/High School Library to yet again discuss and possibly act on budget reductions to make cuts totaling about $550,000 this school year.

The board must make reductions to account for overspending the previous year, due to the board being provided incorrect numbers on which it based its decisions.

Those numbers came from AJ Filizetti, then director of finance and human resources, who the board terminated in August because of what Gwinn Area Community Schools Superintendent Tom Jayne said at the time was “basically dereliction of duties, misfeasance and malfeasance of duties, not performing his duties as expected, not having our records and finances in the type of shape that we would wish at this time of year.”

The board met at length Monday to discuss the reductions but made no major cuts.

One notable reduction was a projected savings of $38,500 following the announced retirement of Jayne at the meeting. He told the board he will step down in February.

He said after the meeting he was retiring due strictly to professional and personal reasons.

Jayne, who took over as top administrator in July 2015, said his decision to retire wasn’t based on the school district’s financial woes.

“It’s time,” Jayne said.

The board on Thursday voted to reduce the district’s third and fourth grade sections from four to three, eliminating two teacher positions. On Monday it rescinded that vote to take a look at making combination classes, such as a fourth/fifth grade classroom.

The two teacher positions still are eliminated, but with combination classes, students wouldn’t be bused from K.I. Sawyer Elementary School to Gilbert Elementary School.

Combined with previous cuts the board had approved this school year, which include eliminating library services, about $330,000 of the $550,000 goal has been cut, according to Jayne, with that number including savings from his salary following his retirement.

However, at Monday’s meeting he cautioned the board it would have to make “really, really big cuts “ and implement them.

“If you don’t want to rock the boat this year — it’s just my gut feeling I’m getting — but it doesn’t seem to be happening,” Jayne said. “I’m just giving you my advice. Either then, or the bill’s coming due. Like I said, the debt’s coming due. You better have a big, big chunk and you can’t waiver from that.”

Getting firmer numbers and facts regarding some suggestions that had been brought up Monday, such as eliminating bus transportation for K.I. Sawyer and reducing the GACS athletic director position to half-time, are some of the goals for the Nov. 29 meeting, as is a presentation of the school district’s audit and a description of administrators’ pay and job descriptions.

“I think we come back on the 29th, we know what we have to do,” Trustee Roger Stein said.

Stein also brought up a point mentioned earlier in the meeting by Treasurer Dale Wedig: staff giving up their salary raises for the year.

“I know they don’t want to, but like I said, that’s a good number, around $200,000,” Stein said. “It would alleviate the kids losing their teacher and have to do with another teacher.”

Jayne pointed out administrative staff did not receive raises.

Wedig said the next thing that would have to be cut is teaching staff, which is why it’s difficult for the board to make budget decisions.

“The last thing I want to do is start cutting teachers,” Wedig said.

Amy Finkbeiner, interim business manager for the district, stressed to the board the district needs to be headed toward the $550,000 goal and find solutions to its financial dilemma to show state officials it’s making progress.

“So, while this is horrible and it is very difficult and uncomfortable, it just makes it worse by putting it off,” Finkbeiner said. “It doesn’t make it go away.”

Jayne said the company hired to find a permanent business manager, Hiring Solutions LLC, based in downstate Okemos, as of Friday has received 41 candidates for the position, six of which it believes have the qualifications the district needs.

Staff and parents voiced their concerns to the board before and after budget discussions. One staff member who spoke was Ben Olsen, a coach who also teaches physical education at the elementary level.

“It has now reached that moment where it’s time to stand up for myself and my colleagues,” Olsen said. “You can no longer cut the people who directly work with the students in this district.”

Another departure was announced Monday: the resignation of board President Ron Lauren, who did not attend the meeting. The board voted for Trustee Ashley Jenema to temporarily serve as president until the position is filled.

Board Vice President Brian Heath thanked Lauren for his service.

“He’s very straigtforward,” Heath said. “Some people may have felt a little harshness to it, but I respect him very much. He’s led this board quite well, very well, and he will be missed.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.