Millage failure concerns local officials

REED CITY — With the failure of a bid to create a “school millage enhancement,” area school district officials are worried about what awaits public education in the future.

The millage enhancement was promoted by the Mecosta-Osceola Intermediate School District, and supported by the component districts throughout the ISD area — Evart, Reed City, Morley Stanwood, Big Rapids, Chippewa Hills.

The bid to raise additional operating funds to offset some of the budgeting cuts being suffered by districts around the state did not pass the voter’s muster, and now district financial planners are scrambling to see where they will make up cut after cut in their budgets.

In Reed City, district superintendent Steven Westhoff is concerned.

“Non-passage of the millage enhancement takes a difficult situation and makes it even more difficult,” Westhoff said. “We are looking a possible reductions in our funding of some $1.1 million.

“That, in part, is a result of losing a collective $700 per student. Some of the numbers that go into coming up with the collective $700 per student figure could actually get worse, so our loss in budget could be even greater.

“If the state budget figure figuring does get any better, it won’t help much.

“This means we will need to tighten our belts in every possible way, and begin looking at budget items that may not have been considered previously.”

Westhoff said that “ ... trying to do everything the school district does in a less expensive manner is simply impossible under the present circumstances.”

“We simply won’t be able to take all the actions we could in order to create the budget being forced upon us,” he continued.

“We will however be looking at severe cuts across the board.”

The superintendent said his planning team will be looking at cuts in administration; reductions in staffing — both certified and non-certified; desperate cuts in transportation; and wide ranging cuts in programs.

“Look, the fact of life is that the reduction of $1.1 million in our budget is equal to our entire transportation budget,” he pointed out.

“In order to make this figure up by cutting personnel, we would need to eliminate some 16 teachers.

“We have no choice. We are going to lose people and programs. We have limited resources. We will do what we can with the resources we have on hand.”

Westhoff is disappointed with the outcome of the vote and the leadership being shown in Lansing.

“I think the governor and legislature are being very, very misdirected,” he said.

“Cutting the public education budget as they have, and then having the voting public hand us this millage enhancement defeat is a real sad indicator as to how people are thinking about moving forward in Michigan in the future.

“This type of budgeting does not serve the young people of our district or the State of Michigan.

“We are going to hurt, and the students of this district are going to hurt.

“That’s all there is to it.”