ISHPEMING - In an effort to begin counteracting what could be a $1.5 million budget shortfall if the governor's budget proposal is approved, the NICE school board approved voluntary severance plans for teachers and support staff.
At a special meeting Thursday, the board approved two separate agreements - one for members of the NICE Teachers Association and one for support staff in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union.
"We're very interested in doing the best thing for our district and our valued employees," board President Brett French said.
Available to teachers eligible for retirement and with 15 years of consecutive service to the district, the teacher's VSP provides a payment of $30,000 spread over three years to teachers who participate in the plan to retire at the end of this school year.
"The plan does not become effective unless we have (at least) three participants," Superintendent Michael Haynes said.
Haynes added that although the plan sets the maximum number of participants at seven, the maximum number could be modified by the board depending on who would be retiring and what position that would leave the district in.
"Every retirement represents decades of experience and knowhow that leaves our district, and it's critical to recognize that even three could be 90 to 100 years of experience that could be walking out of the district," Haynes said. "We want to make sure we don't jeopardize our ability to maintain an outstanding program."
If three teachers take advantage of the plan, the VSP would mean a savings of $100,000 if those teachers are not replaced.
The VSP for the AFSCME employees requires 15 years of experience and eligibility for retirement for support staff employed full-time at least nine months of the year. The plan, which requires a minimum of four participants, provides those who retire an amount equal to 10 percent of their final average compensation (their best three or five years of work, depending on their retirement plan), paid over two years.
The teachers and support staff have 45 days, or until May 16, to take advantage of the plan.
"It's likely we're going to need to reduce staff in every area," Haynes said of the budget process.
The VSP allows the district to reduce staff while avoiding layoffs and involuntary changes, he said.
Other measures the board is looking at to reduce costs, as provided in a worksheet of budgeting options on the district's website, include a reduction in the superintendent's pay, elimination of assistant principals, changes to administration, reducing board stipends, as well as other options.
"Nothing is forged in stone at this point," Haynes said.
The district has created an area on its website to keep the community up to date on its budget process. To see the district's budget projection, timeline, revenues and background about the district, as well as the budget reduction options worksheet, go to www.nice.k12.mi.us/District/FinancialInformation.aspx.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.