The ‘tough times’ aren’t over
EVART — For years, Evart Public Schools superintendent Howard Hyde and members of the board of education have prided themselves on being able to cut from the district budget, find ways to save money, and adjust funding, all the while not eliminating staff.
“I still haven’t laid off anyone,” said an obviously pleased Hyde in an interview just a few years back.
Times have changed.
The tone at EPS Board of Education meetings is somber. Hyde isn’t smiling much lately.
The word for the day is — “Cut.”
Cut spending. Cut programs. Cut plans. And, most unfortunately, cut staff positions.
It has been painful, and there’s more to come.
“It’s disappointing,” said Hyde following last week’s special board meeting during which more district staff found themselves without employment.
“We’re at the point now where we are having to lay off people who have been doing great jobs — people who have been good for kids and real assets for our community.
“It’s not good.”
At the special meeting held last week, board members approved the layoffs of Athletic Director Randy Kruse, school district nurse Cindy Dershied, and accepted the resignation of Middle School principal Sue Lenehan.
Lenehan will stay with the district filling the position of district-wide counselor. Evart Alternative High School principal Carol Bogner will move over to the Middle School. Hyde himself will take on administrative duties at the alternative high school.
The duties of athletic director will be split between school staff.
Previous to these layoffs, the Board eliminated the jobs of six support staff.
And the cuts just keep coming.
At Monday’s regularly scheduled Board meeting, three teachers were laid off — Jason O’Dell, Matt Alexander, Andy Eichelberger. Another teacher who left mid-year and has been covered by substitute teachers will not be replaced.
Band teacher Diana Craven had her hours reduced, as did art teacher Jenneke Erbes.
And ... that simply isn’t the end of it.
“I believe we still have more job cutting to do,” said Hyde. “It’s hard to figure out from where and who. It’s hard to be trying to figure out which people or programs we will need to do without.”
Hyde reported he would probably be talking with Board members about more substantial “pay to participate” plans for the district’s athletic program. He also is considering transportation issues in the athletic program, and may be limiting how school buses are used getting athletes to games and back home again.
There may well be additional increases in the Driver’s Ed program participation fees.
“We will be continuing to make line-item reductions in our spending,” he said.
“The fact is, in the coming year we will have roughly $1 million less in revenues coming into our district. We need to come up with something close to that figure in budget cuts.
“It will be very, very hard. And the effect on our district will be crushing.”
Hyde is disappointed, and frustrated with the situation — and more so as he continuously hears cries from Lansing about “shared burden” and “shared sacrifices.”
“We are facing devastating problems that we did not create,” he pointed out. “The budget problems we’re facing today were handed down to us — largely from Lansing.
“The per pupil funding cut and the increase in retirement costs alone are ruining school districts.
“We are losing money from every direction — revenues we simply can’t replace.
“We aren’t just shining here — as some people have suggested. I believe things could get worse still. The coming year or two could be even worse than what we’re facing now, and yet in Lansing we’re being told to just get down to business and sort things out on our own.
“It’s alarming that the folks in Lansing decided to give money to the universities rather than to public education.
“We don’t get to charge tuition. We have no way to raise funds, carry out profitable research programs, or accept donations.
“On top of all hat, we are a district that continues to lose students.
“There’s going to be a lot of cutting still to come. I hate having to do this - to wonderful staff and teachers, and to our kids.”
Hyde noted that both he and the Board are in the unenviable position of having to do take steps which will always be perceived in some quarters as the “wrong thing to do.”
With the very real need to cut $1 million from the budget, personal and programs are going to be effected in ways many in the community find unacceptable.
“Every teacher and every program have their supporters,” he said. “When we start cutting, there’s not way that in the public eye we will ever make the right decision.
“So ...we do what we have to do.
“It hurts. It’s tough. It’s very, very frustrating.”
Hyde is getting ready for another round of slashing when his team begin preparing the next year’s budget ...soon.
The red pencil is sharpened.
“We expect to not only be making more cuts, but we will be taking a hit on our fund balance,” he said.
“Frankly, I don’t expect our fund balance will survive the next two years if we continue to tap into it the way we may need to do.
“We can take a hit next year, and the year after that, then our savings will be wiped out.
“We’ll be broke.”
There’s been a lot of complaint and criticism of the superintendent and the Board in Evart.
“I understand people are upset,” said Hyde. “But honestly, if folks are sincerely upset at cuts, layoffs, reductions, and program eliminations, they should be calling Lansing.
“The governor and our legislators say we’re all sharing the budget balancing burden.
“I don’t think that’s true.
“They aren’t even trying to share our burden, and in a couple years it could well be too late for much of the public education system in this state.
“The system will be ruined.”
Last Monday’s layoffs aren’t the end of it.
The “tough” isn’t ended.
“We’ll do what we have to do,” said Hyde. “And through it all, we will continue giving our kids the best education we can.
“But you have to wonder ...”